Sister Debbie Blow sits with a local child during one of her many visits to Nicaragua.
A Plattsburgh Sister is being honored for reaching across the hemisphere to bring hope to people in Nicaragua and give people in the North Country an opportunity to change lives.
Sister Debbie Blow, a co-founder of the North Country Mission of Hope, will be recognized in Albany early next month as a New York State Senate Woman of Distinction.
Blow has been nominated by Sen. Betty Little for the recognition because of her leadership in organizing a sustained humanitarian mission to Nicaragua that, since 1998, has provided healthcare to more than 60,000 people, educated hundreds of students, constructed more than 500 homes, as well as classrooms, a library and community development center, and fed thousands of malnourished children through the Children Feeding Children Program.
“Plans for the North Country Mission of Hope’s 50th mission trip are under way, so this is certainly a fitting time to recognize Sister Debbie for her extraordinary work,” Little said in a press release. “Tens of thousands of lives have been transformed for the better due to her vision and dedication and the more than 1,300 volunteers who have made numerous trips to Nicaragua. This mission not only has provided Nicaraguans living in poverty critically important tangibles like housing, healthcare and food, but a sense of hope, a remarkable gift.”
Blow, a Dominican Sister of Hope, was a 1971 graduate of Northern Adirondack Central School, and later studied religious and scriptural/theological studies at Providence College, she also attended Trinity College, St. Michael’s College, and Notre Dame College.
Blow co-founded the mission in response to Hurricane Mitch, which killed more than 22,000 people in Central America in 1998.
Blow said her journey to Nicaragua began 13 years before her organization’s conception when she was introduced to the Flores family after they escaped from social unrest and hostility in Nicaragua.
“They arrived here in Plattsburgh because during the 80’s, this location was a receiving area/stop off point for refugees from around the world,” said Blow. “They sought refuge here, someone locally told them to approach me to see if I could help their children and when they did, I said yes of course.
“What I told the mother was ‘We have no money either, but let us help you now and later, you can give back and help others.’”
Blow helped provide the family with a small apartment that was donated by a local landlord, all furniture and beds, food for several weeks, clothing for the entire family, contacts for employment, and education for their two children.
Blow and the Flores family were drawn back to Nicaragua when Hurricane Mitch devastated the country.
“It was now a joint effort of Yamilette Flores, Eve McGill and me to ‘give back’ and help others in need, especially in the wake of the single longest sustained category 5 hurricane on record as of 1998,” said Blow.
That year, 52 volunteers including healthcare, construction workers, educators, other professionals, and youths traveled to Nicaragua. When they got there, Blow said the devastation was unimaginable.
“Three months after the hurricane there were orphanages and homes still under water, and thousands of people living under trees — thousands,” said Blow.
The Mission of Hope will be going on its 50th mission, Blow said she has gone on all of them with the exception of one or two trips.
“Some people ask if it would not just be better to send the money and not the people. To that I want to say first of all our volunteers pay their own way, all of the money donated to us goes right to the efforts, and secondly if you keep sending money nothing would happen at home, we needed to change the attitudes of people here and help them see they can make a difference,” said Blow.
Blow said the people who have gone to Nicaragua with her have kept what they do real at home and that enthusiasm and experience is what has kept the program strong.
“On one of our first missions we went into one of the hospitals a few days after we promised to come back and paint a wall,” said Blow. “When we got there the hospital director started crying and I asked her why she was crying, she said that a lot of people had come there, made themselves feel better and never came back, but we came back.”
Since the first trip to Nicaragua, Blow said the people who they met in the beginning are finding hope.
“We have more than a dozen people employed with North Country Mission of Hope in Nicaragua,” said Blow.
“But there are still hungry people and people in need of help, but we have a choice, we can either look at a challenge as something we can’t fix or see it as an opportunity to help those we can.”
The New York State Senate Women of Distinction event will be held in the Legislative Office Building in Albany on May 7. The annual award honors outstanding women from across New York State for their professional and volunteer work to enrich the lives of others.
Blow said though she is very honored to receive recognition as a woman of distinction, the recognition is not just for her but everyone involved in the organization.
“This gives me an opportunity to thank everyone in the North Country for all of their help and hard work, they are the heart of the mission and I want to thank you,” said Blow.
More can be learned about the North Country Mission of Hope at www.ncmissionofhope.org.