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Humanitarian mission to Central America

Villagers come to expect an annual visit from a Carson City man

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Luis Pierrott talks about his trips to Nicaragua from his Western Nevada Community College office March 23. The other photos show families that receive the aid he provides and the substandard housing of the rural poor.
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Luis Pierrott flips through stacks the pictures on his desk, images that tell stories from his most recent trips to Nicaragua in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Pierrott, who was born in Nicaragua, began taking annual trips to the country soon after Hurricane Mitch devastated the area in late 1998.

“Right after the hurricane hit, I got a call from a brother-in-law, who was living there (but) who is now here in the United States, asking to send him $250 and he would try and put together 20 baskets (of food for people),” Pierrott said.

“I did it. So that was the beginning.”

The next year, Pierrott, 49, provided $500 and 50 baskets of food to villagers, most in rural areas around a town in Northern Nicaragua called Jinotega, where his mother-in-law lives.

In 1999, Pierrott began putting money away early in the year to save for airfare to Nicaragua and the costs of baskets and food. In 1999, 75 baskets of provisions were delivered.

In 2004, 265 baskets of food – containing cooking oil, rice, beans, coffee, salt, sugar, soup, a frozen chicken and more – were delivered. In 2005, just 150 baskets were delivered because some of the money typically available to him was used for Hurricane Katrina victims.

“Every year has been increasing, with the exception of last year,” he said.

The people in his pictures tell a story of need. Many of the homes are made of timbers holding up walls of thin black plastic or corrugated metal. The floors are dirt. Flies hang around or land on children’s faces. Families are large, and many parents send their young children to the city to work.

Many of the unfortunate have been upgraded to sturdy and new homes provided by the government – homes that have solid walls and amenities like sinks.

A recipient of one of the new homes, a rape victim, had quadruplets, increasing her family to eight. So did a woman whose husband tried to kill her with a machete, but just cut off both of her hands when she put them up in defense.

Pierrott flies to Nicaragua every year. To make the trip, he saves up his vacation time at Western Nevada Community College, where he works as coordinator for the technical preparatory program. Many of his colleagues donate money for the baskets.

“I want to give special thanks to the people from the college, all my co-workers and friends and the people from Northern and Southern Nevada,” he said. “Without them, we couldn’t continue this cause.”

By the time he arrives in Nicaragua at the end of each year, many items for the baskets and foodstuffs have been purchased by relatives, like his mother-in-law and sisters-in-law.

He purchases the rest of the needed food and rents a four-whee-drive vehicle to take out on roadless hills to villages. Often, family members from the States join him.

“People decide to walk by (my mother-in-law’s) house and ask her when the man from the United States is coming,” he said. “So they expect me, they recognize me, and they are friendly with me.”

Recipients include people who live by a city dump outside Jinotega and make their money by pulling out recyclables and selling them to a company five hours away in the capital, Managua. There are no vehicles, running water nor electricity for these families. They must pay to live at the dump.

“The places I like to visit are the places where I know there is the most need,” Pierrott said.

For this year’s trip to Nicaragua, he plans to leave a couple of days after Thanksgiving. Anyone who wants to help, can call Pierrott at 445-4459 or 888-9653 after 6 p.m.

• Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.