CHINANDEGA — For the Chinandega Fire Department, fighting fires, saving lives and keeping their own men safe will now be a lot easier thanks to a group of Canadians.
“Project Nicaragua” kicked off earlier this month with the arrival of 16 Canadian volunteers and two containers packed with 70,000 pounds of aid for five communities in this northwestern department of Nicaragua.
For 10 days, the team of firefighters, nurses, a teacher, a reporter and accompanying friends and family distributed aid to local fire departments, hospitals, schools, an orphanage, a seniors’ home, and various families in need.
Canadian teacher Brian Dell, after visiting one particular family, said, “They need help and they need it quick.” It was an equally moving experience for the Canadian firefighters.
“I’ve never been submersed in poverty like that,” said firefighter Kevin Cassidy, after a trip to Chinandega’s dump, where a group of people live surrounded by the city’s septic tanks and a graveyard.
Paying out of their pockets to make the journey, the volunteers and the donated materials, almost all of which was from the area of Kamloops, British Columbia, demonstrate the strength of humanitarian aid despite hard economic times.
Led by firefighter David Sakaki, the equipping and training of the region’s fire departments was a priority for the visiting delegation.
The Chinandega Volunteer Fire Department, which receives no help from the government, was given an ambulance and a compressor – a device that fills tanks with oxygen so firefighters can enter burning buildings. The compressor is one of only two that exists in the country.
José Onel Núñez, chief of staff of the 70-plus Chinandega voluntary firefighters said, “From the humble country of Nicaragua, we thank them with a lot of love and heart.”
Origins of Outreach
The idea for the outreach project started several months ago with Canadian Don Montgomery, who runs a local surf camp with a “humanitarian edge” in Jiquilillo, a small fishing village 30 kilometers outside Chinandega.
Montgomery, who still lives in Canada, saw the need for help in the communities surrounding his surf camp, and spread the word back home.
In March, Sakaki arrived in Nicaragua on a scouting mission, accompanied by his friend and fellow firefighter Corey Butler, and Kevin Newman, a prominent TV anchorman in Canadian media.
“When he came down he was 100 percent sold,” Montgomery said of Sakaki’s first visit. “The rest is history.”
In the community of El Viejo, a recipient of the donations, the Canadians and Nicaraguans organized a supper and dance the evening before the volunteers’ departure.
Bringing together 163 firefighters and their families, the ceremony started with an exchange of gifts and honorifics.
The Canadian firefighters were named honorary captains in the Chinandega Fire Department, while they in turn gave their Nicaraguan counterparts customized shirts with the Chinandega firefighter’s logo.
“We arrived as firefighters,” Sakaki told the group,“and we leave as family.”
The Canadian group is already planning a follow-up visit for later this year to bring down a donated fire truck.