This time last year, Ben and Dagny (Henderson) Dunham were living in rural Urbana and preparing for the journey of a lifetime – one that would take them and their 11 children to a developing country in hopes of making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
Fast-forward a year later and the family – under the moniker of Thirsty Soul Missions – is adjusting to a new home in Central America and working to provide a “SAFE” (Serve, Adopt, Feed and Educate) place for their new neighbors and friends, the people of Nicaragua.
“Nicaraguans are really nice, loving and accepting people,” Mr. Dunham said. “They are also super laid back.”
Since arriving in October 2016 to a nation listed in Forbes magazine as the poorest country in Central America and second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (behind Haiti), the patriarch of the family told the Daily Citizen during a recent trip back to Urbana that the mission work over the past six months has taken a back seat to one major obstacle – the Spanish language.
“The learning curve is steeper than what we originally anticipated, so that slows progress at every area from the basics of buying food to any of the more important items,” Dunham said. “We practiced before we went down with audio, books, and with apps on the phone. We thought we had at least a base, but I tell you, it’s tough.
“You realize how much you don’t know real quick,” he added.
While in most instances the couple have worked through the language barrier without a lot getting lost in translation, there have been times when they sought help to get their points across.
“In certain times we’ve used translators, if it’s something we feel is pretty important that the correct point gets across,” Dunham said.
He added the family relied on a tutor for a while, but currently he and his wife are learning Spanish as they teach English to around 100 children at the Nicaragua Christian Academy.
The students, he added, are as eager to learn the English language as the Dunhams are the Spanish language.
“They realize that there are a lot of doors that can open by knowing English,” Dunham said.
Learning to live in foreign land
As for the couple’s 11 children (Ryan, James, Riley, Mason, Daisy, Rosey, Rylin, Lily, Violet, Iris and Ryder), who range in age from 1 to 16, Dunham said he’s proud of how they’ve adapted to their new surroundings in one of the poorest countries in the world.
“They just bounce and go with the flow,” he said. “They have really done well with giving up a lot of the modern conveniences that we had here. They don’t really complain about it. They just keep rolling along.”
Doing without the “stuff” most Americans take for granted has served as a life lesson the Dunham children quickly learned.
“I think they do get a better appreciation for what they did have, and they also realize what the Nicaraguan people have gone without forever,” Dunham said.
Instead of worrying about First World problems, the Dunham children spend their days learning Spanish at the Nicaragua Christian Academy in order to help make new friends and adapt to a foreign culture.
“They are really trying hard to learn the language and make Spanish-speaking friends,” he said. “They are doing really well picking up the language, which is the key to being able to build those relationships.”
Missionary work in early stages
To help provide Nicaraguans with a source of income and a possible way out of poverty, the Dunhams are working hard to get their Thirsty Soul Beekeeping Project up and running.
The project involves the Dunhams providing locals with a $150 loan in the form of a beehive and teaching them to manage it. Once a beehive has been harvested, the owner will pay back the interest-free loan and officially own the beehive.
“I would have liked to have already had the program going, but the learning curve on the language has just set us back on the start time,” Dunham said. “We are currently taking care of a lot of the initial work so that we can keep the costs way down, and I’ve been meeting with the local beekeepers there to get the curriculum together.”
While the preliminary work is taking place, Dunham has kept busy by teaching a beekeeping class to students as an elective at the Nicaragua Christian Academy, while the family has been busy making sure they have a supply of beehives ready for when the Thirsty Soul Beekeeping Project officially rolls out.
“We were able to buy some bees (22 hives) not long after we got down there, and since then, we’ve divided them to where we have about 35 hives right now,” Dunham said.
To help expand the project to help as many Nicaraguans as possible start their own beekeeping businesses that will provide them with products to sell and use for themselves like honey, lotions, lip balms, candles, etc., the Dunhams are accepting donations to help purchase the supplies needed for additional hives.
To donate to the project, visit Thirsty Soul Missions’ website at www.thirstysoul.org or the family’s Thirsty Soul Beekeeping Project Go Fund Me page at www.gofundme.com/nicabees.
Managing bees of Central America
Although the project has yet to provide a local with a beehive to manage, Dunham said, once the hives begin to be distributed, he has no doubt the people of Nicaragua will work hard to bring in a much-needed income.
“A lot of them are hard workers, and there isn’t nearly the amount of modern conveniences we have in America, so when I say hard working, I mean manual labor,” he said.
This strong work ethic will be needed as working with the bees that inhabit Nicaragua can be a challenge.
“They are Africanized bees, so they are pretty aggressive compared to those here in Ohio, and it’s almost impossible to go work in the bees and not get stung, even with full equipment on.”” Dunham said. “They are basically the same exact bee anatomically speaking, but they are just more aggressive. When you make them mad, it’s not uncommon to have 400 or 500 buzzing around you. In Ohio, if you make them mad, there are 50 or 60 buzzing around you.
“Also in Ohio, if you walk away from the hive, they typically leave you alone. In Nicaragua, they don’t leave you alone. They just go with you,” he added.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.