[Here’s a piece I wrote about Chop Point School, as it appeared in the Brunswick Times Record on March 8th.]
In late winter each year, the 11th and 12th grade students of Chop Point School in Woolwich embark on a journey that is transformational for each of them and holds the promise of positively impacting the lives of the children who live at the city dump in Managua, Nicaragua.
Yes, that’s right, the children who live at the city dump.
While people who live in Maine are no strangers to poverty, even those less fortunate students who attend Chop Point due to the generosity of others have their eyes opened to a whole new level of hardship when they arrive at Campo Alegria, Camp of Good Cheer.
Chop Point School runs Campo Alegria on a 50-acre campus on Lake Nicaragua in the second poorest country in this hemisphere. From its own mission statement, Campo Alegria was founded, through a program of fun, caring, and learning, to share the love and hope of Jesus Christ with the poor children of Nicaragua.
This year camp began in a fashion similar to the preceding ten years, according to e-mail updates from Chop Point staff member Keziah Furth. “Campo Alegria has been invaded by 30 children!” Furth, a registered nurse, wrote. “They arrived via a caravan of motorcycles, bicycles, and horse drawn wagons and dove headfirst into our activities.
“The day that the first group of kids arrive is always a day of beautiful surprises. Makayla, who had seemed hesitant about a lot of our plans, found a pair of small girls within the first 10 minutes of camp and didn’t separate from them until bedtime. Gabriel was running around on the soccer field calling himself ‘El Pollo Loco’ (the Crazy Chicken) and making all the boys giggle. I looked across the room during our evening movie and there was Ahna, cradling a tiny girl in her arms.”
And so it goes for three weeks of mission work, during which the Chop Point students guide the children of the city dump through educational exercises, fun and games, Bible readings and nourishing meals.
Any student of Chop Point who has gone on the mission trip can personally attest to the transformational aspect of the experience. A recent graduate, currently a junior at Fordham University, wrote his college admissions essay about his Nicaraguan missions, and still talks about the experience today as pivotal to his development from child to adult.
As he wrote nearly four years ago, “Once at camp, the unbridled joy on the faces of the dump-dwelling children provided testimony to the hope that exists within each of us, sustaining us through the hardships we must sometimes face in life. Seeing these children, often without the basic necessities of food, clothing or shelter, expressing pure joy, laughing, running and playing like children must do, completely changed the attitude with which I approach life’s challenges – big or small.”
Chop Point School sits on the edge of Merrymeeting Bay at the end of a two-mile dirt road in Woolwich, Maine, and operates an internationally renowned summer camp in addition to its K-12 interdenominational school. Chop Point welcomes students of all backgrounds and beliefs to its fifty-acre campus with a mile of shore frontage on the east bank of the Kennebec River. Students study in cozy, cottage-like classrooms under the care of dedicated teachers. Small classes, a family-like atmosphere, enthusiastic faculty, and inspiring surroundings create a rich and joyful learning environment.
The annual mission takes them out of this comfortable environment to work and play with the children who live at the dump in Nicaragua, and serves as the centerpiece of the educational experience for those who attend Chop Point. It adds an important human element to all that they have studied, and instills in them an approach to life that is more loving, more inclusive, and more hopeful.
From the recent graduate’s firsthand account: “My experiences have provided me with an awareness that a large part of civilization exists in a state of constant, real and complete poverty. Yet there’s hope among these people and a joy among their children. I grew as a person during those three weeks last Spring, and am eager to return this coming March for a second mission. It’s in the service of those less fortunate than myself that I learned just how fortunate I have been.”
Michael Pajak is a writer who lives in Woolwich and blogs at thedistributist.com.