SEEING A DREAM FULFILLED
Young people everywhere hope for the same things.
It doesn't matter if they're from La Grande, Oregon, Grand Grand Rapids, Mich., or Managua, Nicaragua, where people are incredibly poor and good jobs are so hard to find.
Young people everywhere want a good education, a rewarding career, the tools they need to support themselves and grow as human beings.
Meet Wilber Bucardo, a 21-year-old from the rural areas around Managua, a young man in search of his future.
He's a quick learner who loves computers. He's good with people, likes to interact with them and help them out whenever he can.
That willingness to help is coming back to him, in a good way. He has found a place in the hearts of a few Americans who believe that youngsters everywhere deserve the best.
He's got a good chance of finishing college, thanks to them. His dream of becoming a computer engineer just might come true.
Not long ago, Bucardo's journey through life took him through
La Grande. On the second day of his visit, he had lunch at the local Subway, and talked a little about himself.
His English was precise, if a little self-conscious. Each word was carefully chosen, carefully enunciated, and perfectly easy to understand.
He recalled a day in 2003, back in Managua, when he hopped a crowded public bus, on his way to school.
Seven young Americans were aboard, and they looked a little lost. Bucardo didn't know any English then, but he decided to try and help.
The leader of the group was Matthew Gerber, former La Grande resident and the founder of the Portland-based humanitarian group known as Teamworks International.
Gerber spoke fair but by no means perfect Spanish. Bucardo spoke no English at all.
But somehow, the young Nicaraguan university student figured out the Americans wanted to exchange some money, then visit the city of Grenada.
"They had no guide and I offered to help them. I cut school. We went to an Internet cafe, and we had a good time in Grenada," he recalled.
That was the first of several trips Gerber led to Nicaragua. He takes with him friends from the La Grande, Portland and Salem areas.
They do humanitarian work, work that benefits orphans and prisoners and other poverty stricken people, mostly around Puerto Cabezas.
Bucardo has made that work infinitely easier. He books hotel reservations for team members, meets flights at the airport, guides the team around the country, acts an interpreter.
"We consider him a part of the team. He's become my right hand man down there," Gerber said.
The job of right hand man comes with an official title, one Bucardo states with pride.
"I'm the in-country coordinator for transportation and lodging," he said.
After meeting Gerber and crew that first time, Bucardo threw himself into the study of English. He learned quickly. By the next year he could hold his own in conversation with just about anyone.
Teamworks came back in the spring of 2004. This time, the group included Beverly LeBold, a Salem woman who had previously done prison ministry for Aglow International.
LeBold, 60, had never been south of the U.S. border before, and she knew only English. Bucardo and another youth were assigned to accompany her on her prison visits.
LeBold discovered that she and Bucardo shared a deep spiritual faith. Because of that, a bond formed between them.
He told her about his dream of becoming a computer engineer, and his struggle to stay in school.
"He doesn't know from month to month or even quarter to quarter if he'll be able to finish his studies," LeBold said. "He had a hard life, and he still does."
The friendship that began that year grew, and was kept alive by e-mails after LeBold went home.
She thought often of the young man's determination to succeed and explored ways she might help.
Reading through his many e-mails, an idea took shape.
She envisioned herself writing a book about her Nicaraguan experience and her friendship with Bucardo. Her idea was to apply proceeds from book sales to his education.
"My husband and I have reared three children. They have had all the advantages of living in the U.S., seeing their dreams fulfilled," she said.
"Wilber has had none of that. I have taken on the role of Â‘mom' not just to support his education but to provide the encouragement and love that mothers give to their children. "
The book wasn't the only way she reached out. She also helped arrange for him to come and work in the United States for a season.
The effort involved getting him into a special employment program sponsored by the Albertson's supermarket chain.
After Bucardo satisfied all the travel requirements, he set out for his North American adventure.
He visited LeBold in Salem, Gerber in Portland. Then he journeyed to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he went to work as an Albertson's checker.
"Jackson Hole was the closest offer there was," Bucardo said.
Later, he transferred to a store in nearby Hailey. He worked a 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. shift, and made a good impression on his superiors.
"Sometimes when the boss went away, I was in charge of the store," he said. "I learned a lot about working for a corporation."
He started work in December and continued through March.
When the time was up, he journeyed to La Grande, where he visited with Matt Gerber's parents, Louis and Robin Gerber, and other friends in the area.
After that, he headed again to Salem. Before going back to Nicaragua, he accompanied LeBold and her family on a trip to Disneyland.
At present, he is back in school in his native country, and things are tough as ever.
"There is incredible poverty down there, and jobs are almost nil," said LeBold.
Bucardo continues to improve his English, while working to learn computer technology.
He even has his own blog, where he writes, in English, of his work with Teamworks International.
Soon, he'll be posting stories about his time in the United States.
LeBold, meanwhile, is hoping for success with her book, entitled "And the Sun Comes Up in Nicaragua: Lessons in Humility, Faith and Love."
Published by Pleasant Word, a division of Winepress Publishing in Enumclaw, Wash., it was recently listed on Amazon.com.
"All the money from sales will go to Wilber's education. Maybe I think too much of myself that there will be any left over, but if there is, I'll help someone else," LeBold said.