Canadian Cigar Man and an Orphanage

August 27, 2018

I’m driving in the mountains with my new friend John. We’re 105 miles north of Managua that we passed on the way from Granada. And we’re getting closer to the Honduras border another 60 miles north of there.

We start this episode driving through some farmland that is mainly used for the tobacco industry.

Mostly they produce cigars in this area – and that is what keeps this city alive. According to John 99% is supported by the cigar industry.

I met the guy in the car in the restaurant where I’m staying in. His name is John Pappas and we became instant friends. Sometimes you meet someone where you just click, and this was one of those times.

Three things I notice immediately with John: He’s got a beautiful tattoo with greek gods that covers his entire right arm, he’s almost always smiling and he always always has a cigar. Most of the time it’s not lit – he just sits with it, like most other people would sit with a smartphone.

Because John is a cigar-man. And a philanthropist with a big love for Nicaragua. And then he’s Greek/Irish Canadian.

He speaks English even though he’s is born and raised in Montreal, Quebec in the French-speaking part of Canada. His father is of Greek descent and his mother is of Irish descent.

After having been very successful building a restaurant chain in Canada he decided that he needed a purpose and a change, and he retired and got in contact with some friends in the tobacco industry here and said:

“I want to give back to a country that I love and help the children”

One of his friends here found an orphanage here and together they’ve been supporting it.

He tells me that it’s hard when you’re working with an NGO like SOS that runs hundreds of orphanages around the world, to tell them that you want to be a part of deciding what the money goes for, but after a while, they managed to do so.

In this episode, you can hear when we’re driving in a poor neighborhood. We’re on a dirt road with tiny houses on each side and a huge building at the end of it. That’s probably the largest tobacco factory in the area.

John wants to show me the orphanage he’s working with. And as we’re approaching we can see a little bit of a difference. We see less garbage, freshly painted, and everything looks a bit nicer.

This is a Sunday morning and a quiet day here. It’s not normal for guests to be able to visit this orphanage so I feel lucky that John would take me there.

John tells me that most of the children are not orphans. Most of the children are abused in multible ways. And the thing with sexually abused children is a big problem in this country. I’ve heard someone say that maybe one out of three children has been abused here. So they have a rule that all males should leave the orphanage before the sun goes down. Even John, that they know. But the rule makes sense.

Also, this is a country with so many young single mothers.
I was told that many men have no responsibility and just move on to the next woman after he made her pregnant, and John confirms this.

13 million children are born every year to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19. In fact, almost 25% of all births in the country are from teenage women. And around half of the women in the country give birth before they’re 20 years old.

Abortion in Nicaragua is completely illegal.

At the orphanage, we walked up to the room where the activity is taking place. The door and the windows are open so we can peek inside. And we see that this is an activity for 25 teenagers. They are being tough on “life” as John calls it.

John told me that one day some of the staff here at the orphanage came across a 13-year-old girl in the city. 13 years old – and very pregnant.

So they walked home with her and met her mother. She was 27 … and very pregnant.

Both mother and daughter were about to give birth any day. And as they were talking … on walks the grandmother. She was around 45 and ALSO very pregnant.

So three generations of Nicaraguan women, all very pregnant. And apparently, it was the same guy that had made all three pregnant.

The mother’s boyfriend that had made both her, her mother and her 13-year-old daughter pregnant.

We walk around the area for more than an hour. John tells me more about what they do and all the different projects he’s involved with. Mostly it’s the little extra things that can help improve life there. Like draining a swamp in the area and turn it into a ball pitch, taking the kids to football when the local team won the championship, throwing a party or things like that.

He tells me that there’s really only one father figure who works there with the young boys. And we just happen to run into him.

John always wanted to be a father himself… But things didn’t turn out that way. Until one year ago where he adopted an 18-year old girl. Well, not legally, but he supports her and she calls him dad. And he scares off the boyfriends.

John has found his purpose in life. Right here in Nicaragua.

In the next episode, John will take me to visit a small cigar factory, we meet a local street artist, I visit the Eco Lodge Manku Lake Paradise – and then I get sick.

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