February 2004

    An Ob/Gyn starts half-time on the 16th of February at the Health Clinic! We are pleased to finally have found someone, and that someone is Dr. Nora Claudina Herrera Picado. She has lived in Ciudad Sandino for 20 years. She looks forward to working with a non-profit.
    Although we are excited about having Dr. Herrera, we are a little nervous about rising medical costs in offering new services. Our family planning expenses will quadruple, our women's health issues will probably rise 10 times, and prenatal care should rise 8 times. Currently our clinic does not get the funding it needs, but we will continue in faith that the funds will come.
    Our women's center continues to progress, albeit slowly. A brigade from Bucknell University (Lewisburg PA) worked on finishing the concrete work on the walls. They also brought lots of medicines that took two volunteers several days to inventory. The campus doctor, Don Stechschulte, came and saw patients. We have a volunteer physical therapist, Jan Verduin, for about two months. Jan is working with our patients and patients from the public health center and teaching other physical therapists.
    The staff is exploring how we should prioritize the future of the clinic. We are notifying Nueva Vida residents about our new doctor, while asking them what THEY think about the direction their community clinic should go.

    The Women's Sewing Cooperative is going through major changes to stay alive. We hope they - and we - survive the growing pains! The cooperative came to a stand-still, so in frustration we offered to manage it for six months and make the hard decisions - mostly calling co-op members and other workers into accountability.
     We've resorted to using our project director, César, as supervisor of production because no one else has worked out. They've bought "bad" cloth and the cloth was late getting here through no fault of their own. A volunteer, Mike Tracey, is helping them organize their warehouse and sort through the cloth.
    We are looking at the ways and means of getting the members of the cooperative away on a weekend retreat to learn how to relate to each other. I have written this before - these women are tough, hard, and are survivors. They're poor and see only as far as surviving today. In their reality there is no future. They've been shafted so often that they don't trust others. They also have normal women's issues: child care, violence at home, working while keeping a house (and here that is hard, hard work) . . . which means they are worried, tired, and beaten.
    We feel great pity, and yet for the cooperative to survive they have to move beyond and we have helped by making hard decisions. We are also trying to help by asking delegations this year to raise money to start construction on a child care center.
    But all is not so grim. They have two large orders. They've been sewing more consistently, which means consistent pay. And on the 8th of February Bená Burda of Maggie's Clean Clothes comes. She always gives them a lift as well as being their biggest buyer.

    The Concrete Construction Materials Cooperative is working more steadily again. There was a lag in their orders due to government regulations.

    The Coffee Cooperative, El Porvenir, had a good harvest for their old plants - 50,000 pounds of coffee. Mike has taken two groups of prospective buyers up to talk to the growers. A roaster in one group told the cooperative that in his opinion their coffee was the best in Nicaragua and one of the finest in all of Central America. Of course, all that is fine and well - but is not money in the bank . . . yet!

    The Security Cooperative expanded their workforce to guard a warehouse holding literally tons of sewing maching equipment that was donated to us. They are taking on more responsibilities here at the Center and doing a fairly good job.

    The Water Filter Cooperative sold their business to a foreign investor. They are still the employees of the business. They are good workers but not capable of finding a steadily reliable market. This investor thinks he can.

    Schools are starting a new year and with donations in money and supplies we are able to pay a teacher, supply a school, and give supplies to other preschools. We were also able to pay some registration fees for the "free" public education here.

    After a few months' break, we are fortunate to have volunteers again at the Center. Besides Jan, Mike Tracey, and Bucknell, we have Kelly Doering, who is helping us with computer problems (always a problem here). We are now offering home stays with families in Ciudad Sandino for longer-term volunteers, for a more accurate experience of life in Nicaragua.

    Sarah is headed to speak on the East Coast toward the end of March and visit family. Kathy is looking forward to her 55th birthday; she remains the matriarch. Pat is exploring creative ways to get educational credits here in Nicaragua for her North Carolina social work license. The boys, Coury (newly turned 15), Daniel (11), and Joseph (newly turned 8), have also just begun a new school year. Mike - in his "spare" time - is avidly following the U.S. elections. I, Kathleen, am looking at balance (ying-yang; mother-work; etc.) but I keep tipping over in yoga!

    Health care is an important issue in the Democratic primaries. It is a concern that once only worried the poor, but now consumes the middle class as well. We had a student here in January who, though fairly conservative on most issues, believes in National Health Care. His thought is that even the worst criminal has the right to an attorney. If the right to representation is important, then the right to health care is equally important (interesting argument).
    The Nicaraguan constitution does guarantee health care for all, except the government doesn't adequately fund it. And so people - poor people - go lacking. For example:
    "Teresa" is a single mother of three in Nueva Vida. She's extremely poor, extremely depressed, and feels extremely helpless. Her three-year-old has epilepsy that needs extensive testing and a specialist to figure out medicine and dosage. Her second child has Downe's Syndrome, and she has a baby. She comes to Pat for counseling and to the clinic for medical help. Yet the clinic doesn't have the budget for all the testing and our one doctor is not a neurologist.
    It's so sad. It's so frustrating. If it were Coury, Daniel, or Joseph, I would try to move heaven and earth to get them the care they needed. I still can't imagine - even though I've lived here for almost ten years - how helpless these mothers truly are to care for their children due to poverty.
    But during Lent I can understand a bit more, because I've known the crucifixion story so well from childhood and as a mother I can picture the agony of Mary the mother of Jesus . . . watching helplessly her son's suffering and death.
    I know I can't protect my children from all that has hurt them or might hurt them. I do know that in the area of health, if the methods exist, I could and would have access to them because of the goodness of others. As a result of other's generosity to us, "Teresa" is going to get some help from us personally. And as a result of your generosity, some Nicaraguans can have at least basic health care.
    But, health care is a right and it should not be based on the generosity of others.
    So why do governments choose to spend money on destruction and greed instead of the health of their people? Why do leaders pad their pockets instead of rebuilding the bodies of their citizens? Why do they kill instead of heal? Why is it not a right? Why? Why? Why?

- Kathleen

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