“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it’s humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people.” -Eduardo Galeano
Granada, Nicaragua. March 2016.
This week we crossed the Nicaraguan border, went from being Tica to Nica, and joined forces with Fundación VIDA to provide public healthcare assistance and education in the small rural community of Los Manguitos. We had three days to assess the current needs, provide medical treatment, and perform meaningful community outreach. This was a dream come true for us premed and public health junkies as we got to work alongside skilled and empathetic Nicaraguan physicians and help administer health surveys.
I cannot explain the gravity of this experience nor put into words how I felt upon learning that potable water only exits the pipes twice a week in Los Manguitos. Our work with the community was both challenging and inspiring–allowing us to practice solidarity and work alongside them in a way that provided educational tools and instilled a sense of hope for the future. While we could not firsthand experience their daily struggles, we listened to the words/stories of community members and identified the top health concerns: diabetes, presence of contaminated drinking water, and respiratory issues due to smoke inhalation. To combat these, we put three projects into action on our third and final day: 1.) We educated families about water treatment, 2.) provided a recipe that included healthy and local foods grown in and around the community, and 3.) taught kids about recycling at the neighborhood grade school.
My efforts were mainly focused on the recycling campaign. When I discovered that families were burning their trash (including plastic, aluminum, and glass) right outside their homes because of a lack of funds to pay for trash pickup, I was insistent on finding some sort of solution. For two hours, we talked with children grades K-5, picked up trash and recyclables around the schoolyard, and showed them how to separate the items into separate barrels. It is our hope that the children will continue to bring their recyclables to school, their families will show support, and the schoolteachers will be able to exchange the recyclables for money every month in the nearby city. With this money, they could help the school and eventually pay for trash pickup in the community to lower the overall risk of smoke inhalation.
That being said, we are not naïve. We know that what we were able to provide in these three days was minimal compared to what they so desperately need—compared to the amount of knowledge, experience, and joy we attained from spending quality time with the children and people of this beautiful community.
During the rest of our short week in Nicaragua, we got to enjoy a rich cultural immersion in the city of Masaya…staying with a host family, salsa dancing the night away, visiting the central market, and taking in the gorgeous views of the country’s many lakes and volcanoes. Our Holy Cross group of four–Andrea, Caitlin, Rob, and myself–also took our first official picture together this semester (big deal!!)…see below, we are smiling in front of Apoyo Lagoon.
Back to Pura Vida
I absolutely loved my time spent in Nicaragua but after 7 days of endless learning, handwork, joy, and unforgettable memories, it was time to head back to the great CR. We have one week left taking Spanish classes at CRLA and living with our homestay families in San Jose…and then it’s off to the rainforest again for our final three weeks doing research at La Selva Biological Station. I plan to make the most of my last week in the capital and started by spending a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon walking around the artisan market and eating ice-cream on a park bench with my two incredible host sisters.
Until the next blog…
This week I learned…
1.) that Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America and is about the size of the state of New York.
2.) that the exchange rate in Nicaragua is 20.30 Cordobas per US dollar…try doing that conversion in your head!! I miss Argentina where pesos were a simple 10 to 1.
Haylie Butler '17