Day 4 June 1 –
Sr. Debbie had a jam packed day planned and our first meeting this morning was in Managua at 8am. We met there with Johanna Pedroni who, along with her husband, has started a foundation that is building a Women’s Clinic and Training center in an old hotel in the heart of Managua. Johanna is one of those women that impress you as soon as you meet her. Friendly, vivacious and intelligent, I knew I was in the presence of someone who gets things done. My kind of lady.
We toured the old hotel, first viewing the parts that have been partially renovated and then the second part, which had not. To see what they had already done, from the shell of an abandoned building was impressive. She was excited to show us the rooms for the clinic waiting room, the doctor’s examination, gynecological examination, physical therapy and nurses training room. The Mission of Hope had donated the hospital beds and painted a few of the rooms, and they were planning to paint more on the next mission in July. James was here to assess the supplies and work effort needed.
But it was great to be able to see this success story unfolding. Johanna and her husband owned a successful, upscale restaurant – the restaurant we had eaten in on Thursday evening – and are in the upper echelon of Managuan society. They are both movers and shakers in the city and have an impressive and powerful group of friends and acquaintances that are instrumental in helping the dream of the foundation unfold. They are true examples of how those that have, help pay it forward for those who have not.
Johanna then explained their plans for the training center, specifically to help poor women learn skills so they can support themselves and their families. They plan to offer courses in learning Computer Training, Home Health Aid, Seamstress, Accounting and Ophthalmology assistants and Paint Contractor. This last, something they are just about to start, will teach women how to measure a room, decide on the best paints for the materials and spec out how to get the job done. This sounded like a very practical skill that a woman could assuredly earn a living doing.
While Johanna is talking, my mind immediately thinks of my girls at El Crucero, specifically the 6 or 7 teenagers who will be graduating high school in the next few years. While I still intend to encourage their attendance in University, and offer financial help from the OHP, from a practical perspective, this will not be the right option for every girl. I have been frustrated at the lack of skills training currently being provided and my inquiries have been met with vague, unsatisfactory answers from Madre as to her plans for the girls. So why not offer skills training to the girls at this facility?
And that’s just what I asked Johanna. She knew that I worked with the orphans and was immediately receptive to the idea. In fact, her eyes lit up and a she was already smiling and nodding before I finished speaking. We agreed that I will contact Madre with the beginnings of this idea and put her in touch with Johanna. Of course there will be challenges – not all skills can be taught to girls under 18 and for those still in school, school must come first. But with some perseverance and creative thinking, this could be a reality. I saw this as the door being opened to my dream of providing my girls with a mechanism to earn a living. No, what I really mean is having a career performing a skill that they are trained for, proficient at and proud of. This is the next step up for them and something I am passionate about so I’m puttin’ it out there in the universe and will do whatever I can to make it a reality.
Johanna and I hugged, and then we hugged again and I said I would contact her very soon. This will be the first order of business when I return home to the U.S.
Next, a quick stop to the masonary store to check on options for stone benches for the planned Memorial Garden to be built in the back of the NiCasa property. I can see this area this from my bedroom door and right in the center is a beautiful, large shade tree that just calls out for a bench and a birdbath. It will be dedicated in honor of past Missioners who have died.
We drove to a barrio called Cedro Galan. A barrio is a poor village and a frequent stop on any mission visit to Nicaragua. It is here that people live in huts and cobbled together structures made of left over metal, tree limbs and garbage bags. The lucky ones have a home shelter, built by MoH that consists of a 10’ x 13’ single, dirt floor room with a roof and open doorway. My daughter Vanessa and I had helped to construct two on our first trip to Nicaragua in 2010.
These areas are extremely poor. The children run barefoot through the dirt, deftly dodging broken glass, shredded metal, garbage and other dangers. I shudder to think of the disease that is ever present. Trees and overgrown bushes fill in the spaces between the dwellings. Clothes are hanging on barbed wire, malnourished dogs are everywhere. Once we saw a giant pig tied up to a tree. The women in these barrios look beaten and tired and alone. Men are not as evident, leading me to believe that most of these women are alone in raising their children in this inhospitable place.
And yet, they make their homes here. Some of the children go to school, but some do not. But the children play with each other and run in packs like little wild things as their laughter rings through the air. They sound no different than other children the world over, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.
We were here to give handmade quilts donated by a woman who is helping a young widow and her son. This donor had previously paid for the construction of a home shelter for this young mother and had asked Sr. Debbie to deliver the quilts to her on this visit. The mother came out to meet us holding her young son Brandon, about 16 months old, in her arms. She was followed by several other children who she told us were her niece and nephews plus her elderly aunt. While Fabricio translated, Sr. Debbie made the presentation in a distinguished and sensitive manner and the mother’s shy but hesitant smile was nice to see. Sr. Debbie then gave quilts to the other children and the aunt, who seemed thrilled with the beautiful gift. In this type of extreme poverty, these quilts are a treasure.
Stop number 4 – and all before lunch – was to the Guadalupe clinic and a meeting with Berta Amalia. Berta, a poor woman in her 60’s, has made it her life’s work to help this medical clinic function in the center of Managua. They provide medicines and doctor care to the many impoverished people in the city. The Mission of Hope has been helping the clinic for a number of years. But we were here to talk about another project instead.
A donor had recently given the Mission of Hope a substantial amount of money to be used to help poor women in Nicaragua. 8 women were chosen to receive the funds, and they in turn were charged with helping 10 other poor women. The 8 women who are administering the funds were free to select 10 women of their choice who were in dire need. The donor has asked for details on the women being chosen and Fabricio, has been assigned the task of collecting the information; pictures, bios on both the women administrators and those receiving the funds. This meeting was to introduce Berta to Fabricio so that they could continue the partnership and move the project forward.
Sr. Debbie, James and I watched as Fabricio, 22, took over, speaking with Berta in a mature and respectful manner about how they would communicate, what information was needed and in what format and exchanging contact information. We were all very gratified to see this excellent example of empowerment that effectively put the responsibility of the success of this project on these two people who live here. Just what the Mission is striving to accomplish.
Finally, lunch time. And guess where? Yep, Tip Top. Sr. Debbie just didn’t want to eat anywhere else. At least the chicken is good although I don’t want to see another piece of fried chicken for a while.
After lunch we visited a local Chiqulistagua school where the Mission had helped to plant and fund a garden then on to San Antonio school in yet another barrio. The Mission will help paint a few rooms on this upcoming July mission trip and again, James need to access the situation while I took pictures.
This school was poor and old and dirty but children are being educated here. With help, it could be made into a nicer environment, which is what the Mission is trying to do. Across the dirt road was a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. We encountered a man – Victor – who was burning brush to fight slugs in the field before planting a crop of papaya.
Our final stop of the day was to meet a young girl and her mother. She is a beautiful young girl, 7 years old, with blond hair, blue eyes and very fair – unusual for a Nicaraguan. She reminded me of my own daughters who looked similar at her age and Mauricio even commented that this little girl could have been my daughter. She was very proud to show us her report card with excellent grades.
About 2 months ago, Laura (not her real name) was raped by a 16 year old neighbor. Pause, full stop. Yes, she is 7. Her mother had moved her and her older sister and brother to a rented home to be safe from the neighbor who was threatening to harm her and burn down their house if they prosecuted him for the rape. They are renting a small home but the mother has recently lost her job as an accounting assistant and she is desperately trying to plan her next move. We were there to give her clothes donated by the Mission and also money to help them for the immediate future.
While Sr. Debbie, Mauricio and Fabricio talked with the mother about what could be done to help, I intentionally pulled Laura to the side so she would not overhear the conversation. She was a charming and sweet little girl, smiling and laughing, never giving any indication of the trauma she has suffered. She showed me her guinea pig Lolitta, then we went outside so she could show me her cartwheels. It took all my self control not to wrap my arms around this child and cry. She looked so much like my girls at that age and my mind was screaming – how could someone harm such a beautiful little girl?
It was time to leave but with no clear resolution in site, we said our goodbyes with heavy hearts. As we drove away, we discussed various options and I said, more than anything we need to help this mom get a job. There are some contacts here that may be able to help and Sr. Debbie is going to make some calls to see if something can be done.
The Mission of Hope is planning to build a Safe House in the next several years for women and children that are in exactly this type of situation. It is still in the planning stages and cannot help Laura and her family now, something we were all acutely aware of.
Back to NiCasa. Sr. Debbie and the others had meetings but I had some down time to process, unwind and work on the pictures I had been taking over the last few days. At about 5pm, we left for dinner but first a quick stop at Juan Pablo to pick up paperwork promised by Madre and Sor Carmen regarding the new children at El Crucero.
I really hate going to Juan Pablo. It is about as depressing as it gets. While there are much fewer children there now, it is still miserably hot and stuffy, and right in the middle of one of the worst areas of Managua. The front doors are locked behind a steel gate and on either side are low lifes and unsavory characters. Not a place where small children should live. Nor the sisters who are charged with caring for them.
It is being run mainly as a day care center now so there are only a few children who stay overnight. We saw three children on this visit, two new babies and Angel, a 6 year old that I knew from previous visits. As a matter of fact, my daughter Vanessa and I had met him on our first fateful visit here in 2010 when I decided to start the Orphan’s Hope Project. Angel has brain damage from living with his mother on the streets as an infant and cannot communicate. Instead, he screams. Which he did tonight when I said hello and at every other opportunity. Madre and I had spoken about him and she told me he is undergoing treatment and may be adopted. I so hope this can happen and that someone will give him a loving home where he can grow to his fullest potential.
The other two babies were a little girl, about 2, named June who trotted right up to Sr. Debbie and James and launched herself into their arms and a 9 month old boy named Osmani. While the young Sister Suzanne (she looked like she was 19) filled out the rest of the paperwork I was there to pick up, I held Osmani and James held June. When we started to leave, June threw an all-out temper tantrum screaming that she wanted to go with James. It was heartbreaking.
It’s been a good trip and in hindsight, I am pleased at what we have been able to help with. In addition to the gifts and school supplies I brought with me, the donations I received from sponsors and supporters will help pay for major dental work for Sor Andrea at El Crucero (since she is taking care of my kids so well in the library, we need to take care of her), new screens and windows at San Fernando (without either mosquitoes and bugs are ever present and so is the risk of dengue fever), food for the children there, translator help and of course, ice cream for the little ones. Yep, I’d say a damn good use of the money entrusted to me.
Today was an exhausting day and mentally I’m whipped. I’m glad to be going home tomorrow. I miss my husband, my family and my puppies Gwena and Sage. It’s been an eye opening trip. I feel progress was made for the OHP which is always my intention but I also learned a lot about other ways that the Mission is helping here with the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua. The focus is shifting to empowerment and I am in complete agreement with this. People must learn to help themselves or any positive changes will not be sustainable. It will take time, it will take cultural changes, but you know the old saying – if you give a man a fish, they will eat for a day. But if you teach a man or a woman to fish, they can feed their families for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, our collective efforts will accomplish just that.