Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday August 30

I am not a clinic nurse. Nor am I a pediatric nurse. One of the first questions I e-mailed to Becca this spring while deciding to come or not was in regards to my actual use to the clinic here. Me - an intensive care nurse, a cardiac nurse, a hospital nurse, an adult only nurse, and a just for 10 tiny short days nurse. I don’t even speak Spanish. Yes, of course. Come, come was the response I received.
My thoughts and feelings on American NGO aid to foreign communities are complex and not well resolved within my own mind. I don’t think I’m going to delve into that now, but one persistent question stays with me even now at the end of our time here: What will I do (have I done) that will effect lasting change within this community? Sure. I can take some blood pressures, and temperatures. I can check patients into the clinic, sort medical supplies and count out prescriptions. I can even provide some patient teaching through the eloquent, ever present and skilled voice of Claire (whom without I would have been useless). But when I’m gone, these skills and my willing hands are gone. This contribution is so finite and in the long run I have difficulty seeing how it will ultimately change the lives of individuals of this community. So what is my role as a white, middle-class, highly educated health care professional from the United States in the infrastructure of third world health care systems? The answer is: I still don’t know. Instead, I’ll share with you two stories from my time working here in the clinic.
At the end of last week, it came up in conversation that a 12-lead EKG machine had been donated to the clinic. Dr. Avilla, a resident Nicaraguan Doctor, was interested in learning how to place the leads and use this device in the Nueva Vida Clinic, which takes an electrical picture of the heart useful in diagnosing heart attacks and other cardiac dysfunction. I eagerly offered to look at the EKG machine to see if it was a model I would know how to use. It was, so in the afternoon with Claire as our translating guinea pig patient, I showed Dr. Avilla how and where to place the leads, connect them and then to print a subsequent reading from the machine. We practiced again with him placing the leads on the laboratory tech. He was thrilled and excited to learn, and it was a joy to teach him. I smile to think that I have left a little bit of knowledge here behind me that will be used when I’m gone.
The other story is from my time spent checking in patients to the clinic. Most of the children I saw would take one look at me and burst into tears, some did nothing short of scream should I try and actually touch them. In an effort to make my assessments less scary I would often hand my stethoscope to a child in hopes of convincing them it was more a toy than a Western instrument of torture before we started. Ignoring all I know about epidemiology and infectious disease I let my stethoscope be chewed, sucked and flung. With the older children I would place my ear pieces in their ears and let them listen to their own heart before I did. It was thrilling to watch a slow smile spread over their faces as they realized that the lub-dub, lub-dub they were hearing was coming from their own chests. One of the small girls about 8 was so excited about this she could hardly stop chattering away, a huge grin pasted across her face. Her mother smiled, nodded knowingly and said, “she’s going to be a doctor someday”. She grinned even wider. Maybe her mother was joking, but I leaned in close to her and through Claire said, “I hope you are, I think you will be a good one”. I showed her how to count her mother’s pulse; she nodded enthusiastically. The little niƱa followed Claire and I around for the rest of the day- clinging to my legs, reaching for my stethoscope. I told her to study hard, her community needed her. I hope she believed me, I hope her mother keeps telling her she can accomplish anything, and I hope she goes home after medical school to work. If nothing else, when she thinks she can’t accomplish something in the face of such poverty; I hope she remembers the gringa that told her she believed that she could.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday August 29th

I'm working on the blog this morning before we get ready to go off on an all-day trip to El Porvenir, the coffee cooperative many miles to the north. Yesterday I was with the group that skipped out of Quaker Meeting and instead went to the National Museum. I was impressed with the quality of the displays and much art that speaks about the revolution. Walls at the entry and in various places about the museum are covered with murals - paintings depicting Augusto Sandino, the national historic hero, and Carlos Fonseca, martyr of the revolution and many others. 
A Prominent Display in the Nicaragua National Museum
We had an English speaking guide who gave us a detailed running narration of the exhibits. The first few exhibits depicted the geologic history of Nicaragua. So it seemed at first that it was a natural history museum, but there were also many artifacts that illustrated the native cultures and later it large modern paintings. I was impressed by what the guide said about the pre-historic human migrations. She said that some old people of the indigenous cultures tell stories that have been passed down for many generations about how their people came here from Mexico to flee the cultures there that performed human sacrifice. I asked if any of the cultures here used those practices. She said that, no, the indigenous cultures here were more peaceful than those further north. They know that because the bones and skulls found here do not show the results of violence that are evident in other places. 
Pedro Guerrero Demonstrating his Craft.
The day before, Saturday, I was impressed by our visit to the pottery shop of Pedro Guerrero. He did a demonstration of how he makes a pot. Talking while performing operations that his hands did so naturally and easily making it look easy to create a near-perfect pot with a sea turtle in relief. In his display room full of amazing pottery, it nearly took my breath away. I bought a few pots for gifts and chatted with Pedro's 17 year old son Eduardo who makes pots nearly as beautiful as those of his father. He will be going off to college soon. I felt a special connection with this young man as I wished him luck in his future.

There are many other experiences of yesterday that I will remember, but I will leave those events for others to write about. Josh has a great perspective on the liberation theology mass we attended at the Batahola Norte Community Center.     

Josh von Kuster:
We had a bit of a spiritual day today (Sunday).  Right after breakfast, we had a delegation worship sharing centered on the querries of what we anticipate bringing back with us spiritually and whether we anticipated our lives changing as a result of this trip.  Afterwards, 12 of us, including myself, went to Quaker House here in Nicaragua and had a rather vocal hour of meeting for worship with 7 local attenders.  We had lunch at a Salvadoran restaurant and then toured the city for the afternoon: the highlights being stops at Revolution Plaza, a hill with about a 270 degree view of the city and lake, and a fair trade organization/shop.  We then went to a Liberation Theology mass, which proved to be the most profound experience of the trip thus far to me.
Mural at the Batahola Community Center
where Mass was held
The structure was somewhat reminiscent of the covered outdoor basketball courts you find in Portland parks.  There were lots of colorful, lively murals, the most stark of which was the back of the altar.  In the area usually occupied by a guilded crucifix or by ornate wordwork, there was a nativity scene.  Except here rather than shepherds and maggi, we found common Nicaraguan folk offering not gold, frankincense and myrh but mangos, corn, linens and other gifts of daily life in this country.  There were far more women present in the mural than men and the men present included Che Guevera, Augusto Sandino and other figures of the Revolution encouraging and looking on at the periphery of the scene.
I have to confess that my Spanish is not equal to the task of keeping up with a Catholic homily, but the entire time the priest was speaking, I was contemplating the welcome unamericanism of having a "terrorist"  vilified by the US government in zealously religious terms like Che looking out on me from the position usually reserved for Jesus in every Catholic church I have ever visited.  To say it was unexpected is an understatement.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday - August 28

Lew: Back writing again after a few busy days. Friday we went to the dump. Saturday was a big day of tourism and relaxation. Today we go to Quaker Meeting, or the National Museum, more tourism and then a Catholic Mass in the evening. Here's what Laura and Avery have to say about their experiences:

            As an American health care worker I was in the midst of a crisis: there was no computer access, and I did not have the phone numbers of any of the patients to be seen the nest day. But the clinic was working perfectly: at the end of the day the last patients were picking up prescriptions and the doctor was writing final notes. The paper medical records on over 16,000 patients were organized in the rows of filing cabinets, and an outreach worker had visited at home all of those who would be coming in for free appointments with the volunteer doctor.
Clinic at Nueva Vida (a neighborhood of Ciudad Sandino) operated by the Jubilee House Community. 
            The Nueva Vida Clinic functions based on its relationships with those of the community they serve. One of the clinic buildings is set up with a laboratory and a dental office because people wanted these rather than a birthing center; the outreach worker knows who needs to be checked on because of news from the trained layperson Health Promoters around the neighborhood.
Delegation at Work in the Clinic
In back - from left to right:
Carl Thatcher, Becca Cooper, Dr. Dana, Claire Riggs
In front - from left to right: Pat, Mari Petzing

            Of the international development work which I have seen and participated in, despair has come from the absence of reciprocity. An organization can come into an area that needs a medical clinic and build a building in 9 months, and having completed their project proposal call it a success and leave. This omits the evaluation and feedback of the people purported to be served: it denies a relationship.
            The recipients of the service are the experts of what the impact of the project is on their community, and they are the ones who need to be heard.
It is only when those ‘receiving’ assistance have the opportunity to critique what has been done that there is the possibility to improve what is being done, and the only way for those ‘giving’ the service to learn if they are accomplishing what they actually intend.
            Both the Nueva Vida Clinic’s outreach worker and Community Health Promoters are dramatic ways in which the health care that it provides is focused on the community, rather than on what the clinic thinks is needed. A woman spends her work days walking around the dirt roads of the neighborhood, and checking in at the homes of people experiencing health issues, and those too frail to travel to the clinic. She is able to give out “Bonos” for free care for those who are themselves unable to afford the small fee or volunteer shift and also lack family support to help them with it.
            Community Health Promoters are volunteers who receive training in basic wound care and keep supplies like nebulizer and blood pressure machines in their homes, and are resources to their neighbors. Basic care can be provided.
            Health care as I know it is professionalized, and remarkably inaccessible: one must go to the system. While I work with nurses, physicians, physical therapists and others who visit patients at home, potential patients must go through an intake process and be aided through a maze of billing to be seen. Even for basic care, formal channels must be followed. Shifting simple care to the community means strengthening the ties among neighbors, rather than removing individuals in need from their social supports.
            I am encouraged by development work which have ten year reciprocal relationships with the community with which they collaborate, and by a vision of health care which bases its work both in and on people and their existing social ties.

Avery talking with a boy who lives at the Nicaragua Dump
Avery Welkin
Blog entry draft 8.27.2011
Visit to the >>>> Dump

            What was the last thing I threw away today?  It was probably an empty can of Del Monte Iced Tea this afternoon, left alongside some used napkins and other cans at a hostel picnic table.  Though I didn’t think much further about it then, that can had a lot farther to go than that picnic table, or even the hostel garbage can.  After our trip to La Chureca landfill yesterday morning, I can now picture a vivid place, with haunting faces, of where that can probably ended up.  This dump went beyond a place where trash is contained; it is a scar on the earth, where disposable materials and people are left to be forgotten.  Hopefully, not for much longer.
            We all filed onto the bright yellow JHC schoolbus to take a windy trip through Ciudad Sandino to a place on the edge of Managua, passing all the normal little gas stations, tortilleras, and mechanics shops to a neighborhood consisting of brand-name car dealerships in bright, shiny new buildings. (Incidentally, many of the large international car brands represented there, including Toyota and BMW, and almost all of the beer and rum in the country, are owned by one wealthy Nicaraguan family, the Pellas).  Then, we took a left, and were asked to close up the bus windows to avoid having burning trash smoke waft in.  We immediately found ourselves in a low brick alley lined with mud, and semi-sorted piles of plastic bottles, sawdust, organic waste, plastic bags, cups, and wary eyes.  In the small cross streets, there were lean-tos with people repairing bicycles with salvaged tires, or burning small piles of trash, very possibly cooking on those fires as well, while stray cats and dogs lethargically sift through the same detritus.  These people are really the poorest of the poor, living in the dump and trying to make a living by collecting recyclables for bulk materials resale.  They often get almost all of their food, clothing, and shelter from the dump as well, which means all the risks of spoiled meats and fruits, dirty, threadbare shirts, and small pieces of scrap sheet metal, wood, or plastic.  As we passed block after block of these piles and people, the brick walls fell away to more shacks (even a snack shop selling soda and cheap carbs to dump workers and residents), and the cats and dogs were joined by cows and horses grazing on the trash, or hauling it on carts.  Finally we rounded a muddy corner, and we could see the vast, layered expanse of trashed earth.  However, this story could be heading towards a positive future, because this particular dump has mostly been filled in with dirt as part of an effort to find alternatives to a massive, open air landfill.  The view from that muddy road, with trash-encrusted, packed earth mounds to our right, leading around a large cesspool to our left, led into a slum where that latent light of hope lay.
            We parked and skirted along a path around the steep banks of the cesspool to enter the >>>>>>>>> Center, led by Bismarck, a community organizer for the trash pickers living in this dump.  We traipsed through people’s front yards, back yards, and porches (solely consisting of dirt and salvaged materials) to a sturdy concrete building, built by an Italian NGO sponsor.  As we congregated under the open air space with picnic tables, so did a growing number of young children, roughly between the ages of 4 and 12.  Bismarck spoke to us, with a face both hardened and caring, of the plight of these children surrounding us, whose family’s lives had subsisted entirely around working and living in this landfill.  He noted the desperate situation of their health, from contaminated water to malnutrition, and the quashed hopes of schooling for most of these children.  He described the efforts the organization was spearheading in teaching the children to read and write, the provision of good meals for free, even mentioning a soccer team he coaches for them.  After about 20 minutes of translation, interspersed by children kicking a ball into our circle, sitting next to us, staring into our faces, smiling, crying when they fell into a puddle, and generally keeping things from getting too adult-serious, we were allowed to get down to the real business: play!  After all, when you are visiting a gargantuan landfill, and the people who live and work there by no choice of their own, for one day: what can you do?  Make the trash disappear?  Give them all food for a year?  Nope.  But, you can ask that little boy what his name is, and draw him a yellow tiger with blue stripes when he asks you to.  You can also join in their chaotic game of mud-soccer.  And, you can just give a damn about them, give their little bodies a hug, and realize that you are about to get on a bus out of hell in a few minutes, and they are not. 
So what about that can? 
First off, you can do your best not to support Del Monte products at all, whether in Nicaragua or in Oregon, where that company has a long history of labor violations, including quasi-legal deportations of their undocumented employees (see article here: http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/06/women_caught_in_fresh_del_mont.html). Next time, I’ll try and stick with something locally produced instead of a can of tea produced by misery.
Secondly, you can do your best to make sure that can gets recycled in a recycling plant, not by children in a landfill.  In hindsight today, I should have brought the can back up to the hostel lobby, where they’d probably have a labeled container. 
And third, and most importantly, make the mental connection between that can in the cooler and the landfill, or recycling plant, where it will inevitably go.  It’s not about feeling guilty (that doesn’t help anyone, including yourself) it’s about being informed about what your choices do.  Yep, it’s taking on a little bit of that first-world responsibility that we have to care, and help create better systems than we’ve done so far.  Ultimately, we probably won’t be the ones who can make all of it happen, because we’ve created this massive mess in the first place.  There’s nothing like a reckoning with a mountain of refuse created by us, paid for by the lives of other people.

PS. If you want to get a visual on what a massive landfill looks like in Latin America with some professional cinematography, great art, and a similar context, check out the recent Oscar-nominated film Wastelands (created with help from a friend from Brazil!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fourth day - Thursday

Photos were all taken on Wednesday August 24
Written Thursday Aug 25 
Schedule for this day:
7:15 AM Breakfast
8:30 AM or so Talk by Jennifer Atlee-Loudon about Liberation Theology
10:00 AM Some go to work at the clinic
12:00 PM Lunch
1:30 PM Work time - some go to work on excavating the driveway - some to the clinic.
4:30 PM Work time complete
6:00 PM Dinner

Betsey: First night musings
Sounds of chirring, chirps, trills,
Noises foreign to me, how curious!
How long since I’ve been in a place at night where I couldn’t identify the sounds of the darkness?
A wailing siren, brushing teeth, distant drumming, muted voices,
These I know, and now a chance to learn new ones.

Now Thursday night and again a quiet time to listen to the sounds outside, standing by the pool. There it is, the sounds of a video arcade, but actually "boing-boing" frogs that live here, gathered where the water is.

The days have been full for all of us with various activities and speakers and the evenings varied as well. Tuesday night a group of 10 students from Earlham College were here as part of their orientation to a study semester in Nicaragua. Laura, Becca Maholly Renk and I joined them in a EC photo. We had a great time listening to Nicaraguan folk music of Guitarra de Madera Azul, and the guitar actually was a blue wooden one. The couple’s music and the dancing of their daughter were wonderful. They closed their program with a circle dance that included all of us. What a lively evening!

Last night there weren’t any particular plans and as we sat around after dinner in the bunkhouse meeting room, Judy, one of the Episcopalians, asked us how Quakers worship and what was it like. As you can imagine there were as many descriptions as there were Quakers in the room, but we found a richness sharing our experiences and ended up getting our Faith and Practice out. The Episcopalians explained their organization and also shared from their spiritual journeys. Somehow sharings like this that just evolve have a special richness.

Josh von Kustger here. What has struck me on this trip again and again is that people are people. The same silly jokes that get a laugh for me in the States get the same laugh and rolling of the eyes in Nicaragua; even in broken Spanish. People have the same concerns and the same motivations and the same hopes here as anywhere else.

As for how I’ve been passing my time, I am now a bit of a concrete worker. Our non-medical party has been exploring the upper limits of human perspiration capacity since Monday. Today we were excavating the foundation for a paved drive way to the Genesis spinning cooperative to accommodate the trucks bearing cotton later this year. This involves picks and shovels and I keep getting flashbacks of the opening scene from BLAZING SADDLES so while my electrolyte levels are a bit off, my spirits remain intact (thank you very much Mel Brooks).

I have most enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with the folks here. Padre Pedro Bautista, Giovani and Rosa and Sarah who are all connected to Genesis, Josue who has been helping us with the paving. There was even a guy selling Eskimo (ice cream) from his pushcart who stopped by today and I had an opportunity to chat with him for a bit. The conversations have been highly rewarding, memorable and entertaining.

It is rewarding to see that the recipe for acceptance is possibly universal. All that is required is an open mind, a bit of humility, willingness to work (hard) and a smile and there is nowhere in my experience that you will not be welcome.

It has also been very helpful to be accompanied in spirit by friends not able for one reason or other to make it here. There are hammocks all over the place here. The clinic has an herb garden. They have a rescue-monkey out back and a couple of cats and dogs. There are lots of birds I’ve never seen before. I was welcomed to the country by an advertisement for Flor de Cana rum. They have a limon tree (think key lime) and served plantanos maduros (ripe plantains) for lunch today. All of these have been more-or-less unexpected reminders of people who put a smile on my face.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday, August 24. Day three!

Monday’s schedule:
 7:15 AM              Breakfast at JHC
8:00 AM               Work at JHC and Clinic
8:30 AM               Work at JHC
12:00 PM             Lunch
1:30 PM               Work at JHC
6:00 PM               Dinner at JHC
8:30 PM               St Philips flight arrives
9:30 PM               Dorm Orientation

Tuesday’s schedule:
7:15 AM               Breakfast at JHC
8:00 AM               Money changing
8:30 AM               CDCA Project orientation, Talk with Genesis pinning Cooperative
9:30 PM               Walking Tour of JHC, tour of Ciudad Sandino, Nueva Vida Clinic
12:00 PM             Lunch
1:30 PM               Work at JHC with Genesis and Clinic
6:00 PM               Dinner at JHC
7:15 PM               Nicaraguan Folk Music with Guitarra de Madera Azul

Wednesday’s schedule:
7:15 AM               Breakfast at JHC
8:30 AM               Talk with Aynn Setright about Nicaragua history at Casa Ben Linder
12:00 PM             Lunch
1:30 PM               Work at JHC and Clinic
6:00 PM               Dinner at JHC

Words from folks here:

Lew: Our whole group was taken to “Casa Ben Linder” this morning. This house is dedicated to the memory of Ben Linder with amazing beautiful murals of Ben and the projects and circus fun that were part of his spirit. It serves now as offices for some non-profit organizations and as a meeting place for progressive thinkers. Aynn Setright, who has lived here for over 30 years, gave us a fascinating talk that wove a complex and nuanced picture of the personalities and bizarre events of Nicaraguan politics. Her talk impressed me with how Nicaragua has survived many natural disasters and wars. Aynn pointed to the positive aspects of this history in that she believes this past has given Nicaragua a flexibility that may allow it to survive future environmental problems better than other countries.
In the afternoon we came back and I joined in hard labor with 3 others from the MMM group (Avery, Josh, and Tara) plus maybe 7 Nicaraguans – including several from the Genesis cooperative. The work involved digging with pickaxes and shovels to remove soil in the driveway preparing to place sand and cobblestones.  

Claire: I’ve been spending a bit of time at the health clinic here, Nueva Vida (new life), helping Becca check in patients by translating. Interpreting gives me quite a window into people’s lives here. A handful of women with small children come every day. Though they’ve all been sick, today the children seemed more visibly sick to me today. A woman held one daughter on her lap, barely two years old, who couldn’t keep her head up or eyes open, heart beating quite rapidly. The mother too had been sick. They just looked sad and tired and sick. I felt for them. Though I do not ‘do’ much for the patients, I feel privileged to have a window into their lives, and it certainly has my brain churning away as to who I am here theses ten days, in Portland the next couple years, as a citizen of the world… I find myself contemplating a lot, and chatting with other people here, about how change is affected in the world, how we honor and use our privilege wisely. Though perhaps not all too eloquent, that’s a little bit about what I’ve been doing and thinking.

Carl:  I have been considering my original proposition and reason for being at JHC:  There is hope in Nicaragua.  The current government overthrew a brutal dictator and replaced him with a democracy, which, however imperfectly, attempts to allow common people a voice and an opportunity in the great movement here to bring people out of poverty and into opportunity for many.  This would bring fuller expression of their greater potential.  That premise has been my belief since my visit 27 years ago, when I first saw the efforts the new Sandinista government was making to improve the lot of ordinary citizens. 
Now, hearing more of the current government’s political and moral compromises and alliances with un- or anti-democratic forces, I wonder if that’s a valid line of thought.  Perhaps the poverty I now see in the barrio of Nueva Vida is insurmountable.  After all, there appears to be no prospective intervention which could conceivably offer the kind of wealth-building and opportunity-creation I would like to see.  The government talks about it but isn’t funded or equipped or politically enabled to offer it.  The various grant-funding organizations, for public health issues anyway are not oriented to international efforts.  Public awareness of the enormity of poverty in the third world is pitifully absent.  From where does any hope for a people, a nation in dire poverty spring?
I don’t want to entirely abandon my premise, but I really wonder if it’s realistic at all.  Sometimes the first step toward a problem’s resolution is to confront the real magnitude of the obstacles.  Then, as Churchill said, “Never ever, ever give up!”

MariRuth: I have been privileged to spend my time interpreting for medical visits to elderly people in the Nueva Vida community and in interviews that Meghan is conducting.  I really appreciate the opportunity to have a window into the lives of others.  Being the person that I am with my skills and roles I would not have these experiences but as an interpreter I am given the opportunity to be an observer and a facilitator. 
I really enjoyed hearing from three of the women from the Genesis co-operative.  They had three very different perspectives and listening to them greatly enriched my understanding of their experience.  I am also very aware of my privilege as a Spanish speaker in the group in that I am able to have conversations with the Nicaraguan people that I run into.  I have also been going off on my own for walks and having interactions with the members of the larger community who are not associated with JHC and its projects.  I hope that the others of group who are here are also having those experiences and feel that I need to do more to facilitate that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Interlude: About Us

These are the bios we sent to JHC to tell them a little bit about who we are and why we wanted to go to Nicaragua:

Becca Cooper
I am excited to be part of this delegation to support the JHC in its work toward community health guided by the needs of locals with a goal of sustainable health care, education and habitation. I have been fortunate to have traveled extensively but I am looking forward to visiting a new part of the world and learning about the culture and life in Central America. Most notably I have spent time in West Africa doing nutritional research on viable protein replacement strategies in indigenous protein-deficient diets. I am eager to learn more about NGOs with a focus in health care and how my role as a health care provider can be of use in other areas of need. I currently work for Oregon Health and Sciences University as a Registered Nurse in the Cardiac Surgical Intensive Care Unit, so I hope to spend as much time as I can in the clinic helping there. I am very familiar with wound care and hope my experience as a surgical nurse will be useful. I see a lot of patients with chronic health issues, esp. diabetes, heart failure, vascular disease, etc. I am also happy to help in the pharmacy or whereever else there might be a need. Please just put my willing hands to work. I am fluent in French, and speak some phrases of Spanish.

Betsey Kenworthy
After years of hearing about the Jubilee House, as well as knowing some of the folks who are a part of the community, it’s a great joy to be coming to you. I haven’t traveled internationally since 1964, and never to Central or South America, so it will be an adventure for me. I speak some French, but not Spanish. I’ve taught various age levels and continue to be interested in storytelling, movement and drama, healing and energy work, building community and sharing our spiritual discoveries. I would be glad to do childcare, office work, cook, clean or whatever is helpful, though at age 70, I’m not well suited for heavy physical labor. It is especially meaningful to share this experience with others from our Meeting.

Meghan O Flaherty
I met Becca and Paul Mohally-Renk when they came to Portland last year and was immediately impressed with the work they are doing with JHC-CDCA in Nicaragua. Recently members of my Quaker Meeting began to talk about the process you use to organize communities and develop self-sustaining worker-owned cooperatives, and how that process might be replicable in other settings such as our own work with the homeless in Portland. As a writer, photographer, and former research librarian, I thought it might be useful for me to join the delegation to Nicaragua to learn more and bring the story back. I applied for and received a grant from the Lyman Fund to participate in this delegation and document the work of JHC-CDCA in Nicaragua through photographs and the written word. I have travelled extensively outside the U.S., primarily to countries in Europe, and also visited Mexico often when I was young. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I was raised in Southern California and know a few words and phrases. Except for Type II diabetes I’m physically healthy for my age, which is 64.

MariRuth Petzing
My name is MariRuth Petzing. I am a law student and prior to that I was a teacher. I am especially interested in learning from you about how you combine the local community standards, legal requirements of Nicaragua, and spiritual leadings when creating your projects and co-ops. I have extensive independent travel experience and am fluent in Spanish. I had agreed to help Meghan with interviews for her project documenting your work.

Claire Riggs
I am very excited by the prospect of traveling with Friends from MMM to Nicaragua. I am graduating from Kalamazoo College with my degree in Biology. I will be moving back to Portland this summer, and starting a Master's in Biology at Portland State University this fall. I am very interested in developmental physiology and to see where it and other interests take me. I also have a strong interest in Latin America and the culture of the Spanish-speaking world. In high school I volunteered in a small rural community in Mexico for 6 weeks--the time I spent there sounds very similar to the work of JHC. In college, I studied abroad for 6 months in Ecuador and lived in Venezuela the following summer where I had a biology internship. I also have tutored 3rd-grade students at a local Spanish-English immersion school in Kalamazoo. I am fairly fluent and quite confident speaking in Spanish and I absolutely love to chat with people and hear their stories--I look forward to that in Nicaragua. I can be useful in many capacities on this trip, including talking with people in Spanish (and helping translate where necessary), working with children, doing physical labor, cooking, cleaning, listening, helping with work pertaining to biology or the environment, or whatever else.

Lew Scholl
Latin American countries have called to me in many ways over the years. From as far back as I can remember I was fascinated with the half-Panamanian family of an uncle. Knowing them inspired my interest in learning Spanish and learning about the many cultures of Latin America. I have traveled in Central and South America and studied Spanish off and on over many years. I find something special and poetic about the Spanish language. The mixture of people, cultures, and ethnicities is rich and complex there and I find people fascinating wherever I travel. I went through Nicaragua in 1973 during a 3-month solo hitch-hiking and mountaineering trip. I thought then that I could do something in Managua to help out after the 1972 earthquake devastated the city. I had not planned well for this part of the trip and did not know how to help - so I went on down the road. Seeing the poor people and the crumbled buildings has stayed with me. I returned from that trip aware that no matter how poor I feel in my life, that I am very rich in comparison to many in this world. This awareness is partly what draws me there. We have so much and they have so little! I have long had a desire to do something with my civil engineering background that could make a difference for people where much of the public infrastructure that we take for granted is virtually non-existent. After participating in a couple of water projects with "Engineers Without Borders" and traveling to Guatemala, I felt that - while their approach is OK - there should be a way to do something similar that is more connected with the local culture, provides a two-way cultural exchange and grows more directly out of the local culture and their needs. I am impressed with what JHC has done and feel that the approach they take is more aligned with my philosophy.

Carl Thatcher
I have felt drawn like a magnet to participate in this project from the moment I heard about it.  Central America and Nicaragua have been interests of mine ever since I investigated the
Contra War to learn the real truths behind that shameful part of the many US interventions there.  I went to Nicaragua then for a week (1984) with other journalists and activists of like bent, was able to talk to government officials and ordinary people from all over, see and feel their resolve to make a new nation. The experience changed my life and vision for good.

I am a physical therapist in a long-term care facility.  I have already discussed with Becca Mohally Renk the possibilities of working there in the clinic and of doing some home visits to elderly folks in the community.  I would need a translator for this since my Spanish is very

I want to make a video journal of our delegation and the community there so far as that's possible without undue intrusion into people's privacy.

Tara Urner 
I'm very drawn to the Jubilee House Community for several reasons. I am deeply interested in community development and dynamics, especially sustainability. Building strong, sustainable communities is a mission that resonates very strongly with me. I would very much like to learn about and help with JHC projects in any way possible. I am a student in high school. I have done international volunteer work before, specifically in Jamaica. I have experience with children in the 1- to 3-year-old range from working at a daycare facility. I am physically able and willing to do hands-on work and construction. I do speak some Spanish, but I am not fluent. I am very excited to come and learn from the people at the Jubilee house and help with their mission in any way I can.

Laura Vail
I am drawn to be part of the delegation because I seek to understand how others live in different cultures and places, and to appreciate how we can learn and collaborate.

Professionally I do medical records and scheduling in an outpatient clinic; I am familiar with medical terminology and procedures and the needs of medical clinics that work with many disciplines, and hope to offer organizational support with CDCA's practice. I have worked as a grant writer and journalist with nonprofit organizations in Bulgaria and the Middle East, focusing mostly on human rights issues and political freedoms.

My interests include health care and public health; I am involved in community governance here in Portland in both my neighborhood association and our city district coalition, and enjoy learning about and working to improve communities; I care about learning with others how to live sustainably for both environmental preservation and appreciating what is truly important; I enjoy distance running and cycling and am familiar with basic bike mechanics.

My Spanish is very rusty but I aim to be back to 'conversational' by the time of our trip.

Josh von Kuster
I am drawn to be a part of the delegation because I want to make a difference in central America, I want to see how youth in Nicaragua live and relate with each other and because I am very interested in their sustainable model, particularly in coffee. I am currently a nursing student and am a trained pilot. I have extensive experience in international travel, particularly in Latin America, although mostly in an official capacity. I have rudimentary carpentry, building, gardening and coffee-roasting experience. I am a quick learner at almost every task and with language acquisition, and anticipate being a linguistic asset to the group, even though I have limited experience with Spanish.

Avery Welkin
My name is Avery Welkin, and I currently work in event coordination, and nonprofit development and administrative work. My work with The Pangaea Project might particularly be of interest to the JHC, here is my bio on their website with a wealth of other info: http://thepangaeaproject.org/staff.shtml
I have never been to Central America, though I've been to Mexico twice, and Brazil this past fall for an ethnomusicology interest. I've studied international development work, nonviolence education, cross-cultural communication, Theater of the Oppressed, and organizational development, and all of these things interest me in the context of Nicaragua. I'm excited at the possibility of traveling to see the work of the CDCA in Ciudad Sandino, to learn more of the history of the people, and to learn more about how the Spirit moves in the JHC. My Spanish is currently rudimentary, though I've studied it on and off again throughout my life enough to be able to pick it up in a short amount of time. I appreciate this opportunity and welcome from the JHC and the people of Ciudad Sandino, and I look forward to sharing stories, support, and real solidarity.

We're Actually Here!

At around 8:30 PM our delegation of 12 stepped off our plane into Managua and a wall of humidity. Our delegation was one short. Laura was stranded in Portland due to an unfortunate booking error, however, she was rebooked, and will arrive today (in fact, her plane should be touching down in the Managua airport any minute now).

We passed through customs and collected our bags without any difficulty and met Liz, volunteer coordinator at JHC shortly thereafter. We loaded our belongings into an old yellow schoolbus parked outside. The interior walls and ceiling of the bus were covered with the signatures and sentiments of the many members of previous delegations. One read "Nicaragua will always be in my heart". Our bus driver was named Chico. Liz promptly warned us that we would run several red lights on our way to the Jubilee house and that this was very normal for the time of night. We should not be alarmed.

When we arrived at the JHC compound a member of the security cooperative (one of many cooperatives at the JHC) opened the gate for us. When the bus came to a stop we climbed out to get our first look at our home for the next ten days. We were greeted by a beautiful melding of tropical sounds. Animals and insects were all around us in the darkness, making it seem alive. Liz showed us around where we were to stay. After a long day of flying, we were all tired (though maybe a little wired with the excitment of a new place in a new country). We met and spoke with several JHC members who came by to say hello, and then we said goodnight.

The next morning, after a breakfast, we sorted through the medical supplies that we brought as donations for the clinic. We filled three large duffel bags will much needed supplies, though we later found out that the clinic serves more people than we previously believed. They constantly need supplies. Shortly thereafter, our group split up into those going to work in the clinic and those going to make cement adoquines, or cobblestones.

There were a variety of things being done at the clinic. Some of us were checking the prescriptions on several pairs of eyeglasses with a lensometer. Besty is now a pro lensomotrist. Meghan interviewed four people - two at JHC and two at the clinic - and took several pictures. Dana, a doctor who joined our delegation in Houston as planned, and Becca, a nurse at OHSU saw patients for most of the day - with a break for lunch. They saw children in the morning and adults in the afternoon. Claire translated for Becca and worked in he pharmacy. Mari translated for Carl home visits to elderly patients. We are very glad to have fluent Spanish speakers in the delegation, their skills are incredibly valuable.

Back at the compound, Lew, Josh, Avery, and Tara were working with cement. First it had to be mixed, then watered, and then loaded into a large, noisy, compacting machine to be made into blocks..Pedro Batista oversaw and corrected when necessary, even joked at times. He was later fondly nicknamed Padre Pedro (Father Pedro) on account of his water sprinkling technique looking somewhat like a baptism with holy water.

This evening we had a delicious meal with several JHC members and spent a long time talking to them and getting to know them. Everyone here is very kind and easygoing, we have made friends quickly. At the time of this posting, we are awaiting Liz's return from the airport with Laura in tow. We are also expecting four more volunteers from another group flying in tonight.

There are many exciting things in store for us in the next ten days.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This Blog: A Real-Time Minute

Hello everyone, Tara here.
I have created this blog with the main purpose of - as the title suggests - recording and sharing the events of the Multnomah Monthly Meeting's delegation to Nicaragua. This blog will be a place for we - the delegates - to share thoughts, feelings, revelations, pictures, and everything else with out friends and family back home. I volunteered myself as overseer of the blog, and though I am not new to the blogosphere, I am not adept at the art of blogging. I will do my best. Stay tuned for further posts explaining a little more about who we are and what this delegation is all about.