CAFOD writer Mark Chamberlain is currently visiting our work in Nicaragua. He has been in the north of the country with our partner, ASOMUPRO. One of the aims of ASOMUPRO is to help women in the region to get nutritious food to eat. The beekeeping project in the video gives the women honey – essential nutrition – and a source of income.
Category Archives: Nicaragua
On Tuesday we visited Cerro Pando (meaning “Wonky Hill”) which is about an hour and a half north east of Managua. As we headed out of the capital I was stuck by the stark contrasts that exist in modern-day Managua. In the opposite lane were a group of work-bound, lycra clad cyclists who would have been perfectly at home amongst the boy-racers who jump the lights in London. On our right vultures competed with a stray dog and chickens over the contents of rubbish bags on the roadside.
Around 150 families live in Cerro Pando (fewer than 400 people); and they are amongst the nicest and most inspiring people you could ever meet. CAFOD have supported the work of our partner, John XXIII, there since 2006.
First came the water project: a necessity as the village’s only water source was a river that’s hard to reach (believe me, we did the trek and have the bumps, bruises and scratches to show for it) and which was used for washing clothes, people and animals as well as for drinking and cooking. A well and pumping system were installed at the bottom of the wonky hill to pump the water to a tank near the top; so that it could then run down to the pump installed in the village. This is a volcanic landscape so you can imagine how hard it is to dig channels by hand, so pretty sturdy equipment had to be brought in to do the job.
As we stand in the car park of the John XXIII Institute in Managua, watching 76 year old Miguel Marcell tying down the tarpaulin over the back of his battered truck, I count my lucky stars.
Marcel has driven for more than 8 hours, on rough roads, to collect essential health supplies for his community in the north of the country. That’s the length many people have to go to get basic health supplies in Nicaragua.
Supported by CAFOD supporters back home, and working with other faith and lay networks in Nicaragua, John XXIII run a pharmacy warehouse where they buy non-branded medicines and other health supplies in bulk. Products are then bought at two thirds of the normal price by the 80 community pharmacies served by the scheme and, in turn, they distribute the supplies to poor local households. The upshot of the system is that people end up paying only half of what they’d have otherwise had to pay for their medicines.
Covering more than a third of Nicaragua’s municipalities, the community pharmacies provide essential support to around 300,000 people each year. As impressive as this is, there are still thousands who can’t afford even these subsidised medicines.
Signor Marcel makes the 300km trip once a month – more frequently when needed, such as in times of a flu outbreak. The fact that he puts himself (and his truck) through this ordeal on such a regular basis is testament to people’s reliance on the pharmacy warehouse for their only source of affordable healthcare. Only 56% of Nicaraguans have access to healthcare but that includes those near clinics where the doctor only visits one day every two or three months.
When Miguel arrived at the warehouse he was greeted as an old friend by all the staff and especially by Dr Edilberto Mendoza who leads John XXIII’s community health programme. Dr Mendoza knows all the communities served by the local pharmacies and this inside knowledge is what makes the service so effective. For example, the 200 medications stocked at the warehouse are chosen because they are the most needed primary health products in those particular communities.
I asked Miguel what he’d come for today and he told me that the drugs they rely on most are antibiotics, analgesics, medicines for respiratory problems and vitamins. These supplies are so precious that he insisted they travel in his cab with him, for fear they might be stolen as he crossed the capital.
He also collected umpteen bags of soya, which John XXIII offers as a good source of cheap protein. 20% of Nicaraguan children aged 5 or under are suffering from chronic malnutrition but the figures are worse in rural areas, where 35% of little ones are malnourished.
As we waved Miguel on his way and wished him a safe journey, we were all pretty humbled by the dedication of this remarkable man. I was going to say that we sometimes don’t know we’re born; but I’ll save my discoveries about Nicaragua’s frighteningly high maternal and infant mortality rates for another day.
About the author: Beth Brook is CAFOD’s Legacy Manager. She is currently visiting CAFOD funded projects in Nicaragua.
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
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Travelling north back to the borders with Honduras, we got to Jinotega and met Merryl and Jose Antonio - the main guys at our partner there, Caritas Jinotega – and both with amazing stories to tell.
Jose Antonio recounted how he was forcibly conscripted into the Nicaraguan army to fight the Contras at the age of just 16. He was on a bus which was pulled over and all the 16-25 year old men were told to disembark – it was six months until he could get a message home.
These days Caritas Jinotega are doing some brilliant things reforming agricultural practices, and working to reduce the vulnerability of poor communities to natural disasters – all too commonplace here.
Today we went to Maunica, a small community an hour from Managua, and met some amazing young people – all so driven to change their environment for the better.
After dodging the cows in the road and puppies sleeping in the sunshine, we realised we were late for class!
The class in question was a workshop for young people and community leaders. Last year, seven communities came together and drew up a plan for where they want to be in a year’s time.
We had gatecrashed their first workshop of the new year – one of a series that will help them achieve their goals. Some had walked on the road to end all roads for 2.5 hours to get here.