Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Daddy Was Himself

On July 29th, my daddy died.  I missed the memorial service and all the stories told about Daddy because I am in California still recuperating from my surgeries…so here are my thoughts on my father…please allow me this luxury.

Daddy was complicated and frequently misunderstood or under-valued. 

So much of Daddy re-defined how lives can be lived.  He was the second child of a father who abandoned him, his mother, and brother in 1932 at the height of the depression.  His mother had a 6th grade education and after a couple of years, she married Rob.  The marriage was more of an oral contract than anything based on love or even mutual respect.  She would clean, share his bed, cook, etc. and Rob would take care of her boys so that she would not ever have to abandon them to an orphanage.

Much of Daddy’s outlook was greatly influenced by that kind of poverty…and is something we see daily with young girls living in poverty and the decisions they make.

Daddy met Mama while he was finishing his time in the military, which was a way out of poverty.  He was a high school dropout and she was a college graduate from a family that valued formal education.  They had a whirlwind courtship and married on 10th of October 1953…nine months later I was born. 

Daddy went back to school and got the then-equivalent of a GED, a Bachelors of Arts, and a Masters of Divinity.  Our family, at his last graduation, included three children.  In hindsight and having a son with ADHD, I think Daddy also had ADHD.  School was not easy for him and with children it took lots of work and patience, but when he decided that he needed to do something (like quit smoking after I was born) he did it. 

He had enormous determination when there was hope for more…I think loving Mama gave him that hope.  He and Mama were married almost 62 years and they loved each other deeply all those years.  

For more than 40 years Daddy was a pastor in two branches of the Presbyterian faith: Presbyterian (U.S.) and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian.  He strongly believed in women being ordained and having equal participation in the church’s leadership.  He strongly believed in civil rights for all.

One of his strongest held tenants of faith was that the Church should be open to all. 
When I was a girl the KKK came into the area where we grew up, Daddy preached against their hate (and lost members who return later while he was still the pastor).  He tore down their propaganda fliers off telephone poles.  He received death threats in the night by phone.  One of the few times I ever saw my daddy cry was when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.

Later, his congregation was the first to integrate in the ARP Church since the Civil War…and it happened with him threatening to resign because “the church was to be open to all...or it was not God’s church.”  He modeled for me what the Church could be…had to be, in order to be faithful.

Daddy and Mama left the U.S. in their 60s to go teach English in the People’s Republic of China.  I think he was happiest there.  He thrived in China teaching graduate students and preparing them to go to the West to study.  The students loved him, as did the university.  In fact, after they left China, they found out  that their portrait had been hung in a hall with local and federal communist leaders…the two Christian teachers from the West.

Daddy was not a pastor of the country club variety.  He was himself…a man who grew up in poverty, who believed in openness, who welcomed all, AND who - late in life - left the known to teach in the unknown.  I learned from him that being yourself was a much happier way to live one’s life - whether it was popular or not - and that taking risks could lead to joy.

As a child who got little attention, Daddy did love to be the center of attention which came easy because he was funny, a GREAT story teller, and he loved to croon old songs.  Our Nicaraguan staff enjoyed the time when he and Mama came to visit.  Daddy would sit in the kitchen and - in English - flirt and tease the women in the kitchen who were cooking for volunteers.  They would come out of the kitchen always laughing. 

Daddy showed me realities in this world that shaped me.  I miss him…and when I leave California to finally go to South Carolina, I dread going into that house and not hearing “Hey!  Baby!  Come give your daddy a kiss.” -Kathleen

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Co-op Office

In our community we often say, “Until things change, they remain the same.”

Well, something big has changed!

COPROEXNIC has moved out of our office!

COPROEXNIC is the agricultural co-op that works to help Nicaraguan small hold farmers get better prices for their crops through marketing, processing and exporting organic peanuts, sesame, cotton and coffee.  We helped start the co=op and have worked hand in hand with them for a long, long time. Now, after 20 years of sharing office space… 

…first at a folding table on the front porch of our house…later a desk in the entrance of our office…then 4 desks squeezed into a very tiny room in our office……the agricultural co-op has moved out! 

Last week COPROEXNIC rented a house across the street: three rooms, two porches, ample parking space inside for their three vehicles.  

Watching them move was a joy: they were giggly and giddy. They laughed happily while toting off their files and computers across the street. They immediately set up their coffee maker and played host to us when we came over to visit. A week later, they are still thrilled…you can see for yourself and take a tour of their new offices in this video

With Kathleen recovering in the U.S. and Mike there with her, COPROEXNIC is having to learn to get along without Mike: they are working with me, but they are also doing a lot more on their own. This move across the street is a huge step toward independence that all of us – JHC-CDCA and COPROEXNIC alike – have long professed to be working toward, but is often a two steps forward one step back kind of process.  
I’ll be honest: it’s been a hard few months around here, and it’s not getting any easier, so we’re going to take this move as a victory and celebrate it. Celebrate with us…Woo hoo! -- Becca

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Choked Up with Gratitude

I wanted to write about my friend Martha today, but when I sat down at the computer, no words came out.

Right after she died, I had no trouble writing a heartfelt blog post in celebration of her life and committing to fighting the cervical cancer that killed her.

Today, two and a half years after her death, I am seeing Martha just before she died, hollow cheeked and wild-eyed as she said to me over and over again, “Rebe, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.”

I don’t know why Martha’s death is affecting me so much now, but I do know that grief isn’t a linear progression.

Maybe it’s because when Martha died I thought we would all be so glad to have her beautiful voice recorded so that we could listen to her always, but now I can’t bear to listen; the recording isn’t the same, and I know we will never hear her sing to us again.

Maybe it’s because when Martha died I didn’t understand the pain that her daughter Abril would go through for the rest of her life. When I spend time with Abril now, I am amazed at the gorgeous young woman she’s becoming at 13, but my closeness with her also means that I’ve glimpsed the abyss that Abril treads around each day, and I’m beginning to understand that she will always tiptoe around that chasm.

Maybe it’s because when Martha died she was older than me and Abril was so much older than my girls that I thought they’d had a long time together. But this year my daughter Eibhlín and I will be the same age as Abril and Martha were when Martha died. I now see that the time they had together was the blink of an eye, that another year or ten would never be enough time with my daughter.  

Dr. Gulnara Martinez, obstetrician gynecologist
The reason I tried to write about Martha this week is that on Monday a new doctor started at the Nueva Vida Clinic. Dr. Gulnara Martínez is an obstetrician gynecologist. She will be caring for the women of the Nueva Vida community every afternoon, prenatal care for our new mothers program, annual exams, breast exams and PAPs. If any PAPs come back with abnormal results, Gulnara can do cryotherapy, freezing and removing precancerous lesions right there in the Clinic before they even get to a size the human eye can see. By the time Martha even got her PAP results, her cancer had spread to other organs.

Maybe the real reason I can’t talk about Martha today is because my throat is choked by a lump of gratitude for the designated donation we received to hire an ob/gyn for the next five years. Being able to hire Gulnara, to have women’s health care at the clinic every day, means that maybe a daughter in Nueva Vida will be spared having to spend her life tiptoeing around the void where her mother used to be. That is a victory worth talking about. – Becca

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wolves of My Heart

There was a plague of pregnancy in my high school. Between freshman and senior year, my graduating class had a drop-out rate of over 10%: girls who got pregnant dropped out; girls who dropped out got pregnant. By 10th grade all my middle school friends had dropped out, and most of them had babies before graduation.  

My 20th high school reunion was last weekend. I know that those teen moms have now gone on to be great mothers and successful women… but I also know they don’t take any of their successes for granted because they have had to struggle every step of the way, most as single mothers with no higher education.

In Nicaragua, only 10% of the population graduates high school, and teen pregnancy is a full-fledged scourge: 45% of all births are to girls aged 14-19. In our own New Mothers Program at the Nueva Vida Clinic, we consistently have 40 women participating, nearly all between the ages of 12 and 19.

So in May 2014 we started a program at the clinic for at-risk teen girls with the goal of keeping them from getting pregnant at a young age. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but our health promoter Jessenia and I decided we needed to try. She and her health promoters identified 11 girls in Nueva Vida who weren’t in school or who were living in difficult situations at home (most come from families with 8 or 9 kids and many don’t eat three meals a day).

 We asked the girls to come to the clinic for our first meeting. They didn’t show up. We talked to their moms  and rescheduled another meeting. They didn’t show up again. So we invited them to go to the movies: a little carrot never hurts, right? They all showed up! They’d never been to the movies before. We got popcorn and soda and introduced ourselves before Godzilla started. They couldn’t even tell us their names and ages without getting too shy to talk, but they came back the next week.

Since then, we’ve promised them an outing one week, then a talk at the clinic the next. At the clinic we start off with a game, then we talk about heroines: we tell them stories of women and girls from Nicaragua and around the world who have done brave and amazing things. We talk about important stuff: self esteem, beauty, puberty, sex, family planning, HIV, rape. When we first started, the girls refused to answer questions, but they bravely named their group Las Lobas, the She Wolves. By the time we had advanced to anatomy several months later, I asked who wanted to get up in front of the group and name the female organs and they were all shouting “Me! Me! Me!”

And we do crafts…So.Many.Craft.Projects. When we started most of the girls couldn’t cut a straight line or follow simple instructions. Now they love to be creative, to color, to collaborate.

But most of all they love getting out of their neighborhood: we’ve been to the movies, the park, the lake, the smoking volcano crater, the museum…. We’ve also met with strong women in our own community: the bank manager (“I used to walk to school barefoot because I didn’t have shoes”), the city’s legal counsel (“I’m the youngest of 15 and didn’t start first grade until I was 10”) and we went to the university. The Lobas had never been to a university before. How can you imagine yourself somewhere if you have never been there?

Last week they went to Nagarote, a town 45 minutes to the north, where they met another girls group, Las Chicas of the organization Nica Photo, and they made friends in a few hours. Next month, the Lobas will begin going to Nagarote once a week for a two hour class taken together with Las Chicas and with girls from the U.S.  The class is all done online in pairs; they will be learning about computers, CAD and 3-D printing. And after that, who knows what they’ll be capable of? Little by little, the world is opening up for our Lobas.

Jessenia and I still don’t have a clue what we’re doing, but these wonderful wolves are teaching us as we go along. I just wish my middle school friends in Idaho could have had the chance to be Lobas. – Becca 

 Support the Nueva Vida Clinic's Manic Monday fundraising campaign here or text CLINIC to 41444.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Time-Out with the Monkey

I put myself into Time-Out with the monkey this afternoon.

Poor Bella is missing Mike, he’s the one who usually feeds her and lets her climb all over him. So she needs a little extra attention.

Plus, I was feeling so badly I figured being mauled by a monkey couldn’t make my day any worse.

It’s not just the monkey... we are all missing Mike and Kathleen. We are so, so glad that Kathleen is out of the hospital and beginning recovery. But it will be a long road… the doctors want to monitor her for months. If everything goes well, we are hoping they will be able to come home in October. That is feeling like a LONG time from now.

Mike and Kathleen are pretty comfortable at Tiff’s house now, but there are long commutes for many medical appointments to monitor her pulmonary embolisms. Kathleen’s blood levels are not yet up to where the doctors want them, so Mike is giving her multiple injections. Daily. In the stomach.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the rest of us got through the crisis of Kathleen’s hospitalization, a delegation, supporting Pat and Kathy as they deal with the ongoing minutia of dealing with their mom's stuff on top of their grief, and the launch of our fundraising campaign for the clinic – Manic Monday is right!

Then we got a chance to breathe, and suddenly I got really scared.

I realized how close we came to losing Kathleen.

I felt vulnerable. And very small.  The job of the next few months is looming above us, and I’m not at all sure I’m up to the task.

Kathleen is our heart. She has a way of calling us all to be better people without being smug. She can take a complex issue and break it down into a simple, moving piece. Sarah and I have been doing much of the writing for our Clinic fundraising campaign. What Kathleen – who is so passionate about the Clinic – could say in 10 words, Sarah and I struggle to say in 30. Usually Kathleen does the writing, I edit, and Sarah makes it look pretty and fit on the page. Without Kathleen, we are clumsy, top heavy. We are a two legged stool.

Mike is our visionary. When we lose sight of what we’re doing, Mike distills a job down to its essence and gives us a renewed sense of purpose, a passion. Mike also shoulders a lot of our collective worry. He knows on any given day how close to the wire the farmer co-op finances are, what clients owe them money, which containers have been at sea for months instead of weeks. He carries that constant anxiety so the rest of us don’t have to. Without Mike, I’m the one who knows enough to be worried, and I’m not sure I’m up to that burden.

Today I definitely wasn’t. It became abundantly clear that our cash flow is more like a cash drip, but the bills are flowing like a river. The worry began to gnaw at my belly.

So I went out to see Bella the monkey. I brought her shiny leaves from her favorite plant, but Bella left them and climbed straight up onto my shoulder. She sat there while I scratched her head. I talked, she chirruped… one primate to another. After a while, the worry subsided, and I found I could face the wall of emails again.

I don’t know how our finances are going to work out, but I do know we’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other. I know that Sarah will keep high-fiving me when we manage to get something right. I know that Mike will be at the other end of the phone, making the muddle come into focus. I know that Kathleen will be rooting for us and sending us ridiculous pictures of her convalescence to make us laugh. I know that Bella will be chirruping at me from the garden.
Friends, if you’re the praying type, we’d all appreciate your prayers for Kathleen’s health, for the Clinic’s financial situation, and for the agricultural co-op as they struggle through growing pains with Mike so far away.

If you’re the proselytizing type, we’d sure appreciate you telling your friends how they can help through the Nueva Vida Clinic’s Manic Monday campaign.

Thank you. – Becca

Monday, July 13, 2015

Just Another Manic Monday

By all rights, Kathleen should be writing this.

But Kathleen has been in the hospital in California. We are immensely grateful for the excellent quality of care that Kathleen has received.

Nurse Martha checking in patients
But back home in Nicaragua, we are also concerned about our ability to continue giving quality care to the patients at the Nueva Vida Clinic, a project that Kathleen particularly has worked to develop over 16 years.

The services we provide at the Nueva Vida Clinic have expanded and improved… now our patients receive truly high quality care. We see 16,000+ patients annually from Ciudad Sandino with a special focus on the poorest barrio, Nueva Vida. Our patients are seen by our general practitioner, pediatrician, radiologist, orthopedist, and dentist. They receive medications, lab tests, ultrasounds, EKGs, PAPs, counseling and eyeglasses. We have developed comprehensive care programs for patients with chronic illnesses, HIV, new mothers, family planning, and at-risk girls.

But improved care also means increased costs, and our donations have not increased correspondingly. This means even our general operating money is going to cover clinic costs, leaving us financially stretched in every direction.

We don’t know what would have happened to Kathleen during her health crisis if she hadn’t had access to amazing health care, and it frightens us to think about it. But we do believe everyone everywhere should have access to that kind of care, not just those who can afford to pay for it.  

Orthopedist Dr. Perez examining patient
Here in Nicaragua, we can do our part to make sure people who need it are getting the best outpatient care possible. We remain committed to continuing to provide high quality care through the Nueva Vida Clinic, but we need your help.

It will cost $300,000 to run the clinic this year – which includes everything:  clinic staff salaries, medicines, exams, and supplies – or roughly $20 per patient visit. We know that cost is relatively low, but our patients can’t afford to pay $20. So we ask patients to contribute $2 toward the cost of their care, and the rest must be covered by donations.

We need to raise 10% of our annual clinic budget, $30,000 by August 15. This would cover the cost of 1,500 patient visits, or the equivalent of all the Mondays left in 2015.

Mondays are a particularly busy day for us: everyone who’s gotten sick over the weekend shows up, from small children to see our pediatrician, to elderly patients to see our orthopedist. A full waiting room, high fevers, high blood pressures, high blood sugars and hacking coughs are just another Manic Monday for the Nueva Vida Clinic [click here to see Manic Monday for yourself with our new video!].

  • Join our crowdfunding campaign through MobileCause here
  • Donate by texting CLINIC to 41444 (yes, we’re shuffling into the 21st century!) 
  • Share on your social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). This is important: we need you to introduce us to your friends, raising this amount of money by August 15 means we need new donors! Here are some ideas for social media: 
    • If you’re grateful for care you’ve received, donate and then share your #gratefulgiving story on your social media with our donation link 
    • Take a selfie of your #ManicMonday and share it on your social media with our donation link
    • Keep up with our #ManicMonday campaign, the #NuevaVidaClinic and all we do at the CDCA via periodic text messages: text CDCA  to 51555 
    • Join us on social media: Facebook Twitter Instagram
    • Send your good thoughts and prayers for the Nueva Vida Clinic and for Kathleen’s speedy recovery

Becca, for the Community

Just Another Manic Monday patient line-up at the Clinic

Monday, July 6, 2015

Kathleen Hospitalized

Kathleen is in the hospital at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California.

She, Mike, and Daniel went up to California 10 days ago to see Coury as Che Guevara in a production of Evita and instead she wound up in the hospital with a bleeding spleen. She’s had two surgeries; they’ve removed her spleen and are now monitoring two pulmonary embolisms. After 10 days in ICU, she was finally moved to a regular room yesterday.

We are grateful that so much of the family has been there to support Kathleen and each other: Mike, Tiff, Coury, Daniel, Jessica, and Coury's girlfriend Cassie were all there initially to support her in so many ways (Cassie is a doctor at the hospital where Kathleen is). Daniel has now come home to Nicaragua and Jessica has returned to her kids in MA, but the others are always close by and Mike hasn't left the hospital yet.

Since the surgeries, each day has been a battle with one sort of complication or another. Kathleen has been extremely uncomfortable with all the tubes, but they are beginning to remove those and we hope she'll be able to rest better. They still have her on oxygen and she still has fluid in her lungs.

We hope she's now beginning the long process of recovery. Yesterday she was able to walk a lap around the ICU - the first successful walk since the surgery - and she is now able to eat a little food. But it's going to be a long road. We expect Mike and Kathleen to remain in CA over the next several months as she gets better.  

We are immensely grateful for the excellent quality of care that Kathleen has received. We are also grateful for the prayers and good thoughts everyone has been sending, keep them coming! 

If you'd like to write a note of encouragement, you can send it to  Thank you!   -- Becca, for us all

UPDATE 6:30PM FRIDAY 10 JULY: They released Kathleen from the hospital late today! Wonderful news! 

UPDATE 22 JULY: Kathleen remains under daily supervision as an out-patient of UCDavis Medical in California, while their clinic team works to get her blood thinner stable at a therapeutic level.  Keep those prayers coming, the recovery is slow. Kathleen and Mike will need to stay in the Sacramento/SF area for three months.