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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Help in Times of Trouble

Jill Floerke
While Mike and I were on vacation in faraway Italy, Kathy and Pat brought their mother Jill
to Nicaragua to live after she had broken her hip… two weeks later we received notice that Jill died while taking a nap in the car with Sarah.  They were waiting outside of the Lenin Fonseca Hospital, while Kathy was inside trying to get Jill an appointment.

Death here is a hands-on experience.  Unlike the States, when someone dies here the bodies do not go automatically to the morgue or to a funeral home.  Most families care for and bury the body of their loved ones themselves.

As the story over the next few days unfolded, our hearts were filled with gratitude for our friends.  Penn, a friend visiting Pat from Pennsylvania, stayed with Pat until Sarah brought Kathy home with Jill’s body.

ecca, who was holding down the office, told Rogelio, the CDCA’s construction genius, of Jill’s death.  Rogelio, who had never touched a dead body before, though so many in his family have died, organized the CDCA’s security guards to stand watch for Sarah and Kathy's arrival.  They all gently carried Jill’s body into her home to be cleaned and dressed. Daniel's girlfriend Claudia came right away to give her condolences and share the memory of her joyful visit with Jill a few days earlier, when Claudia brought her puppy, much to Jill's delight.

Josefa & Jorge

Jorge, the clinic’s full-time radiologist, and Josefa, the clinic’s administrator, walked Pat and Kathy through all the avenues of declaring the death, the paperwork, and finding a place to cremate the body.  With Jorge and Josefa’s help, Sarah and Becca took care of  the logistics while Kathy and Pat sat by their mother’s body until the funeral home came to take the body away.

Little Eibhlín and Orla wanted to come immediately to give their love to them because they also know of death.

The following day, Jenny, who works fighting the horrors in Honduras, came and visited and did a cleansing ceremony for Pat and Kathy.  Another friend named Kathy, who was caring for her own mother’s health, brought finger foods for guests.  Daniel, our son, drove Pat and Kathy to pick up the ashes.

Messages poured in from all over the world as many of us sent word out of Jill’s death.  Sarah, Becca, Paul, Daniel, Joseph, and all the CDCA’s staff gave Kathy and Pat the space to grieve.

This is how most Nicaraguans deal with death… an outpouring of support and aid.

When I came home and thanked Rogelio, Jorge, and Josefa for their care, they looked at me strangely -- and not because of my terrible Spanish -- but because, as they said “of course, of course”… because - in other words - why would ANYONE do differently?


Monday, June 22, 2015

Not Normal

Another mass shooting in the United States…that phrase in-and-of itself is terrifying…“another mass shooting in the United States.”  When did mass shootings become so common place?

Equally terrifying is the response.  There are no Senate and Congress meetings and hearings trying to address this enormous problem.  President Obama is not pushing an agenda to end mass shootings.  There is acceptance on an active level.  Do the people in the States think that mass shootings are normal?  Because they are not…not in the least.

Killing nine people in a Bible study is not normal.
The shooting in an African Methodist Episcopal Church Bible study (Charleston, SC) brings up many questions that need answers…and I, at least, know the answers even if the pundits or politicians do not.  So here they are….
1.    Is racism an issue?  Yes, it is.
2.    Is our mental health system addressing the vast growing needs of the mentally ill?  No, it is not.
3.    Do we need gun control?  Yes, we do.

A day when racism is no longer an issue seem eons away, which is why the government, the judicial system, the law enforcers, and those who believe that there really is a God of love…HAVE to PROTECT those of darker skins…not shoot them.  Not imprison them.  Not take away their voting rights.  And for the believers…NOT BE QUIET any longer.  Silence is killing our darker skinned brothers and sisters. 
Several who know the young man reported to be the shooter say he has Black friends…they also say he has a problem with drugs and, reading the bits that I have, he seems obviously unstable…which leads to question #2…
Mental illness is not being sufficiently diagnosed or treated in the States.  Funding care for people who are ill has been routinely cut.  If someone is – by miracle – diagnosed and given medication, there is no assurance that they will stay on the medication.  We are learning so much about the brain today and maybe in 20 years we will be able to treat more permanently, but until that time, funding for diagnosis, funding for treatment, and a plan to help people stay on their medication is critical. 

Equally important is not allowing people who cannot decipher reality from fantasy the implements to blow holes in other people, which leads to…

One of the most controversial topics in the States – the hated gun control. 
“What about our 2nd amendment?” People ask, without understanding the amendment at all.  The second amendment was designed to protect the nation…not individuals.  It was designed to give the populace a method for defending the nation against intruders and against tyranny within the government…or  in other words, the ability to overthrow the nation. 
If we truly hold to those principles, then we belong with those living in the hills of Idaho waiting to overthrow the government.  If we truly believe the amendment should not be changed, then we should be allowed not only guns but also bombs, tanks, etc., because in today’s time the only way to protect against an enemy nation invading or against the U.S. military is having weapons no one in their right mind would consider having…well, no one who *I think* is in their right mind.
So let’s quit quoting the 2nd amendment and let’s look at realities.  Guns are dangerous.  You'd have to be really well-trained to be able to knife multiple people to death within seconds.  The young man arrested for the AME Church shootings had gotten the gun as a birthday gift from his father in April. 

Guns lead to deaths in matters of rage…

Compare that with what happened to me and Joseph, our son, in the street in Managua. A truck ran a bus into a median and…talk about road rage!  The bus helper came out swinging and the truck helper came out with a pipe.  More people from each vehicle joined the melee.   I laid down on my horn and pedestrians came from all over to intercede.  The fight broke up.  People got back in their vehicles, and we went on.  But what could have happened if guns were legal in Nicaragua?  Some of the fighters, pedestrians or even Joseph or I could be dead or injured in a hospital.

I look at the States from afar and I feel a huge dread in the pit of my stomach…the violence that is accepted seems to be growing.  People are not shocked as they used to be.  People are more content to be yelling than problem-solving…including our own federal government.  Those of us who do not live in the States are more and more shocked by the complacency we see in the people who live there.  People from other countries - Nicaragua included - are completely baffled.

This level of violence is not normal…and if it becomes normal, then the whole of society needs to do an abrupt turn and change “normal.” -Kathleen

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Father's Day link

For Father's Day...

If you want to give a gift in honor of your Father, you can give online.

For more information, the link, which we forgot to include in yesterday's blog is: