Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Drought Threatens Nicaraguan Food Supply

July is the end of the first growing season in Nicaragua…or should be, but Nicaragua is in a drought caused by a meteorological phenomenon called El Niño.  The band of warm Pacific waters collects off the coasts in South America and creates drought around the countries along the equator. 

Nicaragua gets rain typically from May to November.  Usually it starts raining in May and farmers hurriedly plant their crops.  From mid-July to mid-August the rains slack off and farmers harvest their first crop of the season.  When the rains start back up, the next crop goes in the ground to be harvested in November and December.  From November to May, hardly a drop of rain falls.

This year the first season’s crops failed due to no rain or not enough rain.  What does this mean for the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?
  • ·         Food prices have risen including meat and dairy as cattle starve.
  • ·         Red beans (the most important source for protein) are now imported beans and have doubled in price.
  • ·         Rural farmers do not have enough to feed their families and have lost all capital.
  • ·         Coffee the main export crop, which suffered last year from a fungus, is now suffering from lack of rain.  This hits the national budget as well as small coffee producers and  the already low paid, landless, temporary workers.
·         Most of the food grown for local consumption is grown in the Western and central part of Nicaragua which is the section of Nicaragua that is being affected by El Niño.

The rains are not expected to start until September and no one really knows how well these rains will be.  Nicaragua is one of the 10 most vulnerable countries for climate change.  Many climatologists consider that El Niño has been strengthened due to the warming of the sea waters because of climate change.

The chart to the left is Nasa's reporting of the rise of temperatures over the 60 years.

Nicaragua has 52% of its energy coming from renewable sources with a goal of 94% by 2017.  Nicaragua has an aggressive reforestation program.  Nicaragua has the second largest rain forest in the Western Hemisphere and yet suffers severely from climate change…doesn’t seem fair, does it?  

But as history dictates the poor suffer while the wealthy consume and consume…which is why Gandhi said that “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”  Clothed in silence poverty breaks the human spirit and kills on a rampant scale.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Why No Nicaraguan Children?

Since last October, 52,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have entered the U.S. with no many have been detained by immigration that there is a real humanitarian crisis in detention centers.  But these children are all from Honduras, Guatemala and El Nicaraguan children.  

Why not? Perhaps looking at the reasons why Nicaraguan children are not immigrating would help the U.S. to shape an effective policy to keep Central American kids at home with their families instead of having to flee.  
In a recent article, the organization NicaNet stated: "The problem of the children migrants is blowback from US policy in the 1980s when our government trained and funded Salvadoran and Guatemalan military and police to prevent popular revolutions and more recently when the US supported the coup against President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. Those countries were left with brutal, corrupt armies and police forces whereas Nicaragua, with its successful 1979 revolution, got rid of Somoza's brutal National Guard and formed a new army and a new police made up of upstanding citizens.

"Who consumes all those drugs that are causing all that violence and corruption in Latin America? Who has militarized the Drug War and is funding and training repressive militaries and police in the countries from which the children are fleeing? In both cases it is the United States."  

Take a moment to imagine making a decision to send your child by herself to a country where you have never been, knowing that she must travel more than one thousand miles with strangers, riding on top of trains, walking through desert, all in hope that if she gets there, she can find her way to a distant relative.  What situation would you have to be in to make that decision?  As a mother of two girls, I can only imagine one: where it is more dangerous for them to stay at home.  

Kids from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are being forced to emigrate to the U.S. by themselves because their countries are very dangerous.  Honduras, with 92 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, has the highest murder rate in the world. El Salvador has 69, Guatemala 39, Panama 14.9 and Costa Rica 10.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Nicaragua disproves the myth that poverty causes violence: it's the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but has a homicide rate of just 8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. 

Recently Nicaragua's Police spokesman was at a regional conference on community policing in San Salvador and in his talk credited Nicaragua's community policing model for making the it  one of the safest countries in Latin America, describing it as “a model of shared responsibility, that of person-family-community” which shapes all the areas of police work. In 2013, out of each 100 cases reported to the Nicaraguan police, they have been able to resolve 79. This compares to the almost complete impunity for crime, especially politically motivated crime, in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- in Honduras only 3 out of 100 crimes are even investigated.  

In addition to safety, many Central American kids simply don't see any future for themselves at home.  According to an article this week by Portillo and Torres, in Honduras, young women and children are most vulnerable from "an attack on the education system, a shockingly poor healthcare system, poor incentives, a violence created by drug cartels that the government cannot control, low wages in export processing zone industries, and a rate of inflation that leaves people not being able to afford quality food and goods, what future is there for a working class kid?

Meanwhile, the situation in Nicaragua is strikingly different.  Nicaragua's expected 2014 GDP growth rate will put it among the five fastest growing countries in Latin America, prospering even though its significant investments in poverty reduction, education and health care go against the austerity and structural readjustment programs prescribed by multilateral agencies like the IMF and World Bank:

  •  Nicaragua has achieved the goals set by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Zero Hunger Challenge ahead of schedule and lowered the extreme poverty level from 17.2% to 7.6%.  
  • Nicaragua ranks second in Latin America and the Caribbean after Venezuela as the country that most reduced the gap between rich and poor in recent years. 
  • Health care is improving all the time with immunization coverage at more than 95% and in 7 years maternal mortality rates have been reduced from 93 per 100,000 live births to 50 per 100,000 live births. 
  •  More kids are going to school and staying there: Nicaragua has a school retention rate of approximately 96% of the students enrolled and ALL students get a free meal at public preschools, elementary and high schools each day. 
  • Nicaragua is the country with the most gender equality in Latin America and the Caribbean and tenth worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). This means that in Nicaraguan women have greater access to health and education, and more  political participation and economic inclusion. 
Of course, Nicaragua still has a long way to go...but Nicaraguan children don't. They are safe staying right where they are at home, and if the U.S. government wants to keep unaccompanied children from crossing the border, then it should focus its Latin American policy on making sure that Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan kids are safe, healthy, educated and have a future in their home countries. -- Becca 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Population Control

Controlling the population is a controversial topic for many.  Why?•    It touches on religion, especially those who think the reason for sexual relationships is for procreation only.
•    It touches on Rich Nations vs Poor Nations…people in rich nations tell the poor nations they are over populating the earth…poor nations tell rich nations it is all about consumption in which the rich are exploiting all the resources.
•    And it very much also touches on women’s rights to decide when and if they choose to have children.

China has had massive problems with their overpopulation and decided to “fix” it by passing a one child law, which means that the State will support only one child per family except for parents of the under populated different racial groups.  What has this meant?  People with money have more children, and girls are being aborted or left to die at birth…because sons can take better care of the aging parents…and now there are 35 million men with no available female mates.
In poverty stricken countries people still have lots of children to ensure some will reach adulthood…can you even imagine?  In wealthier countries when a child dies before a parent as that being the unnatural way…the wrong way of life but in poor countries many parents have buried their children…it is the norm, not the oddity.

As we noted on Mother's Day, in Nicaragua the birth rate is dropping but teenage pregnancy is higher here than any other country in the Western Hemisphere and we have to ask, Why?  Birth control is available and though the Catholic Church is strong here, religion plays some role but not much.*

What seems to be the largest factor for teen girls is hopelessness.  They see no future, so they look for their future in older men and a baby. 

Iran faced overpopulation and seemed to reduce their population by the most sensible way possible…the government and the religious leaders stressed family planning.   Family planning is free…ALL types of modern family planning.  MEN and women have to go to family planning classes BEFORE they are issued a marriage license.  Women are encouraged to stay in school and that includes graduate school.   Iran…is lauded for getting its population back under control and they did it through education and giving hope.Becca and Jessenia, our health promoter, have started a group of teen girls with donations from the Mother’s Day alternative gift.  They took the group last week to see the movie, Godzilla, and the horror of the afternoon was not the movie but hearing their stories as they traveled and had snacks…one is one of 12 children in a very poor family…one is part of the family that had 2 children to die a few years ago from pneumonia and the mother miscarried from grief because they were “saving” the medicine, thinking they might need it more later.  A movie was a great way to get the group started, to get out, see more, see different possibilities, and have some long-awaited fun.
Free family planning, education for all, and above all hope for women…and girls…if you want to have a world less populated, that is what you work for. 
*The Church does play a heavy role in policy on abortion, which has always been illegal in Nicaragua and in recent years therapeutic abortions (when the mother's life is in danger) have also become illegal.

Monday, June 16, 2014

May Matching A Wild Success!

The response that we got from the May Matching Gift Challenge went far beyond what we had imagined.  Over $120,000!  Thank you to all who gave! This money will give us a boost to begin in earnest needed programs.  The donor who issued the challenge is giving his part in installments, which is also good because it help the work continue.*

Besides the actual cash, these gifts are encouragement to us as well.  Sarah had many of her Spring speaking engagements cancelled due to weather and then we were told not to apply for a grant to help women with cervical cancer, she and I – at least – were bummed.  This feels like an answer to prayer.

I have been in the States with my parents for the last week.  Daddy and I listened to a televised Bible study.  It was on tithing.  The message repeated over and over was “tithe and God will bless you beyond your wildest dreams…maybe not now but later.”  The reality is that if I did not see the poor day in and day out, I might agree with him, because I grew up with Mama teaching me that we were to give 10% to those in need and then we were not to worry because God would take care of our needs….and the Matching Challenge and the response certainly feels like this.

The problem is that I see desperately poor people sharing their meager resources with others.  Taking people into their home and sharing the little food they have is a common occurrence; in fact, poor Nicaraguans do not understand in the U.S., the land of plenty, there can be homeless people…homeless! Because here in Nicaragua, people take in those with nowhere else to go.
The poor know that in order to survive, they have to depend on each other…they have to share.  And they share even though it might mean that the next day they do not have enough to eat.  Unlike the Bible lesson for that day, the poor give more than 10% and they continue to worry because they are not taken care of…they are not blessed beyond their wildest dreams…they remain poor, hungry, desperate.
But I believe that, for whatever it is worth, they are held close to the heart of the Divine and are loved tenderly, deeply and…

The rest of us are called to relieve their pain…it is the right thing…the humane thing to do…and our blessing?  Well, doing the right thing is power in and of itself.

*Next week we will write about plans for this money.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Teaching in Health

Our public health component is a crucial part of our work in the clinic…teaching people how to care for themselves. 
We currently have 32 lay health promoters in Nueva Vida and the  three surrounding rural communities.  Our goal is to up that number to 50, but we are looking for dedicated people because we have much to teach:
  • Young women need to learn that annual visits are crucial…in order to check their health and look for signs of diseases that progress like silent killers.
  • One in 4 women die of complications due to diabetes because 1) they do not know they have diabetes, 2) they do not eat well, 3) they have organ failures because they are not taking the medications consistently, or 4) they get sores and do not treat them immediately.  Teaching poor people how to feed their children well is difficult because they do not have many resources, but will reduce the cases of diabetes in the future.
  • Cervical cancer kills more Nicaraguan women of reproductive age than any other cause of death.  Cervical cancer is easily treatable if detected early.  We have a goal to have a See and Treat program started in the next few months that will allow the doctors to see the cervix clearly and treat any abnormalities right away.
  • Nicaragua has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the Western Hemisphere, though the overall birth rate has dropped considerably in recent years.  There are many issues around this, and I will write about them in our next blog, but one issue is lack of access to birth control.  Although technically birth control is provided by the government and is free, government clinics do not always have the medications.  We are working with teens who are already mothers, teens who are not yet mothers, and older women who do not want to have more children or any at all.
  • Women who stay at home to raise the children (often because they do not have a choice) are the fastest growing HIV positive population, mainly because the government tests most pregnant women.  We have started HIV testing patients of both sexes in our clinic and are trying to expand our testing of other STIs.  We also give out free condoms.  Teaching about sexual health is important for the health of the teens, parents, and women.
You will note that most of our focus is on women…we have learned that they are the most amenable to learning about their health and the health of their children.  Also most of the care-giving in this country are done by women.  BUT…we hope to include more men and male-specific issues as well.

You can see though how many of these topics need privacy and a free flow of ideas from the students attending the classes…this is hard to do with a space that other patients walk through…which is why we need that third building. -Kathleen

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Nicaragua's Canal

Nicaragua MAY have an inter oceanic canal in the not-so-distant future… or as Mike loves to say, “Is it here yet? No? Then it is not a fore-gone conclusion that it will happen.”

We have a class here now from Bucknell University who listened to Monica Lopez Baltodano talk about the ecological and political damage a canal would have on Nicaragua. This has become a topic of great interest within the class…how can a people let something happen to their country that is so damaging?…that will displace indigenous people?...that will wreck the environment?...that will put laws on the books that will support foreign corporations that might or might not bring income into the country?…to the poor?

And they are right…but, BUT…as Jesus would say, “How can you lift the speck from another’s eye until you have removed the log from your own eye?”

Ask the Navajos, the Cherokees, the Seminoles…were they displaced?  That, and slaughtered.

What have we -- and I am a U.S. citizen too -- done to our environment in the name of progress? Fracking and industrialized farming are just two ways we are damaging the environment right now.

And corporations? Well, we wrote the book on capitalism as the end-all philosophy.
The reality is that with the world so focused on capitalism and greed, with money making money instead of productivity, and with nothing or no one stopping the rampant corruption in the financial markets and lending institutions…no poor country can get ahead without doing all the wrong things. Just. Like. Every. Wealthy. Nation. On. This. Earth.

What we need is a new focus and that focus needs to start with the wealthy countries…we cannot be a “I got mine…now you be green” model.

Instead we need to support the poor countries by dealing with them fairly so that they can provide for their people without the need for rampant greed. Their products need fair prices and there needs to be a free flow of labor across borders…not just products.

We need to realize that the wealthier countries have polluted and polluted and grabbed and grabbed…and now they need to clean up, support the technology and a way of life that allows for the poor and the environment to start being the priority worldwide.

We need a new focus….and we need modesty. THEN maybe we can see the speck in another's eye. --  Kathleen

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Send Lawyers, Computers & Money

By now if your have been reading about our 2014 goals , you can see one of our major obstacles…money.

We had a volunteer from a March delegation who asked us, “What are the greatest challenges you face both as an organization and personally?”

Becca was quick to answer, “Money.”

If every volunteer who had worked with us here gave $10/month we would receive about $30,000 each month!  If everyone on our mailing list gave us only $10/month we would have $120,000/month!  And even that is not enough...but it would be a good start!

Like most non-profits, we scramble for donations.  Unlike many non-profits, an enormous amount of our budget comes from individuals, churches, meetings, and groups  which gives us the flexibility to adjust to do what is needed rather than doing what is perceived to be needed by outsiders…those who are not on the ground, and, more importantly, who are not the local people in the communities.

This year we want to increase our operating receipts by 25% and increase donations from former volunteers by 50%...that will help a great deal.  We also want to expand more globally…to figure out a way to raise funds from people within Nicaragua and in Europe (we now have a way to donate online via credit card in euros!)

20 years on...our computers haven't modernized much!
On a different note:  recently we received word that Microsoft was no longer going to support XP, which is the operating system that most of our computers were using.  Our stop-gap computer guru Sarah was in the States on her speaking tour and Becca was ready to tear her hair out trying to get work done before she left for Ireland while computer technicians in Managua moved all our computers over to Windows 7.  We realized yet again what an invaluable help an IT volunteer would be for us…so please help us find one! Find out more here.   So much of our work involves computers and for most of us they are like magic until they don’t work, and then they are a plague!

With all the work we do, the hassles, the successes, the day-in and day-out trying to make a difference and the constant looking for funds, you would think that lawsuits would not be something we would need to deal with…but we have paid out so much money that could have been used to do so much good (buy medicines, pay our Nicaraguan staff)…where has that money gone? To lawyers because of one Nicaraguan woman who is trying to take our land, and one South Carolina equipment dealer who didn't fulfill his contract.

Yelba Carvajal

Yelba Carvajal sued us many years ago to get the title to the property where the CDCA and the industrial park are located (not the clinic).  She lost, then appealed and again lost in the Managua courts.  Thousands of dollars and much time later we thought we were finally done.  Last year she filed suit in the Ciudad Sandino courts (surprisingly true, one can do that) resulting in more and more money going to lawyers and more and more energy spent on this.  This is just flat out disgusting! 

Jack Coker
Jack Coker, the South Carolina equipment dealer, accepted $150,000 as earnest money for cotton yarn spinning machinery – money we had borrowed – and he never delivered the machinery.  This led to the dissolution of the spinning cooperative, much heartache, and us paying back a loan for nothing!  We are suing him and he is counter suing us.  Fortunately we have the services of the Wake Forest Law Center who working pro bono, trying to help us get our money back so that we can pay off the loan.

Our final goals of 2014 are to have both suits resolved to the CDCA’s benefit.

We hope sharing our goals with you will help you become more intimate with this work and with the all the projects. -Kathleen