Monday, April 25, 2016

Tradition vs. Love

Our daughter, Jessica, is playing Tzeitel, the oldest daughter in Fiddler on the Roof with Voices of Hope, a musical group raising money for cancer research.  Mike and I will not able to see the performance so we were allowed to come sit in on a rehearsal while we were in Massachusetts.  One scene they rehearsed was the Sabbath scene...setting the table, lighting the candles, and praying for the blessings of the family.

Passover is this week and in the past our community has celebrated Seder. In the Jewish faith, many rites involved the family. Even in the long, drawn-out Seder there are rituals set in the litany that are meant to break up the monotony for the children.  

 In the Jewish faith we see a strong bond within the family.  Much of what was written in Leviticus is to strengthen the family.  The weekly celebration of the Sabbath starts in the home.  Harsh penalties were established for those who may cause threat to the bonds of family, because family was to be the corner stone of the Jewish nation.   Gleaning was written into the laws to support those who had no one to farm.  And the year of the Jubilee was established to free slaves, return land to the original owners, and forgive debts...this was to reset the clock every 50 years in order for ALL families to have a chance.

Families were not just mother, father and children but were grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins...and they supported each other.   

Widows and orphans were to be supported by society...these were families at risk.
And strangers were welcomed into the family.  The Sabbath was to include people on the road.  The door was to be left open for Elijah to come in for the Seder as well as strangers.  The family was the bedrock of hospitality to all.

And yet we use selected passages in Leviticus to exclude and condemn people.  Tradition vs. love...this is the theme in Fiddler on the Roof.    Many of us hold onto old laws that have become traditions instead of leaning towards love, or as Jesus said, "holding to the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law."

We tend to take laws that were established when populations were low and at risk of being decimated* other words, passages that condemn sexual practices that would not result in babies and laws designed to give vulnerable children fathers to support them - like the stoning of women who lay with more than one man - and make them laws today, when populations are growing by leaps and bounds and paternity tests are easy.  And as far as we know, no one has ever held to the law of the year of the Jubilee.
As we become more and more global, those of us of faith need to see the world as our family.  Scientists says we all come from one mother.  If we adhere to a Divine creating us all, then this still holds.  We share common chromosomes.  We are more alike than different.  Maybe it is time to act like one giant family.  We let traditions separate us instead of support us.  We allow laws set in books of faith to condemn instead of showing us ways to love:

  • Supporting one another 
  • Hospitality 
  • Supporting the weak, the poor, the vulnerable
This is family.  These are traditions we need to have.  This is love.   -Kathleen

*There were also passages telling the Israelites to kill every man, woman, child, and farm animal when they conquered a people.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Zika Virus in Nicaragua

Welcome spring!  Or I would if it weren’t so dry, hot and dusty right now in Nicaragua.  The only two things I am for which I am grateful in the hot, barren, brown, lifeless time of year in Nicaragua…I did mention hot, didn’t I?...are 1) clothes on the line dry very quickly and 2) the mosquito population is down…they at least know that the only thing worth doing these days (besides laundry…no, wait they wear no clothes!) is to lay eggs and die.

I only wish their eggs were not so hearty…eggs from mosquitoes can lie dormant for one year just waiting for that little bit of standing water to hatch bringing forth those pesky, pesky…and now, disease ridden pests.

AND we have just one more virus with which to deal, here in the tropics when the rains do come and flowers burst open and dust gets driven back into the soil.

There has been lots of hoop-la in the States over the Zika virus passed to one person and another by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito, by the way, that carries the five strains of dengue (which can have a hemorrhagic component) and chikungunya…remember that one from our blog last year?

There is much we do not know about the Zika virus, but we do know these things:
•    Symptoms when infected can include fever, mild rash, headache, malaise, joint pain, conjunctivitis (much like dengue and chikungunya), although…
•    frequently people may not know they even have it because of the mild symptoms.
•    Some studies have shown that the Zika virus is not only passed by the mosquitoes but also by semen…that’s a new one!  One man was tested to have had the active virus up to 10 weeks in his semen.  Why is all this a concern?  Because…
•    In Brazil, recently the local health authorities have observed that there has been an increase in babies born with microcephaly in the northeast part, as well as…
•    An increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome that has coincided with those infected with the Zika virus.

Microcephaly is a condition when the baby’s brain does not develop and can result in death in the early years.  Guillain-Barré syndrome is temporary, partial to more severe paralysis

What does this mean, besides that there is still a whole lot we do not know?

Guillain-Barré syndrome requires hospitalization in case the respiratory system shuts down.  Outside breathing machines are required to keep the patient breathing.

Microcephaly is a condition no parent wants for their children, but for poor countries that do not have the resources to care for special needs children, a large population of microcephalic children would be a public health nightmare as well as an extreme burden for families, most of whom would have difficulties caring for their little ones.

Patients with Guillain-Barré in El Salvador
As of publishing, the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua has reported 131 cases of Zika, of which 12 are pregnant women. 

There is no Zika virus vaccine now.  Experts think that once exposed, one becomes immune to the virus…so the best hope right now is to prevent getting bitten (almost impossible without air conditioning and bug spray), use condoms if pregnant (difficult in a machista culture),  and to postpone pregnancy, which is the strategy we are offering in Nicaragua: 

Postpone pregnancy until more information is out and/or until the woman is immune because she has been exposed or vaccinated. -- Becca

Monday, March 7, 2016

Pledge for Parity

Today is International Women’s Day…and many of you in the United States did not know that, nor do you know why this day March 8th was picked to observe the plights of women.  

This year’s theme is Pledge for Parity

When I was a girl growing up in the 60s and then in college in the 70s, I felt that I could do anything that a boy/man could do.  In college I went through a very...well, sort of Pentecostal stage of my faith life and even then, the idea that God spoke only to men or that men had some God-given say over my life was just silly to me.  I guess because growing up I watched my minister father listen to my should-have-been-a-pastor mother.

In the late 70s I went to seminary and almost all my classmates were men and most – not all – did not seem to have a clue about how to be compassionate and kind.  I was the first woman to start and finish in that seminary in 1979 and I could not be ordained, thanks to the ideas of my denomination.  In light of the feminist movement and the way the world seemed to be finally changing for women, my church then seemed ridiculous.

I was angry and rage would overwhelm me.  I was “young and full of piss and vinegar,” as my grandmother would say.  Now, I’m 61 and take things more in stride.  This year will be 40 years since I started seminary…40 years!  And while doing some research for this blog about women around the world this is what I have learned:

•    Women and girls make up 70% of those who live in extreme poverty.
•    Women work two-thirds of the world’s work hours, but receive only 10% of the earnings and only own 1% of the world’s wealth. 
•    Across the world 63 million girls do not have access to education.
•    A half a billion women cannot read.
•    Girls account for three-quarters of new HIV infections worldwide. 
•    250 million girls were married before they turned 15 years old.
•    More than 1 in 10 girls have experienced forced intercourse or other sexual violence.
•    Women and girls account for 70% of the human trafficking or slavery.
•    It is estimated that 35% of all women alive today have experienced some form of sexual violence and in some countries up to 70% of all women. 

On the website for International Women’s Day is this paragraph:

The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133.

Reading the above made my tired old blood boil once again.  In 2014 my granddaughter Charlotte might have seen global gender parity IF she had lived to be 100 years old but now, just one year later, she would have to be 138!!!  WHAT IS WRONG WITH US???!!!  

We all came from mothers.  About half of us ARE females.  And we have women friends, daughters, granddaughters and sisters…

What is it about having female parts that devalue us so?  I don’t get it, but I do get that it has to change.  

One small step is to go to here to pledge and then act.  This bias against women and girls is more than ridiculous, it is cruel.  -Kathleen

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How far can we get without flying?

How far can we get without flying?

Asks the article. I sigh.
The author shows us how much emissions go into the average American’s air travel. He shares how he got the courage to opt out of air travel. He paints a rosy picture of his family’s adventures road tripping in a veggie oil car to visit his family halfway across the country. “I suspect most people don’t know the huge impact of their flying – but I also suspect that many of us are addicted to it.”

He’s right. What would my carbon footprint look like if I calculated my air travel? I have a feeling I don’t want to know.

I know air travel is bad for the planet: planes not only emit CO2, but also have other effects that enhance warming in the short-term. I also know what that means for human beings: Nicaragua is the 4th country most affected by climate change in the world. The farmers we work with are struggling as we enter our third year of drought. This week the organics co-op had to send its precious funds to pay down a debt incurred when the cotton crop failed two years ago. Carbon emissions from airplanes contribute to these very real human effects.

But flying has also contributed to the pivotal moments in my life: my first international flight resulted in meeting my future husband. Without flying, I never would have come to Nicaragua in the first place, found a home, or my calling. Now flying connects me to my family: thanks to air travel I bounced my nephews on my knees as babies, watched my father-in-law play peek-a-boo with my daughters, showed my parents my adopted country. It simply would not have been possible to do any of that without airplanes: there are five international borders and an entire ocean between our home and our families.

Family moments made possible by flying
“Chances are that [in the future] we’ll live nearer to our friends and loved ones, and we won’t be expected to travel so far for work. Both these seem like good things to me,” the author concludes. I’m uncomfortable. I squirm a little in my chair. Is my discomfort only guilt over my continued air travel, or is there something else?

Before that first flight, I’d never been east of Helena, Montana. My world was small, my understanding of it limited to what I’d seen in the Inland Northwest of the United States. When I close my eyes and think of what that first trip did, I can see the lens of my life zoom out, I can feel how I opened up, how learned to question what I had been told was true, how I suddenly and viscerally understood that the rest of the world was really out there, and it was full of real people. Maybe the climate scientist who wrote the article was born with an unusual sensitivity to empathize and to imagine scenes he’s never witnessed. More likely, he was concientizado – had his conscience raised – during his own travels and education. I certainly had to be concientizada –  if I’d stayed in my hometown listening to the loudest voices, it’s likely I wouldn’t even believe in climate change today.

That is the piece we are missing: how can you concientizar those who don’t see the effects of climate change unless they leave their safe place and come somewhere like Nicaragua, where that suffering is tangible?

Cross-cultural understanding, made possible by flying
Just two weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing with my own eyes the opening that can happen when someone dares to leave home and hearth. We had a group of folks new to Nicaragua with us and one of them went walking in Nueva Vida alone. When one of our volunteers found him and told him that it was not safe, he seemed to come back to reality. He began to make connections between our barrio and one he knew closer to home, where he’d witnessed a friend’s fatal shooting. He was able to connect the dots between a marginalized community in Nicaragua and one in the U.S., and his fledgling understanding of Nueva Vida helped him to better understand his home community.

Transformations like that happen all the time, with people who come to work even a few days with us, and they might never have begun without the airplane. It isn’t necessary to travel by air to be concientizado, but flying does make it possible for so many people to connect with other humans on a more profound level. I wish there were a way to calculate that into our carbon footprint. - Becca

Monday, November 16, 2015

One Woman, One Year

I'm not going to beat around the bush. It's been a tough year, y'all.

For us and for our Nicaraguan staff: emotionally, physically and economically.

That's why we're more determined than ever to make it a good year for our patients at the Nueva Vida Clinic.

As our programs have expanded in response to need, our donations have not kept up. We are struggling, and are making it our top priority to keep doing the things that we know are working well.One of those wildly successful things is our family planning program at the clinic. We make it free and easy for patients to join, and it's very much in demand.

 “I want to be a mom… but not yet. First I want to finish school.”

“I want to have another baby, but not until my littlest is older.”

 “I can’t afford to have more kids.”As our patients at the Clinic keep telling us, women in Nueva Vida want to plan their families.You can help.
Donate $50 to provide family planning for 1 woman for 1 year.

Your gift will provide:

  •  ob/gyn exam at NV Clinic a check-up with our gynecologist to pick the right method of family planning 
  • regular visits with our public health nurse for prescription refills
This year, we want to help 200 women plan their families. With your gifts, we can reach our $10,000 goal by the end of Giving Tuesday, December 1st.

Click here to make your tax-deductible donation now.*

Giving Tuesday is movement to give an alternative to the focused consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a chance to make a difference. 

Together, we can make sure more Nicaraguan women have the freedom to plan their families, to plan their futures.

Thank you.

*No need to wait until December 1st to count for Giving Tuesday! In order for your online donation to reach us in December, please make your donation by Nov. 30th.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

New Disease in Nicaragua

Wow!  As if the poorest countries in the middle of the earth don’t have enough with which to deal, NOW we have chikungunya (pronunciation: \chik-en-gun-ye)!  Chikungunya is another mosquito-borne virus that showed up in Tanzania in 1952.

The virus is carried by the mosquitoes that come out during the daytime like the dengue virus carrying mosquitoes.  It is often confused with dengue.  The main symptoms are fever and joint pain that can last for as long as 12 months though that is unusual.  Sometimes the joint pain can be severe.  Other symptoms that might accompany the virus are vomiting, diarrhea and rash.

“Doblarse por el dolor” or “bent by pain” is a common description of the disease.  In August there were 5,000 documented cases in Nicaragua.  I suspect that has increased.  The virus is certainly in Ciudad Sandino. Many of our staff have had it including Pat, Becca and her two girls. 

The symptoms can last from 2-12 days and there is no treatment, only easing the symptoms.  The only prevention is to avoid getting bitten by the little pesky mosquito (bug spray), though researchers are close to finding a vaccine.

The Ministry of Health is trying to contain the virus through spraying in communities.  Our clinic is treating the symptoms of many patients.  Unfortunately for many, they return with recurring joint pain for several months and this takes additional resources to buy medication.  Sometimes the joint pain is severe enough that people cannot work.

Chikungunya is not by-and-large a seriously dangerous disease, though if someone who is weak or has a compromised immune system, it is deadly.  It is considered a tropical disease that many doctors in the U.S. or Europe know little about, BUT with climate change is spreading north…there are cases in Northern Italy, France and in the United States.  Chikungunya came to the Americas through travel from the Caribbean.

Chikungunya is just another example of how it is crucial that we work globally to limit climate change and to treat diseases together, develop vaccines, and care about the sick in the poorer nations. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.” -- Kathleen

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

While You Were Away

While Mike and I have been away, those of the international staff left behind have been stressed and greatly over-worked.
Here in the States, Mike continues to work hard.  He has been on the phone, Skype, and email a great deal talking to buyers and coordinating the agricultural component of the CDCA.  Unfortunately we thought we were only going to be in the States 5 days, so much of the information that he needs is still in Nicaragua. 

Becca is busy with her commitments with Las Lobas, social media, fundraising, showing other groups around, getting ready for her October speaking tour in Oregon and Washington etc., but without us she is now also busy running to and fro with  the organic cooperative COPROEXNIC, getting answers for Mike, helping to organize the two large medical brigades coming that I usually do, and all the bits and pieces that Mike does.
 Sarah who maintains the data base, keeps all the records of donations, runs lots of errands, works to keep the computers up and running, fundraising, etc,. was also gone on her speaking tour in Texas leaving the office more stressed.  She filled out the 990 form, a mammoth job, without our usual help running interference so that she could concentrate.

Kathy, who keeps the books takes care of Nicaraguan government and legal aspects of the work, has not had Sarah in the office working beside her.  Pat has been doing vision checks all by herself without Becca to help her, plus her usual therapy work, and she's also now helping the clinic staff with daily problems that arise.  Both have assumed more of the day-to-day running of the cooking and other household chores. 
Daniel, the volunteer coordinator, is doing government permission paperwork for those medical brigades I mentioned and on top of that is also coordinating auto leasing, obtaining better internet for cheaper, and helping to fix computer glitches.  Claudia is our legal representative while Mike is away.
And though they are missing us, they could not handle it all without the national staffJosefa runs the clinic like clockwork.  Since we have been away she has hired and oriented two new clinic staff members (an ob/gyn and a lab technician).  She has taken over reporting to ORPHANetwork as well as other tasks that I did.  With her, the clinic staff will be ready for the two medical brigades and their work will run smoothly. 
Construction and maintenance is a breeze with Rogelio and his crew, but Rogelio was off work for a week after cataract surgery.  Rogelio is a font of knowledge of where to locate what is needed and will search far and wide for the best price, he was greatly missed during his sick leave.

Diana and her crew manage all the hosting details: menus, supplies, cleaning, preparing food, etc.  With them, hosting delegations with fewer people is doable, even without us…not preferable, but doable.
César, the project’s director, continues the work of COPROEXNIC, community development, and problem-solving.

We are anxious to come home and work side-by-side with amazing people.