Monday, April 21, 2014

Combat Teen Pregnancy With Hope

"Don't get pregnant, don't get dead." That was the mantra two friends of ours used with their daughter during her teen years. She is grown now, married, and has a lovely child of her own, but when she was a teenager her parents figured as long as she didn't get pregnant or dead, they could handle anything else.

I know teen mothers from my teen years who went on to college and created a full life with their children, but having children in your teen years is not the healthiest on a teen's body or for the baby.

Teen pregnant mothers do not get adequate prenatal care which is critical in the first 3 months, especially for monitoring their blood pressure (which is more likely to go up), for making sure they have an adequate intake of folic acid, and looking for complications.  For these same reasons, the babies are more at risk.

Being a teen mother is also an uphill climb in trying to establish a life for yourself because now there are two and the fathers of these babies by-and-large are not supportive.  Teen mothers are more likely to not finish high school and therefore, getting a job that supports her family is even harder.

The States has nine times more teen births than other developed countries according to the Center for Disease Control.

But here in Nicaragua, teenage pregnancy is higher than any other country in the Western Hemisphere and we have to ask why?  Unlike the States birth control is available and free here.* 

Far more than access to or knowledge of birth control, what seems to influence most teens here is poverty, boredom, and hopelessness. Many simply don't see any opportunities for themselves: to study or gain a skill that will bring money into the household. If they aren't bringing in money, then they don't have any power within their families. Most of the teenage girls we see in our clinic in Nueva Vida,  do not date boys their own age, they are dating men in their 20s whom they and their family believe are responsible and can take care of them. In Nicaragua most teen moms we talk to did not get pregnant by accident, it was a choice

“If I have a baby then the father will support me and my child and I can move out.” 

“If I have to take care of my brothers and sisters, might as well have one of my own, then my mom can't tell me what to do.”

"Why wait to have kids until I'm old? I might as well have them now because I'm not doing anything else."

 Where the percentage of teen pregnancies are low are areas in the world where women are encouraged to stay in school and that includes graduate school.   Where birth control is free and easily accessible....but mostly where there is hope for girls.
Through our clinic, Becca is starting a group for teen girls who are not in school or employed to try to expose them to other options and add hope to their lives.  Our health promoter, Jessenia, is working with the teens who are already moms and whose children are now over one year to see where they can make changes for good for themselves and their child.

Free family planning, education for all, and hope…this is what we need to give young women worldwide a fighting chance.  Having babies in their teen years compromises their health and the health of the babies. Not all teens have the patience and knowledge to give their children the best care. And any way you slice it, teen motherhood is especially hard…so let’s work to reduce teen pregnancy.  

If you want to help some of these girls you can give a gift in honor of your mother for Mother's Day!  Just go to
 *Abortion has always been illegal in Nicaragua and in recent years even therapeutic abortions for cases where the mother’s life is in danger have also become illegal.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What Eases My Heart

Next week is Semana Santa or Holy Week and we close our operation.  Why?  Two fold: 

1.    To “force” our staff to take one week of their annual month vacation (Nicaragua labor laws require a month’s vacation) in order to play, visit family, or rest; and
2.    Slowly the country shuts down and not much can get done anyway.

So here is my reflection on what this week means for me.

Superficially it is a week of rest for me, a week to spend time with family, a week to sweat unmercifully – Semana Santa is one of the hottest weeks in the year, and a week to shake off some of the burdens that have been building in the first quarter of the year.

Mural: Universidad Martin Lutero, Managua
Deeper, though, it is the time when I look at the man, Jesus.  I grew up Christian, much of my life revolved around the church, I believe greatly in the historical figure…but my beliefs have deepened and my understanding of that man has grown living in Nicaragua.

All my adult life, I have been committed to the poor.  In the States we started and ran shelters.  We worked with the hopeless, the beaten, the abused, the least of us.  I felt the grace of the one we called Jesus and the love he had for the least of us, but my anger grew and grew.

Artist: Jose Ignacio Fletes Cruz

Here in Nicaragua, I live in a country that revolted against those who would hurt the least of us.  I live in a country that has tried to maintain…though frequently has failed…a passion for the poor and I began to really understand the man, Jesus.  

•    The one who was crucified, an execution meted out only for the enemies of the State (Rome). 
•    The one who had such a following of people who loved him because of his passion, his warmth, his daring, his courage.
•    The one who was NOTHING like the Sunday school drawings of a white man with a passive smile and no gumption in his heart.

And more and more that Jesus was easier follow…not the Paul version of the man…but the gospel versions of him. 

Artist: Jose Ignacio Fletes Cruz
When I get scared when funds are low…I remember the lilies in the fields and I let go and buck up.

When my worst nightmare of mass graves surface…I remember the man on the cross and brave the cruelties that abound.

When my deepest fear of not being able to protect the ones I love raises its nasty head…that is when the resurrection eases my heart.

For you see, though I talk about the man, I also believe deeply in the resurrection.  We have a dear friend, a Druid, who told me once “you use the resurrection as a crutch.”  And he was...and is right.

Artist: Jose Ignacio Fletes Cruz
I NEED the resurrection to help me face each day.  I NEED to know this is not all there is…for those I love and those who come to the clinic.  If you have had a nice life with limited pains and sufferings and you think this is it…then good for you, but there are too many who have had horrible lives, suffering you and I cannot imagine, pain that goes too deep…they need something more…and so do I.

I may be wrong.  I don’t care.

I will work to ease the lives of those suffering but I cannot and will not do it in my limited life time…and neither will you.

Resurrection is my crutch…but that means I can still move.  I can - at the very least - still move. -Kathleen

Friday, April 4, 2014

One Person's Need is Another's Nicety

Like most non-profit clinics around the world, we depend on donated medicines and donated equipment. 

One of the things that constantly surprises me  -  but should not  -  is what a never-ending task seeking out those donations tends to be.
Molly, Mario and new lab microscope
The surprising thing for medical volunteers or medical people who hear about our needs is that what THEY take for granted, we have to wait until the items are donated.  Due to the lack of funds, we have to choose between reagents for the lab, supplies for the dental clinic, medicines, staff salaries; and all the other equipment that we do indeed need but do not need as much…so we choose the reagents, supplies, medicines, and staff salaries. 

We have to prioritize
.  What most medical personnel would call needs we call niceties…here are some examples:

Our dental clinic needs new equipment all the time…and what equipment we do have constantly needs repairing.  “Niceties” include:
•    Cabinets on their walls to store the buckets of dental instruments that now take over  every horizontal space in the rooms. 
•    A lead lined door to protect the staff from radiation from x-rays.
•    File cabinets to file the additional 1,500 files that will not fit in the cabinets we have.

Our 3 docs share 1 working otoscope!

Our lab also needs new equipment constantly.  We were thrilled to receive a new microscope from Bucknell University through their chemistry professor, Molly, who searched through microscopes the school had put in storage!  She also brought two lesser ones we can use for trainings.  But that is not all we need:
•    More tests for gonorrhea, HIV, etc.
•    An autoclave and distiller
•    A newer centrifuge
•    Glass tubes
•    Newer rubber tourniquets for taking blood
•    Collection cups instead of disposable plastic 6 oz cups with plastic  bags to tie around them.

And of course we cannot leave out primary care:
•    Otoscopes, battery-operated or electric
•    Stethoscopes
•    Nebulizers
•    Dopplers
•    Metal speculums (coming!)*

•    An autoclave and distiller
•    A colposcope (coming!)*
•    A cryotherapy gun (coming!)*
*All coming from an ob/gyn who has retired and read our newsletter!

If you can help us look for donations wherever you are, or if you can donate so that we can purchase these things here, our clinic staff will be greatly appreciative…they get very excited with new and working equipment….like children on a Christmas morn…that is both enlightening and depressing when you think about what is taken for granted in other parts of the world. -Kathleen