Monday, December 12, 2016

Sight for Sore Eyes

Have you ever put on somebody else’s eyeglasses and wondered how in the world they can see through them? 

It’s hard to see through glasses that aren’t yours, but that’s what we ask our patients at the Nueva Vida Clinic to do all the time when we try to match them with used glasses that have been donated. But thanks to a pilot project we’re doing with the Bucknell University Engineers, we can now make eyeglasses to order at the Nueva Vida Clinic!

Since we started our Vision Program six years ago with training from a Cuban ophthalmologist, Pat and I together with a host of volunteers have weekly been doing vision testing and trying to match patients to used glasses that we get donated from the New Jersey Lions Club Eyeglasses Recycling Center. While this system works very well for reading glasses, it’s harder for distance glasses: we have to find patients a match in their right eye then the left, as well as a match for astigmatism corrections. Most of the time we can get close to what patients need, but it’s usually not exactly what they need, and that can make a big difference. Even when we get close, the frames are often out of style which has a big effect on patients’ ability to adjust to wearing glasses.

So in an effort to get patients' glasses made to their own prescription in better-looking frames, we are working with engineers to try out a pilot program in hopes that we can create a low-cost sustainable vision program that can be adapted to other places as well. The program is called Project for Sustainable Eye Care or PROSEC.

In June, Bucknell engineering graduate student Paden Troxell came down to Nicaragua with small machinery, a stock of a selection of frames and blank lenses in a range of pre-ground prescriptions. Paden taught Pat and Sarah and I how to make the glasses and use the small lens cutter and lens beveller, and since then we’ve been giving our patients at the clinic the option of purchasing PROSEC glasses for just under $7 instead of trying to match them to a donated pair of distance glasses.   We settled on the price of $7 to cover the cost of the frames, lenses and someone to cut the lenses and fit them to the frames, since Pat and I hope not to be doing that forever!

So far we have sold and made over 100 PROSEC glasses, and have found that since we have begun to offer the low-cost glasses, more patients are coming in to the Clinic for eye exams. In November, we worked together with our Ciudad Sandino Rotary Club to do three days of Vision Checks in rural communities and in a local church. We checked everyone's blood pressure, did vision checks, handed out reading glasses at no charge, did refraction tests for distance glasses, and sold PROSEC glasses. In that time we saw 195 patients, handed out 115 reading glasses and sold 42 PROSEC glasses, the vast majority of which Pat made in the following weeks (with a tiny bit of help from me).

These vision days were a huge success, and we hope to continue them more regularly next year with the help of Rotary and community volunteers. Just making the glasses more accessible to people – making it easy to get eye checks, affordable price, and good choice of frames – means that many more people will be able to see!

Of course we’re learning as we go – we will be adding a new machine in January in hopes of making the lens cutting more efficient, we will be revising our frame stock to remove difficult frames and add more popular styles, and while we can’t currently correct for astigmatism, we hope be able to do so in the future. - Becca 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Las Lobas Camp

Last weekend we held the first Las Lobas Camp. Jessenia and I decided that we should do our own weekend camp with all of the Lobas up at El Porvenir. Our thinking was that we could afford El Porvenir (only food cost and diesel to get up the mountain) and that it would be a good experience for the urban Lobas to be in the forest with no running water or electricity (or cell phones!) for a few days.

As with everything we do with this group, we didn’t really know how to run a camp, but thought we could figure it out. We invited Diana to come along to help, all of us brought our kids and Paul came too. All but two of the Lobas were able to come, so there were 10 of them! It was amazing to have that support from the parents, in fact, many of the families came to the Clinic to say goodbye to the girls and take pictures of them with their phones as they got in the ambulances! For several of them it was the first time they slept away from home.

The first night we set guidelines for the camp together with the girls and posted them on the wall…we were immediately afforded an opportunity to go back over them when several of the girls had trouble sleeping on pads on the hacienda porch floor and kept others up with their talking and shining flashlights.

On Saturday morning we did team-building and trust-building activities, and they spent two hours picking coffee in pairs. We held a contest to see which team could pick the most coffee, Gabriel from the co-op measured it at the end of the exercise and declared a winner. Although nobody actually liked picking coffee, they all participated and were all sorely disappointed at the end to learn they’d only earned $0.52 each.

In the afternoon Diana organized everyone to make a piñata and party favors for a village party while Jessenia and I carried out individual interviews with each of the girls.

These interviews were my favorite part of the camp by far. We had asked each of the girls to write down their goals for the next year, and so when we sat down we talked with them about what we had observed in them in the past year, anticipated possible obstacles to meeting their goals, and talked over possible ways around those obstacles. In part, this was a chance for Jessenia and I together to reinforce good behavior and offer constructive criticism –it was gratifying to see some of the girls’ faces light up with pleasure at hearing positive things about themselves. But we also got to learn more about many of the girls – we were thrilled to find out that one of the girls who hasn’t gone to school for years has been secretly studying and just passed 3rd/4th grade! She’s now headed to 5th/6th and we told her if she wants to keep a secret that’s fine, but that she should invite us to her graduation next year! Jessenia offered insight and support to one of the girls who has a lot of responsibilities at home following a death in her family – she often has to cook for 10 people. We talked with one of the girls who is a natural leader about the pressures that leaders can feel – she has been uncharacteristically crying and getting angry at others – and talked about how she can take care of herself better. Each girl got a hug from both of us and I don’t think I’m mistaken in my observation that we gained a new level of confidence with most of the girls over the camp.

Diana and Jessenia organized the village party late in the afternoon with participation from all the Lobas – it was the most organized piñata I think I’ve ever been to! The Lobas really enjoyed doing something for the kids in the community – they had been affected by seeing the kids working. Everyone up at El Porvenir hauls their own water – 20 gallons per family – from the hacienda. Several of the Lobas saw a little boy struggling to carry his family’s water up the steps to his horse, so they carried the jugs themselves and gave the boy a tangerine to eat while they figured out how to get the jugs onto the horse. They were then shocked to see him – barefoot but for his spurs –  lead his horse over to a low wall where he could climb into the saddle and pull the last jug onto the saddle horn with a rope before head off for home.

Saturday night we walked out to the viewpoint and had a bonfire with marshmallow roasting, and Sunday morning we had our closing circle activities there.

Not every moment of the camp went swimmingly, of course. There times of hurt feelings and a few small disciplinary issues, par for the course. But in the end, no one can take memories of this camp away from the Lobas. They have all slept away from home, picked coffee, hauled water for hand washing and drinking.

I don’t know if any of the advice Jessenia and I doled out will take hold, but there was one solid moment of hope where I began to feel it might. During a free time at the end of the camp all the girls all crowded together on the mats talking to each other. “You don’t want to get together with a boy too soon,” said one to another. “First you have to finish school, there’s plenty of time for that later.” All the advice that means so little from Jessenia or me takes on much more weight one Loba to another. - Becca       

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lesson from Little Lucy

Little Lucy is my favorite human in the Chronicles of Narnia.  In Prince Caspian, there is a part where Lucy sees Aslan, the Lion who rules Narnia, but none of her other siblings or the dwarf see him or believe that she sees him.  In one scene, she encounters Aslan:

      "I saw you all right.  They wouldn't believe me.  They're all so-"
      From somewhere deep inside Aslan's body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl...
      "I'm sorry," said Lucy...."But it wasn't my fault anyway, was it?"
      The Lion looked straight into her eyes.
      ..."You don't mean it was?....But what would have been the good?"
      Aslan said nothing.

We all like to blame others for not doing the right thing.  "Others are to blame for the world we have," we tend to think; but this short scene explains it all.

For me - this exchange is the culmination of all seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia.  In this particular scene:  There were many in danger from a ruler who was afraid of the differences of non-humans.  A few were called.  The smallest one saw the path they were to take to save those who had been oppressed by a ruler and his followers.  No one believed the smallest; therefore, instead of doing what was right, the small one went along with the everyone's peril.

I see this over and over in churches particularly.  There are followers of Jesus' teachings but they do not speak out or go apart to do the right thing...they don't lead.

I listen to sermons and I, too, do not stand up and say, "WHOA!  That's not what Jesus said.  Aren't we to include, not exclude?   Aren't we to work for true justice?  How are we following the Prince of Peace as we do nothing to stop the violence?  Aren't we to love?"

Or I've listened to more sermons than I care to where the moment of truth is right there....within reach...but missed as the pastor tries not ruffle feathers...caring more about the budget than justice.

Or I've bitten my tongue so many times with family, friends, volunteers or even my own community to not blatantly offend...and some of you don't believe that, I know!  😃  But ashamedly, I have.

We want "peace" or the better words "to be comfortable with others."  Convenience is more important.  Not rocking the boat.  Making sure everyone is on board before the right thing is done.   Not challenging people but letting them go to their "safe places".  Only challenging on Facebook or Twitter when the faces are hidden.

This is one of the reasons we are looking at the future that we are.  We move around with like-minded people and don't want to hurt feelings.  We try to get consensus before trying to get justice.  We ignore the anger and the privileged around us.  We allow the powerful and wealthy to split us apart by getting us to blame the people who are different in color, gender, or religion instead of class from ourselves.

We have to stop being scared and get on with it...even if the others do not come.

     ...Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face...."I'm sorry, Aslan," she said.  "I'm ready now."
      "Now you are a lioness," said Aslan.  "And now all Narnia will be renewed.  But come.  We have no time to lose."

Monday, October 10, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is the Thursday after both the Nicaraguan and U.S. elections.*

Not surprisingly, in Nicaragua, the Sandinista incumbent candidate, Pres. Daniel Ortega, won with 72.5% of the vote.  The Sandinista Party has had the presidency since 2006 along with the clear majority in the Assembly.  The party is very popular mostly due to their successful policies and programs to ease the crippling poverty that plagues the majority, to improve the infrastructure of the country, and to expand business and access to the internet, as well as in other areas.

Surprisingly in the United States, the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, won the presidency and there will be yet 2 more years of a Republican House and Senate.  Why is this surprising?

The Republican House and Senate in the past 6 years have had some of the least productive sessions in the last decades which have resulted in people’s ever-growing needs not being addressed adequately.  

Add to that, while campaigning Donald Trump made comments that were degrading to people of color, immigrants and women; encouraged violence; and questioned loudly the election process itself…if he did not win, that is.   Most past presidential candidates have given voters an inkling of an idea of what kind of policies they would enact but he gave little indication of what his future policies would be; therefore, no one knows how he will govern…not really.

So now the “conservatives”** will have all three branches of the United States federal government which also includes the Supreme Court, because the Senate continues to refuse to allow our current president to appoint a judge, ignoring the U.S. constitution.  In other words, there will be no checks and balances, which scares many people and thrills others.
Despite many U.S. citizens not caring what the rest of the world thinks about their country and its politics, the rest of the world deeply cares about what goes on inside the United States.  Why?  The reasons are many.

The U.S. is currently the world’s greatest power, like it or not.  The U.S. has the most powerful military force in the world and has 7,100 nuclear war heads. 

Because of international finance and trade, when the U.S. dollar crashes so go many other currencies around the world.  Add to all that, the U.S. consistently ignores the sovereignty of other nations.

For example: before both elections, the House and Senate began looking at blocking all loans to Nicaragua because Daniel Ortega ran for a third term and “does not represent his people”.  Let’s recap:  Pres. Ortega got 72.5% of the popular vote while the U.S. Republican candidate, Donald Trump, did not even get 50% of the popular vote or - as I write this, it looks like - not even as many votes as Hillary Clinton.

Where do we go from here with no checks and balances?  I feel that we the people must assume the role of being the checks and balances for our government…and maybe that is the hope in all of this.  Maybe we will internalize what Abraham Lincoln said so many years ago, 

We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.  

Maybe we will accept the  challenge and actually become protectors of our most vulnerable, of our nation, and of our world with our voices and our actions.

*We originally posted this on that date but subsequently deleted it by accident! Apologies to those of you getting this twice, the link on the website will now be this one.

**I put the word 'conservatives' in quotes, because in some areas (don't snort!) I feel like I am a conservative, I want to conserve our environment.  I believe that freedom for all is a conservative idea…the freedom to pursue happiness for ALL people.  I believe that valuing our work force is a conservative idea.  I believe that ending poverty is a conservative idea.  I believe that people paying their fair share for the infrastructure of a nation is a conservative idea.  I believe that investing in the future by investing in our children's well-being and education is a conservative idea.  I also believe that our constitution is mostly a good document and it includes the right to an attorney even if you are a rapist.

Carpe Passionis

I wrote this post for a blog I'm writing with my own more personal reflections, Full Disclosure  but wanted to share it here as well. It was originally posted here at 
Hope you enjoy it! - Becca 

In college I learned about community development from a professor who was both a genius and socially awkward. During an eclectic semester of visits to local churches, bowling alleys, skating rinks and even the Moose Lodge, he taught me to listen to what people talk about, the words they use, and to identify patterns to discern what is most important to them. I now do this unconsciously wherever I am.
For example, the last time I was in Seattle on a speaking trip I talked to a lot of people in many different settings and could see clearly that a common concern was being priced out of their own city by newcomer Millenials brought in by Amazon and Facebook who were willing to pay exorbitant rent. It was fall, so I could also see the only thing ALL Seattleites seemed to love unreservedly was Seahawks football. A friend of mine said,
“If you could find a way to link the work you do in Nicaragua to the Seahawks, then people would be passionate about it.”
This example seems silly, but there is something to be said for linking people’s natural passions to important social justice work. Doing this is often not possible, but sometimes it happens by accident.

When our Clinic health promoter Jessenia and I started Las Lobas, the group for teenage girls, we saw it as a necessary step to prevent teen pregnancy – we did it because we saw all the pregnant girls coming into the new mothers program, and it seemed stupid not to at least try to postpone pregnancy for the next round of girls. We didn’t start because we had a plan, or support for a program, or even knew what we were doing, we just started. Two and a half years later, we still have a steady group, not just of Las Lobas, but of their followers.
“I love hearing about the Lobas,” women will almost whisper to me when they see me – it’s the most common comment female friends and supporters will make to me about our work.
“¿Cómo te va con tus muchachas?”female community members and coworkers will ask. The work with Las Lobas - basically just loving and understanding some girls who’ve had a very hard time of it and trying to help set them on the right path - seems to touch a place deep inside adult women across borders and cultures.

The group has been funded – to pay for craft supplies, outings, snacks – by a woman who gives a monthly donation in honor of her mother, who had a special place in her heart for teenage girls. Women have sent personal hygiene products, craft supplies, messages of encouragement, curricula, suggestions. Of course Jessenia and I spend time discussing the current challenges and successes of each girl together, but other female staff members get in on it, too. Danelia is special friends with one girl who has been a hard nut to crack, Luz Marina dispenses advice and hugs, Fabiola banters with them. Diana has been so interested that she’s followed each of their paths from the sidelines, set up countless educational outings for them, and now has spent two months teaching them to make, cost and sell hair clips.

Wherever Las Lobas go, they receive outpourings of support. As soon as I call up a woman and say, “I’d like to bring a group of girls by, we’re trying to help them see options besides just getting pregnant,” these women invite us in to their homes, workshops, workplaces, schools. They open up in front of the girls talking about their own lives – “I didn’t start school until I was 10.” “All I ever want to do was sew.” “I was one of 15 children.” “I walked to school barefoot.” They give the Lobas things – t-shirts, bags of cloth scraps, purses, candy, whatever they have available. They give advice, “Don’t start your family too early.” “Listen to your mothers.” “Stick with your studies.” “Stay in the program.” And they inevitably wish all of us luck.

For the last two and a half years, I’ve watched as our ragtag group of struggling and sometimes surly girls elicits responses of extreme generosity and empathy from women of all walks of life, and I think, this time, by some stroke of dumb luck, we’ve managed to harness a passion. – Becca    

Thursday, October 6, 2016

My Grandson's World

Mike and I are sitting in the Sacramento (UC Davis Hospital...the one that I was in last year) waiting on our grandson to be born.   He will have a wonderful mother,  Cassie,  and a wonderful father,  our son, Coury.  He will have extended family that will love him. These parts of his life I have no doubt.
But what world will he inherit?   The world is getting warmer.   Today a category 4.5 hurricane hit the Caribbean Isles.

Will there be enough food to feed people because of droughts and floods?  Will wars increase as water becomes scarcer and arable land mass shrinks?

This little one will be raised at least for  a good while in the States.  What will this look like for him?
Race riots as the blatant injustices are never addressed?   Will his school be shot  up with no gun control on the horizons?   Will he live in a country where the poor gets poorer and poorer as the rich get richer and richer? 

His Mama is a doctor so there is less chance he will grow up poor, but both his Mama and Daddy care about immigration  and justice. Coury interprets for Spanish speakers and Cassie will be working with migrant workers...will their emails and phone calls be monitored as government claims more and more information under the guise of keeping its people "safe"?

So many questions on this night as we sit and wait.   So many questions as we listen to debates and hear speeches.

Hopefully soon I'll hold this child I'll love.  As I hold  him I'll pray  for saneness and kindness to take precedence over greed,  power,  meanness and insanity.

I'll pray...and work... for him, Elliot, Charlotte,  Eibhlin, Orla,  Isamar, Kadence, Ana, and all our children,  grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends and strangers. - Kathleen

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sharing can Save Us

Sharing homes & community JHC early years in NC
Sharing stuff is a great way to protect our environment.  For example: when our Community was at its largest number... 20+ people (only 3 were children)..., we had one lawn mower, 4-5 cars depending on what was running, 3 houses, 3 washing machines and 2 dyers, 3 refrigerators,  2 freezers, and no dishwashers.  One of the houses was where the night-time staff for the shelters lived, which means it was a working home.

The three shelters had 2 washing machines, 2 dryers, 1 dishwasher, 1 commercial stove and 1 regular stove, 4-5 refrigerators and 3 freezers, and the mower and the community used also was used in the work of the shelters.   We pooled all groceries together so we all ate cheaply. The shelters grew until they housed more than 20 people per night.

When I go to see my mother in SC, her home is on a cul-de-sac, there are 6 houses on that cul-de-sac.  Two homes are families with 2 children; the rest have 2 people in each home.  Except for Mama's home, each house has - at least - two cars, some three.  Each house has a mower and edger ( Mama, my brother, nephew, and in-laws share a monster of a mower and weed wacker).  Each house has a washer and dryer because clothes lines are not allowed.  I suspect each has a dishwasher.

Besides not needing as much if you share, there is a camaraderie in sharing.  If all the people in Mama's cul-de-sac shared mowers, then they would have to work together and get to know each other.  Mama tried several times just to get her neighbors and those on her street to come to the house as a group.  As a whole, they were not interested.

Working together means that you start helping each other.

I admit that here in Nicaragua we do not know our neighbors across the street very well.  When we moved here, we were geographically isolated.  By the time neighbors came to us as Ciudad Sandino expanded, we were swamped with work and delegations and volunteers and getting to know more people was just too much.  But we still share within our Community and our work.  

The CDCA has three fuel efficient cars for 9 people, 1 car for Paul, Becca and the girls to get up to their village and three working 4 by 4 vehicles for volunteers, delegations, construction work, etc. and one 4 x 4 that only goes to and from the is on its last legs.
JHC food sharing today

We have two washing machines for our community and no dryer or dishwashers.  One of our staff has a mower and weed wacker and we pay him every once in awhile to cut the growth. We pool most of our groceries together so we feed people fairly cheaply.

Pooling resources is good for the environment and good for the soul.  Helping each other out means that when you need help it is not so hard to ask for it  or to give it.  So much of the culture in the U.S. is individualism and getting what I and my family...and only what I and my family...needs or wants.  

In poorer countries that is not the case.  Why?  Because without each other death is close at hand.  

For the earth, sharing makes sense.  Becoming more of a community with our neighbors, our larger surrounding area, with the world is the way we survive as a species, because death is close at hand. - Kathleen

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Redistribution or I'm Gonna Pop Some Tags

Karaoke is a big thing with all our kids, even Tiff loves to watch.  One song I LOVED to hear Coury, Daniel and Joseph do is the rap song “Thrift Shop.”

“I’m going pop some tags.  Only got twenty dollars in my pocket…”

“Thrift Shop” was always a crowd pleaser at their favorite karaoke place in Managua.  Besides loving to hear them sing…and I LOVE thrift shops!

When we ran shelters, it was always fun to look in the “Free Box”…donations that came to the shelters.  We were paid (and still are) $5,000/year and the free boxes helped us, as well as our guests, have clothes or shoes.  When Tiff and Jessica were little they would get all excited to see what treasures might await them.

In the blog on reusing and reducing, I failed to mention redistributing.

I am loathe to throw away stuff.  I can give away easier, but I keep thinking “but what if I need it later?”  We don’t make the kind of salary to be able to go re-buy stuff.

Our friend Jim Trowel enjoys decorating, and when he visited us many years ago I asked him what we could do with this house of ours. He said, “Well the first thing you need to do is get rid of 50% of your stuff.”*

Redistributing means that less has to get made and transported.  It is great for the environment!  Going to thrift shops means reusing.  Giving to shelters, food pantries, thrift shops means less for the land fills.  Most items can be used for long periods of time after someone else is tired of it. 

It is so much fun to just see what is there in the thrift shops.  

It is freeing to get rid of your stuff if you have stuff in abundance, because there are people…many people…who would love to have some stuff, because they have little.

Redistribution of clothes, shoes, household goods, toys, games, puzzles, and let’s not forget wealth…never forget freedom.  It’s fun.  It’s right.
 *To be honest he didn’t say “stuff”!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

One Easy-Peazy Way to Conserve!

Going back to the States is less of a culture shock than it used to be, but I still find parts baffling and sometimes overwhelming.

I have a very clear memory of going to the grocery store about 12 years ago to pick up some Honey Nut Cheerios as a treat for the boys.  Looking for the cereal aisle I happened upon shelves and shelves of water.  Water!  I just stood there and stared.

I could not believe that people who lived in a country with wonderful tap water would buy that much water in plastic bottles!

Since then I have learned how damaging all those water bottles are: not to mention, how expensive they are!

The United States, a nation of good, clean tap water*  buys more bottled water per capita than any other place in the world:  167 bottles per year....50 billion plastic water bottles!  And only about 23% of those bottles are recycled, which means about 38 billion plastic water bottles were wasted.  

200 million tons of plastic water bottles are in the land fills waiting the 1,000 years to bio-degrade. If incinerated, their fumes are toxic.

As damaging as that is, it doesn't stop there by a long shot:

This is an easy one.  If you drink bottled water, quit.  Buy a bottle of your own and fill it up at home and refill it at work, in the gym, at rest areas,...well, you get the picture.  If you don't like the taste of your water, buy a filter.  So much of conserving, recycling, reusing has effort.  THIS actually takes less effort.  No shopping and hauling bottles of water.   Easy-Peazy!  And encourage others to do the same.
*eliminating Flint, Michigan, and wells damaged by fracking

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Water: the Gift of Life

Staying in California during last year's drought, I experience a concerted effort on the part of the state government to limit people's use of water.  Lawns were drying up and in Sacramento the city government was asking people to water their trees not their grass, because trees help hold in water and if the trees died...well, you get the picture.

Currently, 1.6 billion people live in countries and regions with absolute water scarcity and the number is expected to rise to 2.8 billion people by 2025.

One of Nicaragua's richest resources is its aquifer, the largest in Central America.  During the neo-liberal years when the government was trying to privatize everything (public schools, health care, electricity, etc.) they also tried to privatize water.  There was even talk of selling Nicaragua's water to the west coast of the  United States.  Fortunately the Nicaraguans rose up, hit the streets and blocked the privatization of its water.

Thankfully-- they did because after the last two years of drought, Nicaragua lost 60% of its surface water and 50% of its underground water.

With climate change, droughts are going to be a greater and greater threat to life in larger and larger areas of the world.  Our bodies are made up of 72% of water.  Polluting water and wasting water seems to me to be counter-productive to life.

And yet many U.S. politicians want to do away with the Environmental Protection Agency, while here in Nicaragua the two largest polluters of water, sugar production and gold mining, go unchecked.

I heard a college student talk about trying to make the campus more environmentally conscious by asking students to limit their showers to 20 minutes!  While I am not like one of our early volunteers when we ran shelters in NC who, I decided, could take a shower with a thimble of water; 20 minutes is a lot of water going down the drain.

What is it going to take for us to learn and change our ways?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Food, the Hungry and Our Ozone

Mike peeling apples for the shelters
When we ran shelters in the U.S., people would clean out their freezers and pantries and give the contents to us.  I remember pulling out a package of meat labeled "Betsy" and REALLY hoping it was beef!

Over time, though, the food would get so freezer-burned that it was time for even us to toss it BUT we had to wait until Mike went on a trip, because Mike hates food waste...he is not wrong.

The facts given in this blog come from an article in The Guardian.   I strongly urge you to take the time and read the whole thing... here are highlights:

Half... HALF of all food produced in the United States is now thrown away!

Globally 1/3 of all food is wasted.  If all the food tossed in the world for a year were stacked in 20 meter dumpsters.  It would take 80 million dumpsters.  Piled on top of each other, the bins would be so high and long that they would go to the moon and encircle it! 

This is wrong.  In a world of hungry people, this is just plain wrong.

Why the extreme amount of waste? 

Farmers, merchants, and researchers report that we now demand flawless fruits and vegetables; therefore:

  • farmers leave food rotting in their fields or haul imperfect food to a land fill if they cannot find cattle that will eat it;
  • grocery stores throw away tons of good food because it will not sell;
  • grocery stores also lock their dumpster bins to keep out people who would eat the food;
  • restaurants throw food away when they could donate at least some of the uneaten food to shelters or just serve smaller servings;
  • people at home throw mind boggling amounts of food away instead of figuring out ways to use left-overs in cooking or refreshing food that might have gone stale.
Old food in land fills causes methane gas that contributes to the depletion of our ozone... and heats up the planet.  Methane gas is more harmful to our ozone than the carbon monoxide created by transporting the food and all the garbage.  Dealing with garbage is getting to a crisis level... polluting water and air.

How is food dealt with here in Nicaragua? 

Most grocery stores, markets, and restaurants sell their bad food to pig farmers.  Most people who shop in markets or grocery stores know that food is not perfect and will buy blemished fruits and vegetables.  

Long ago I learned how to use leftovers creatively, cooking for shelter guests on next to nothing for a food budget .  It became a contest for me... how to take 5 servings of chicken cordon blue from Davidson College, 2 frozen chicken legs, 50 ears of cattle corn, and 60 pounds of almost rotten tomatoes to make one yummy casserole for 70 people.

Photo of Nicaraguan market by Jay Mock
Here I have learned that almost any vegetable when looking limp and sad will perk right up in water.  Slice lettuce, cabbage, carrots, etc.  put them in cool water and in an hour they are good as new and a wonderful salad is served!

We frequently end up with  leftovers, because when we have delegations it is a crap shoot as to how much they will eat... sometimes even I cannot use them all.  When that happens we give food to our staff, to neighbors in the village, and IF it goes bad then into the compost pile it goes.  None of our food goes into a land fill.

There is no reason for the amount of food that is wasted and with the number of hungry growing and the ozone shrinking... the only right action is to change our food habits and advocate for better food policies.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...

I have a very fond memory of the celebration of my parent's 45th wedding anniversary.  We had a family reunion with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.  Mama had bought plastic throw-away plates, cups and utensils for all the folks there.  After eating I asked her if we were going to recycle them... in front of one of my more environmentally conscious family members.

Ron said, "You can't recycle these, they don't have a 1 on them." (It was almost 18 years ago and only "1"s could be recycled in South Carolina then.)  I looked puzzled and said, "Oh.  No.  I meant, are we going to wash them and use them again?"  Ron smiled and responded with, "Different culture."  

Yep... throwing away all those good plates, cups, and utensils seemed a HUGE waste to me, coming from a country where a family might have only 3 to 4 plates and cups for 10 family members!  

Thankfully, in the U.S. recycling seems to have caught on... but reducing and reusing are still foreign concepts. 

In our International Training Center (or The Dorm) we have a cooler  filled with sodas and beer in reusable bottles with the labels painted on... like the old bottles of my childhood.  It was a sad day when plastic bottles and cans  hit Nicaragua and the landfills became over-run.

In the U.S. the masses only reuse houses and cars which means our land fills grow and grow. People throw or give away clothes, shoes, and accessories at an alarming rate!  Food is tossed.  Paper goes into the recycle bin and new notepads are bought.  Furniture winds up on the curb.  Leaves and grass clippings are bagged and thrown away.  The amount of waste is mind-boggling.

A sign at a Managua park says "Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Reevaluate, Restructure, Redistribute
For the next month we are going to focus on reducing and reusing ...practical ways...things we've learned from the staff and the people we serve.  The poor HAVE to reuse and reduce to survive.  We will also focus on WHY reducing and reusing is important on so many levels .  So stay tuned!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

"Do or do not.  There is no try," said Yoda in Star Wars.  At this point in history when it comes to climate change, it is now survive or not survive.  Those are our options.

Scientists say we are hurtling towards a future that will mean life will alter dramatically...not to mention the fact and not many of us will survive.  

I'm 62 years old...MY future is winding down, but as a mother of three, stepmother of two, and grandmother of two with one on the way...we HAVE to change our ways and start pouring money into slowing the speed of our world rushing headlong into disaster and actually start reversing what damage we can reverse.

We have all heard that as the globe warms:

  • sea levels will rise; 
  • hurricanes, typhoons,and  tornadoes will become even more powerful, larger, and more destructive;
  • droughts will increase thus greatly limiting food supply;
  • glaziers will increasingly melt at an alarming rate further raising the over-all temperatures;
  • trees will die altering the amount of oxygen in the air;
  • and on and on.
The human race has grown and survived many disasters because we adapt, but there is great concern that any and all of the above can happen so quickly that we do not have time to adapt.  Plus poorer nations do not have the resources to adapt.  

Most religions call us to care for the poor.
Most religions call us to care for the earth.
And yet some of the strongest environmentally conscious people I know are atheists and agnostics while some of the most abusive people to the environment call themselves Christians.

Most of us act like we are on a space craft that never needs fixing, cleaning, or adjusting our life style to accommodate all occupants. 

Adaptation does not include negligence.  We HAVE to pull our heads out of the sand.

History has told us that The Divine is not going to come sweeping down and save the "faithful" by cleaning up this mess.  After predicting for more than 2,000 years that The Divine will save the faithful by sweeping them up en masse in an Apocalyptic glory, I think, it is time that that we all wake up and understand that:
  • WE were given guardianship over this beautiful home of ours; 
  • WE were given the task of caring for this earth and all beings living on it; 
  • and WE were given the task of caring for the those with the least power.
Hypothetically let's say the Divine DOES come sweeping down...what do YOU think the Divine will say to us defiling one of the most beautiful gifts created and given to us by the Creator?  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Hot, Hot, Hot...Climate Change Part 2

As many of you are sweating outside in these summer months, you may actually be thinking about climate change.  But when the A/C is going in your home, work place, gym, or car, the heat slips to the back of your mind. 

In Nicaragua, April and May were miserable, it was so hot.  In the last 137 years of recorded temperatures, the last 12 months worldwide...every single month has been the hottest on record.  What does that mean for Nicaraguans?

The vast majority of the population can never get away from the heat.  The buses are hot.  The work place - often outside - is hot.  Their little, tiny homes are hot...and at night homes are closed up and the heat builds with many sleeping in one room.*  

People are exhausted because the heat zaps their energy and hardly anyone can keep enough water in them.  They are also exhausted because they don't sleep well in the heat, rising several times to just go outside and try to cool off.  People are cranky and road rage is more common (Thank God that guns are banned!).  Children are irritable and parents are short-tempered.

Josefa, our clinic administrator, walked around the clinic with a wet towel on her head when our pitiful air conditioner was broken.  She was trying to lower her temperature to lower her blood pressure.  

As the humidity and the heat built, the air coming in and out of my and Mike's lungs got heavier and heavier...both of us then move to the air conditioned office.  Two years running I ended up in the hospital with asthma attacks during these hot, humid I have the luxury of spending them in our bedroom or office with A/C.

We hear people from the North talk about how Nicaraguans have adapted to hotter weather -  and they have to some extent  - but when the heat and the humidity rises, it is dangerous for the body.  The advice given in the States of going into air conditioned areas OR getting in tubs of water does not work here.  Again, the vast majority do not have those options.

Climate change is ever-present for the poor.  The reason many in the States can deny climate change is that...well, they can.  It does not affect them now.  They can move within their climate controlled temperatures and stupidly stick their heads in their air-conditioned sand, but denying something does not make it untrue.

*Even most middle class families do not have air conditioning in their home because electricity here costs about 3 times more than it does in the States.