Tuesday, December 31, 2019



This year Paul, Becca, Eibhlín, and Orla are celebrating the New Year before any of us, because they are visiting with Paul’s sister and family in NEW ZEALAND!!!  Paul’s sister bought them airline tickets to come visit for six weeks because she knew we could never afford such an expense.

Paul’s family is truly a global family… parents and one brother in Ireland, brother in Germany, sister in Britain, this sister in New Zealand, and Paul in Nicaragua.  They manage to get together at least every other year.  It is extraordinary.

When Sarah’s parents went to Taiwan as Presbyterian missionaries, they said goodbye to their families for five years.  She and her family returned to the States on freighter ships only every five years.

Times have changed for most of us.  Except for Paul, we all try to see our families at least once a year.  Our children and their families come here, to Nicaragua, once a year and we try to get to them another time.  We have email, video chats, what’s app, and we feel in-touch.  I don’t know if I could do this work without all the wonders of today’s technology available.

Our Nicaraguan staff have smart phones, video and what’s app messaging, and calls with their loved ones abroad, while perched beside the park to use its free wifi, but they rarely see their distant family.  Even some staff members, whose family live in-country but hours away, only see their family over Christmas when the CDCA shuts down and they take a bus to go visit.  Their families cannot afford the bus fare to come see them.

This is one aspect of poverty… the loss of family connections… and connections with friends when they’ve moved away.  This loss is something we learned about while running shelters in the U.S., and we see here…  it is an aspect that most of us who are wealthier don’t ever think of.

So, as you gather with friends and family to welcome in the New Year, remember those who are separated, especially because of poverty.  And may we all have a…

Happy New Year!


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Friday, December 27, 2019

Future Fridays: the Meaning of Love

This final week of Advent, here in Nicaragua, we hung our 35-year-old banner of love.  It is a Haitian mother holding her baby.

For God so loved the world…the WORLD…that He gave His Begotten Son. -  John 3:16A

Jesus taught us how to love.  He taught us how to be servants to one another…
  • To care for the poor
  • To heal the sick
  • To free the oppressed
  • To touch the untouchables
  • To turn the other cheek
  • To love our neighbor as ourselves…

And to do all of that we have to love this world and care for it, because…
  • The poor suffer most in droughts, floods, hurricanes, and all the natural disasters that are growing
  • The sick population is getting sicker with mosquitos multiplying, with unnatural heat ways, and pollution in the air affecting breathing, pollution in the food, soil, and water making people sick
  • The peoples who are losing their homes, and are oppressed by rising seawaters, need freedom to make new homes or not lose their homes at all
  • Many immigrants are considered unwanted and as climate change progresses, we have to touch them and welcome them
  • Turning the other cheek re climate change means doing what is right whether other nations are doing it or not
  • And loving our neighbor as our ourselves… well, look at the above and do WE want to be in those shoes… No.

Love means doing what is right by those who suffer.


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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

¡Feliz Navidad! Good Tidings of Great Joy!

¡Feliz Navidad!

In many Latin cultures, Christmas Eve is the big celebration as opposed to Christmas Day.  Here in Nicaragua that is also true.

There is a midnight mass.  The family gathers for a big meal, probably including stuffed chicken, rice, vegetables, and a dessert, Maria en Su Gloria (ripe plantains baked with orange juice, cinnamon sticks, sugar and rum).  They open presents.  Fireworks color the midnight sky.  And mortars sound out at the stroke of midnight.  It is a festive evening time.

The following day, Christmas, is a day mostly to recover from the festivities of the night before.

This suits us fine, because our son, with his Nicaraguan wife and daughter, go and celebrate with her family on Christmas Eve and then come to us for Christmas Day.  They don’t have to choose between families.  Almost every year we have lived in Nicaragua (for 25 years now), we have been fortunate to celebrate with all our children, their partners, and our grandchildren.  We have a plastic tree… we are in the tropics… and stockings for the multitude.  Christmas is my favorite time of the year, because of our family.

When we ran shelters in the U.S., each Christmas we hosted a dinner for our shelter guests and anyone who was alone.  The last dinner we hosted, we had over 300 guests. 

We know from experience, and are keenly aware, that Christmas can be a lonely day, a grief-stricken day, a hopeless day…

For those of you who are alone today and tomorrow, we send you our love.

For those of you who are saddened because someone you love has died and the day feels empty, we send you our sympathy.

For those of you who are hopeless, we pray that your days will lighten and you will feel the love of the Divine.

And to all, we wish for you a blessed Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the One who taught us how to love, how to give, how to be a good person.


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Friday, December 20, 2019

Future Fridays: Entrusted with the Sounds of Joy

This week of Advent we hung our banner of joy.  It is a Chinese dragon with the character for joy (Sarah grew up in Taiwan).  It is stained and used to have six bells sewn on the bottom… the banner is over 35 years old now.

Joy… sometimes an elusive feeling for poor people, depressed people, and as our daughter Jessica recently wrote, a elusive feeling for people younger than me because of climate change… the feeling that the future is bleak.

I have felt intense joy holding my sons after they were born… joy and an intense feeling of responsibility.

We were entrusted with this earth.  If we do not start changing our habits, we will kill ourselves off.  And long after we are gone the planet will heal and some kind of life will emerge again, but the joy of children’s squeals of laughter will be silenced, the roars of tigers will be quieted, no more majestic trumpets from elephants, no more whale songs…the silence will be deafening.

Whether you “believe” in climate change or not… whether you think climate change is “man-made” or not… we don’t want to risk the silence.  We want to do our part, if for no other reason then for our children and grandchildren to feel joy again.


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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Pat Floerke, ¡Presente!

Today is the one-year anniversary of Pat’s death.

Pat was a Jubilee House Community member, since 1987 with her surviving sister, Kathy.  She was the counselor in our Nueva Vida Clinic.  She was the clerk of the Managua Friends Meeting.  She was Kathy’s sister, and together they were partners/friends/family for their lives.

Pat was gifted in crafts of all kinds.  And in small ways and big ways, Pat served as our:
  • Ear for when we needed to talk
  • Caregiver of the Community children
  • Teacher of the Community children
  • Coffee maker
  • Pet caregiver
  • Gluer/mender
  • Welcoming person for volunteers
  • Driver of the Community children to school
  • Craft teacher
  • Vision checker and eye glasses finder and maker
  • Inspiration for many
  • And a compassionate counselor for so many hurting and in need
  • Plus, so much more

So now we make our own coffee.  We try our hand at gluing and mending.  We make sure the volunteers are properly welcomed and we try to listen better to each other.  But filling that need at the clinic is outside our scope of expertise.  Dr. Dominga Soto has volunteered for the past year serving this need.

We are setting up a Pat Floerke Memorial Fund to hire Dr. Soto to come five mornings a week.  The need is great and growing.  We are going to mark the therapy room in memory of Pat.  Please help by committing to a recurring monthly gift or contributing a one-time gift.  I think Pat would be pleased that we are keeping her vital work going.


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Friday, December 13, 2019

Future Fridays: Water Anyone?

The rains in Nicaragua are slowing.  We are getting ready to look at six months of no rain as we enter the dry season.  Water will not be in abundance and we will need to start being more conservative of our use of water.

A mature tree can take up 11,000 gallons of water from the soil and release clean water vapor into the atmosphere during a growing season.  While the average American uses 100 gallons a day flushing toilets and 36,500 gallons of clean water just washing waste down sewage pipes.

The average American uses 30-50 gallons of water during a 10-minute shower.  I even remember seeing how one university encourages its students to go green by limiting their showers to 20 minutes!!!

Poor Nicaraguans use no water flushing their toilets because they only have latrines or outhouses.  Their showers are mostly bucket showers.  They get clean quickly… maybe 4-5 gallons used, at a generous estimate.

Poor Nicaraguans also plant trees around their houses to keep them cool, and if fruit trees are planted then there is also some food.  After Hurricane Mitch, with the help of a USAID staff person, we planted 16,000 baby trees in Nueva Vida.  These little trees are now large and provide fruit and shade.

To conserve water here are a few suggestions:
  • Plant a tree as often as you can
  • Take the shortest showers as you can (I take 2-3 mins unless I’m washing my hair then 4 mins.)
  • And with flushing, invest in low flush toilets or if in rural areas use composting toilets.  And also remember this little rhyme…
If it’s yellow let it mellow
If it’s brown flush it down.


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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Life Giving: Healthy Moms & Babies

My niece just posted on Facebook a photo of her and her partner holding an ultrasound photo of their new baby.

Ultrasound is a wonderful way to see your new one, but more importantly it is a marvelous tool for doctors.

Physicians can diagnose a high-risk pregnancy and see what is happening in utero with a growing fetus.  They can see blood clots, tumors, kidney stones, gall stones, cysts, and what is happening to organs.

It is a marvelous, safe diagnostic tool that has saved so many lives.

Dr. Jorge Flores is our radiologist and for a year-and-a-half we had no ultrasound machine for him to use because the two that we’d had previously were irreparably broken.  We now have another used one, but we have to order the expensive paper from the United States, and because the machine is worn, Dr. Flores has to manipulate the probes “just right” to get his reading.

However, in spite of the kinks, he shows new mothers their babies.  He reads and gives diagnoses of what he sees to aid our doctors, and for referring physicians to know.  He also sends patients to the hospital when he sees something that needs immediate surgery.  He saves lives.

We are thrilled to be able to offer this service once again, and we hope by the end of 2020 we will have a working x-ray in place, and finished radiology rooms, to expand the Nueva Vida Clinic’s services of diagnostic tools for looking within the human body.


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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Me, Volunteer?... How Can I Possibly Be Helpful?

Greg was a tag-along.

Margaret was our returning medical volunteer, who was busy this week doing valuable home visits, nutrition charlas (education) for folk in Nueva Vida, helping in the pharmacy, offering practical suggestions to help severe diabetics, etc.

She brought Greg along.  He'd seen the photos and heard the stories.

Newly engaged, he came to at least hang out and see what all her interest was about.

We put him to work with Rogelio, Pedro, Lucas, and Wil.

 He learned to sling repello on the wall.

He moved block. 

He vanished with his companeros into the countryside, awe-struck at finding himself inspecting a sesame field, checking on the crop's progress.

His English and their Spanish... a bilingual dance of hands and words, usually producing sufficient communication and a lot of laughter.

Greg came in from work daily, appreciating ever more the range of knowledge, experience, and the personalities of his mentors.  And he paid attention. 

Mid-week Greg came to me... "Would it be possible for me, as an A/C professional, to clean the condenser coils on the clinic A/C and help it run more efficiently and prolong its life?"

He didn't want to step on any toes.  He was being culturally sensitive of those from whom he'd been learning.

"Yes!",  was our enthusiastic response, and "let's bring in Rogelio also."

"Yes!"  was Rogelio's response... "and what tools do you need and how can we help?  What can you teach us for future more effective maintenance?"

And so the next day found Greg climbing the roofs, being tossed one end of a garden hose, to flush out A/C condenser coils.

And crawling around offices, sharing his knowledge with Pedro.

And then... but... hmmm... "Do you also know electrical system information, Greg?

And so off he went on a shopping spree with Rogelio, to purchase the needed voltage tester... and his final workday at the clinic found him partnering with Rogelio to test and record the amperage draw of the clinic air-conditioners... that keep the lab cool enough for its equipment to function... that keep the dental chairs and compressors running... that keep the ultrasound working... and the office computers keeping records... as well as the A/C to maintain the medicine stock.

Why test and record?

Because our tired generator doesn't produce enough umpf (the technical term, of course) to keep everything at the clinic running during the electrical company's frequent power outages, and knowing how much each piece of the puzzle consumes will let us know what we can and can not keep running during each outage, and what capacity we need to look for in a future generator (hint), or with hopeful thinking, a solar system in place (big enormous hint).

What a gift Greg has given us.  

Not a tag-along at all.

As Rogelio said, "We need everybody.  Everybody can help."

Thanks, Greg (and Margaret!)

- Sarah

For More Life-Giving information:

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Future Fridays: Organics... Catch 22?

As Mike and I wrap up our time with the family in California, we find that we have spent a good bit of time going to the grocery store to get milk and eggs.  The closest store to Coury and Cassie carries lots of organic food including Once Again Nut Butter products. The grandsons love their peanut butter.

Organics is better for the environment as well as for our bodies.  I think we can all agree on that.  The problem is that organics cost so much more than conventional crops.  Why is that?

Most poor farmers farm organically because they cannot afford the cost of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.  Even though subsistence farmers in poor nations do farm organically, they cannot get the added price for their organic crops that large organic farmers get, due to the fact that the process to become organically certified is expensive.

Certified organic food products cost more in stores.  Certified organic farm products in turn bring in more capital for the growers.

It is a Catch 22:

  • Only large farmers can afford the certification costs and yet, small farmers mostly grow organically.  
  • Customers want certification to prove that the crops are organic and yet, large agri-businesses have - of course - figured out how to scam the system.

testing organic sesame
How do small farmers in Nicaragua get certification?  By banding together to form a large cooperative* that can afford the certification costs.

The farmers who are part of the organic agriculture cooperative, COPROEXNIC, depend on buyers with a conscience, who in turn depend on customers with a conscience who are willing to research businesses and then support those who genuinely buy organic.

And, because organics cost more, the poor are only able to afford food products that are not organic… as always, the poor are left between a rock and a hard place.


*COPROEXNIC is such a cooperative of small farmers, who banded together more than 20 years ago to obtain organic certification for sesame, peanuts, and coffee. They live and work with the daily challenges of economics and weather.  You can help.

Monday, December 2, 2019

#GivingTuesday: A Health Care Support System is... Within Our Reach

For the past week or so, I have been writing blogs about what goes on in our clinic in preparation for  
#Giving Tuesday…today. 

Our Goal: to raise $5,000 to help the Clinic meet its financial responsibilities
for 2019 and into 2020.

The permanent health clinic in Nueva Vida* celebrates its 20th anniversary this year!  
The clinic has grown and developed over those 20 years and so has its budget.  The budget for the clinic this year is $261.634.00 which is about $720/day.

  • Acute medical care with one full-time physician (Dr. Flores) and one half-time physician (Dr. Lopez)
  • Medical care for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, etc.  with the above- mentioned doctors.
  • Pediatric care with a part-time pediatrician
  • Ultrasounds with Dr. Flores
  • Restorative dental care with Dr. Escobar
  • Preventive dental care with a hygienist and Dr. Escobar
  • Dental care for children in 20 plus feeding centers throughout Nicaragua
  • Testing outside the laboratory (such as for PAPs and biopsies) in addition to tests done inside the clinic but done by the nurse – for glucose, pregnancy, urine strips and rapid HIV tests (when available)
  • Pharmacy for the medications that the doctors prescribe
  • Therapy three mornings a week with Dr. Soto
  • EKGs
  • Limited gynecological care with Drs. Flores and Lopez and our nurse
  • Prenatal check-ups with Drs. Flores and Lopez
  • Home visits with patients at risk with Dr. Lopez and our 35 lay health promoters
  • First aid and limited other care provided by our lay health promoters from their own homes on weekends and during the night
  • Walk-in wound care
  • Weekly classes for patients with chronic conditions provided by our paid health promoter, Jessenia
  • Bi-monthly classes for pregnant moms and new mothers
  • Monthly classes for our lay health promoters
  • Weekly support groups for pre-teen and teen girls
  • Weekly support groups for boys
  • Limited support for HIV positive patients and their families
  • Aid for patients to get birth certificates and national ID
  • Wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, beds, etc.
  • A current clinic staff of three doctors, one dentist, one nurse, one pharmacist, one lay technician, one hygienist, one health promoter, and a support staff of seven

Please help us meet our goal of $5,000… think how much good your gift will do this #GivingTuesday.

*Nueva Vida is the neighborhood of Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, formed 20+ years ago after Hurricane Mitch.  The Nueva Vida Clinic serves its 12,000 residents as well as any residents from other neighborhoods of the city, population 180,000.

** Abortion is not one of them.  Abortion is illegal in Nicaragua.

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

#Giving Tuesday: Happy Bellies are... Within Our Reach

This #GivingTuesday, Happy Bellies are... Within Our Reach.

Alaska has some mighty fine folks who have brought medical brigades to Nicaragua for 15 years now.  And despite the recent high travel advisories they still come, including the most recent group who came the week of November 9-16.

Their very first group that came brought two pediatricians.  Mary was one of them and we had a conversation that went like this:

Me: “You will see lots of parasites in the children.”

Mary: “How will we know what kind of parasites the children have?  Do you have a lab?”

Me: “No.  You will have to guess.  If the feces are frothy treat for giardia.  If there are worms in the feces then treat for that.  If there is a fever then treat for a bacterial infection.  If you are not sure then treat for bacteria and amoebas.”

Mary: “But how will I know?”

Me: “You won’t.  Ask the parents and give it your best shot.”

It took me awhile to calm her fears until the other pediatrician - a retired Air Force pediatrician - finally said, “Mary, no one is going to sue you.  Do your best.”

NOW we have a laboratory with a licensed lab technician.

Much of what the doctors have done in the past was to over-treat making sure they hit all the bases with infections, bacteria, and parasites.  We gave children a dose of Albendazole every six months, to kill what parasites might be their digestive systems, in order to give the children a chance to absorb what food they did eat instead of feeding the little buggies.

NOW with our lab, our doctors can selectively target what is making the patients sick.  Much, much better for the patients.


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