Friday, May 13, 2011

"These past two days have undoubtedly changed the way that I see the world, and I can't wait to see what the next few days hold."

Last year a University of Portland student said that before joining a Witness for Peace delegation, "I was not politically aware, but going on this trip has opened my eyes. It has motivated me to be more aware and keep updated on what's going on in the world."

Now you can follow the experiences of 2011 University of Portland delegates to Nicaragua live.

Hi all, I (Drew) am updating for today.

It's been a tumultuous two days, to say the least. As I sit here listening to the heavy tropical rain falling on the concrete a few feet away from me, it's difficult to internalize everything I've learned about today and yesterday, much less break it down to a short blog entry. But alas, I'll try my best.

We visited a few different places yesterday, examining models of medical assistance for the poor. First, we visited a public hospital which specifically focused on young women, which was incredibly eye-opening concerning the state of teen pregnancy and the high prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Infections in Nicaragua. A doctor we spoke with described her efforts to educate young people about sexual health and prevention issues. Perhaps strangest about this experience was how similar the problem of spreading education and awareness in Nicaragua is to that which exists in the U.S. Both countries have high rates of teen pregnancy, and both desperately need a greater awareness. But medical health professionals in both countries are trying very hard to improve upon these issues, and if there are more people like the doctor we spoke with, then I have little doubt concerning what great things could be accomplished.

Second, we visited the home of a woman named Maria, who is not a medical professional, but runs a Jesuit-sponsored medical aid office right out of her home, in a small, poor community just outside of Managua. The needs are many in this village, and children have difficulty overcoming diseases which we in the States consider routine. But Maria, with the help of a Priest who began the organization and visits often, has begun to address these needs with whatever medicine that she can obtain, helping as many children as she can. Remarkably, she does this work free of charge, which greatly complicates her life in that she cannot work to help support her family. Luckily, she has a husband to help provide, but there are many mothers with children, both in her village and others, that do not have such luxuries. But her resilience and determination to help the children in her community was incredible to see, and seemed like something that could well be implemented in locales throughout Central America, providing medical aid to families in areas wherein doctors are largely unavailable.

Finally, and most awe-inquiringly, we met an incredible woman named Yamileth Perez at the very end of our day, just as the sun was setting. She met us at our Hostel, after which we drove to the Chureca (the city dump). As we drove, Yamileth told us her story of growing up desperately poor, and eventually having no choice but to live off of the dump, as hundreds of families are forced to currently. Looking for aluminum and plastic to give to the recyclers, individuals can earn about 20 cordoba (less than $1) a day. With such meager wages, these families are often forced to find food in the dump itself, causing massive levels of gastrointestinal failure among them. She showed us pictures she had taken of families literally eating the leftover parts from local meat packing plants, and told us of her family (Yamileth, her husband, and her daughters) being forced to eat fumigated rice which even the pigs at the dump would not eat. Perhaps even more than her heartbreaking story, I believe that the image which will stick with me for the rest of my life is the image which was the most brief; as we drove into the village of squatters living next to the dump, e did not enter the dump itself, but through the haze of the sunset, we could all make out the figures of people sifting through the massive mounds of garbage. People; human beings living off of garbage, being forced to eat things that even pigs won't eat. Not something that is forgotten easily, nor should it be. No one deserves to live such a life, much less children. But Yamileth, being the beautiful spirit that she was (and is), decided to do something about it. Working with the other people in the village, she brought them together to decide upon what the group needed. First, she began to bring in medicine from the local public hospital in order to treat the common gastrointestinal issues faced by many of the families living there. Second, she created peace in a place of violence, by bringing together the youth gangs (through simply providing a soccer field, no less!). Truly, Yamileth's story is as heart-breaking as it is inspiring, and speaking with her, in my opinion, has been the greatest blessing of this trip so far. She is an incredible woman who has done much with her life, and given her drive and beautiful spirit, I have no doubt that she will do much more to improve the conditions to those relegated to living in that community, and inspire others to do the same. Just walking through the village, it was clear the sense of community that these people have, and the beauty of their closeness against such a backdrop was truly an experience, the likes of which will never fail to inspire me.

I could spend many more pages writing about the life changing experience with the people at the Chureca, I fear that you may tired of reading soon, so I must press on. Today, we visited to clothing manufacturing plants, both located in Nicaragua's "Free Trade Zones," wherein the government allows businesses to not pay for export tariffs and other taxes, compliance with the Dominican Republic - Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Walking into the first manufacturing plant (also called a "Maquina"), the first thing I couldn't help but to notice was the fact that it was HOT. I mean REALLY HOT. I had to ask myself "how could someone spend hours a day working here?" But they do. All 1600 of them do. It is difficult to describe in words what it looks like to see over 1,000 people working furiously at sewing machines, trying desperately to make as many sweaters as they can in order to make slightly above their minimum wage. All I can tell you is that it was a surreal thing to see. More over, they were all working furiously to make North Face Fleece jackets; a common sight in my hometown. Emilio, our tour guide at the plant, tried very persuasively to convince us that this was one of the better manufacturing plants, and that such poor conditions exist for workers because there exists no other way. Regardless of one's opinion on the necessity of such materials to come at a low cost to the consumer, it is clear that these workers have been stripped of much of their human dignity. There were no smiles, no pride in their work; only sweltering heat, cramped spaces, and sweltering heat. This lead me to ask myself; at what cost comes efficiency?

After this experience, we got to see the opposite end of the spectrum; a woman named Maria and her small clothing company, called "Nueva Vida" ("New Life"). While it was still searingly hot (as it tends to be around here) in the maquina, words cannot fully describe the contrast.Workers were smiling, chatting as they went about their work, and seemingly took great pride in what they were doing. Maria and many of the other women were displaced after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and after months spent living in government emergency camps, she was finally able to borrow a small amount of money to start her own clothing company, using only organic cotton. While it is clearly a much smaller operation than the one we saw earlier in the day, the comparison is simply indescribable. After purchasing a few shirts of our own and saying our goodbyes, we board the bus to head back to our hostel, just as the warm tropical rains began to fall.

I must apologize for writing so much, and thank you for reading this entire post. These past two days have undoubtedly changed the way that I see the world, and I can't wait to see what the next few days hold :)


This post was originally published here.

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