Hello to everyone reading this, my name is Richard Hackett and I am a junior BSN nursing student at the University of San Francisco (USF). This summer I volunteered to participate in a program which is a partnership between my university, the Foundation for Sustainable Development (http://www.fsdinternational.org), and gracefully funded by the Sarlo Foundation (http://www.sfjcf.org/endowment/grants/programs/sarlo/about.html).
As a participant in this program, four other USF students and I will be spending the next couple of months in Nicaragua, where we arrived last Sunday. We will be working with different community based organizations to learn about the history and social/economic issues from the people that live and work here, in one of the economically poorest nations in Central America.
I have created this blog as a way to keep people informed on my experiences here, if they are interested, and I will try to post a new entry at least once a week, give or take a day or two. Feel free to check up on me, post comments and/or questions, but please keep them somewhat professional! Also feel free to email me directly...whew! Now that all of that technical information is out of the way ¡empezamos!
The trip has gone well thus far, our group arrived in Managua on the afternoon of Sunday, May 24th, without any problems. At the airport we were greeted by some of the FSD coordinators, who helped us load our bags in a van and accompanied us on our way from the airport. Even our checked luggage showed up without a hitch! Which cannot be said for some of the other participants here from other schools. Exiting the airport the heat and humidity were apparent, as expected, so drinking enough water and getting enough electrolytes to stay hydrated is a constant necessity.
In the van, we headed for a small hotel, nestled in a residential nieghborhood in Managua, called Casa San Juan. We spent the rest of the day, and most of the following Monday, being oriented to the FSD program, Nicaraguan history and culture, and seeing some of the histroic sites in Managua. Managua itself, the capital of Nicaragua, is a large city of about 1.5 million people. We visited a large cathedral made mostly of concrete. We also visited the site of Anastasio Somoza´s (former dictator) hilltop palace, which little remains of, but it now hosts a monument to Augusto Sandino and the view of Managua from the hilltop allows you to see the expansive city in all directions, the large lake (Lago de Managua), and the surrounding hills and countryside. For a city of its size, Managua has relatively few highrise buildings, as most of them tumbled down in the earthquake of 1972, whose epicenter was in Managua. We also visited a city park, which now appears pretty run down, but has a monument dedicated to hope and a concrete wall filled with automatic weapons that were used during the civil war. The barrles of the rifles protrude from the wall like menacing tentacles and our guide, Francisco, spoke of how it saddened him that this monument has become run down and forgotten. He spoke of how the rifles in the wall had been used to kill countless numbers of people, and the monument should be remembered in their honor.
Monday evening, we left the city and headed for Masaya, a comparatively smaller city of about 150,000 people located a 30 minute drive south of Managua. Masya is slightly cooler temperature wise because of an increased elevation and the atmosphere is a little more easygoing and friendly, even though there is still an obvious presence of poverty. It is common everywhere we have been thus far to see even children begging in the streets. We then spent the next three days in Masaya, learning about public health issues, local economics and politics.
One activity we completed during this time was called the "Two Dollars a Day" activity. In Nicaragua, close to 80% of the population lives with a family income of less than $2/day (Human Development Report 2007/2008). The local currency is called cordobas, and about 20 cordobas equal one U.S. dollar. So for the activity, we were divided into student pairs and given 40 cordobas and the details of what we had to try and buy for an average sized Nicaraguan family. My group assignment was to buy enough food for five people (two children, two adults and one grandmother), in addition to asthmatic medication and a special diet of fruits and vegetables that the grandmother required because of her medical condition.
Although it is true that one U.S. dollar generally goes much further here than in the U.S. (for example, I can take a taxi anywhere in Masaya for only 10 cordobas, or about 50 U.S. cents), it was not easy to come up with the required goods. We bought the least expensive asthamtic medication we could find in an amout that would only get her through the next 24 hours, and that was only after barganing hard with the pharmacist and explaining our medical necessity. All of the more effective medications would have been far out of our price range, so we spent 9 cordobas on 6 bronchodilator pills. That meant we had 31 cordobas left to buy enough food for five people. We searched for the cheapest dried rice and beans and bought one pound of each (the cost of meat made it out of the question). We then had 8.5 cordobas left to buy a small bag of fruit and vegetables for our grandmother´s dietary needs. I think we had enough to keep people from starving overnight, but not enough to keep malnourishment from becoming a long-term issue. I should also mention that our diector told us we still needed to buy a little salt and cooking oil to prepare the food we bought, but we did not have a cent left.
The activity helped to underscore the economic struggle many families face here on a daily basis. With such limited funds, money expenditures on things like books, writing utensils, and paper is seldom seen (and many schools do not have adequate funding to provide much in this regard either).
On Thursday, our group parted ways as all of the students were intorduced to the different host families we will be staying with during our time here. A few of the students will be staying here in Masaya, while others have been sent off to other cities, such as Jinotepe, Chagutillo, Esteli, and Ciudad Sandino. My family is located on the east side of Masaya, and they are very welcoming and accomodating, however, I am not at liberty to discuss their personal information in respect of their privacy. But they have helped me learn my way around the city, introduced me to family, friends, and neighbors. We are working at getting to know eachother as they help me with the language.
For now, I am just trying to familiarize myself with the new environment here since I have the weekend off to get laundry done, send emails, and prepare for meeting my host organization on Monday morning, which is Hospital Humberto Alvarado. There is one other USF student here who will be working in a smaller health clinic, and two other students from other universities who will be working with economic and educational organizations. I look forward to seeing how things go next week as I learn about the hospital here. I will provide an update next weekend if possible and will hopefully be able to include some photos or video...¡adios!