4 Donation Projects Funded By You!

On my first trip to Nicaragua I asked you to donate a few bucks through me; I would keep my eyes open on my trip and get something nice for a random person along the way.  You donated $250 that went to three great people, and that article has become one of the favorites on this blog.  It showed many of us how far even a small donation can go in making someones day a little better and, I feel, connected us to those people in a real way.  When I opened up the donation pool for this trip 33 people were involved–family, friends, and readers–donating a total of $775!  The smallest donation was $5 and the largest was $100, and every one of those dollars counted.  Here are the stories of the four little projects we did we those donations.

Mariselda Bonía Martín

Buying a girl a bike in Nicaragua

Mariselda lives on Ometepe Island in the community of Los Ramos with her two parents and three siblings. She is 10-years-old, loves math and reading, and she also happens to have polio. Polio has affected her ability to walk normally, giving her stiff limbs and tight tendons that don’t respond well. Her parents started taking her to therapy when she was two-years-old, a long and expensive trip across the lake to Rivas.  The treatments went well and she learned to walk on her own, but over time her tendons have tightened again.  She can no longer walk safely, especially on steep and rocky paths around her home.

We approached their house with Ever Potoy, our new friend who was showing us around the community, and sat down to chat.  It took a little prodding to get her to talk with each question we asked, but we slowly got to know her.  After talking awhile with her mom and explaining what we do, I asked Mariselda what she would like us to do for her. She didn’t answer for a couple of minutes, but we waited, wanting to get her what she wanted more than what we thought she should have. I said, “If we could get you anything, what would you want?” At this point I hadn’t used any of the money in the donation pool – though I wasn’t going to use it all on one person, I wanted to do something important for her if I could.

Finally she answered: “To be able to walk.”  We spent the next twenty minutes asking what we could do to help her with that.  What she probably needs is another medical operation that could cure her of polio, but since we couldn’t afford that we went with the next best thing.

We used $184 for Mariselda (4,416 Córdobas)

  •  A new bike so her dad can take her to therapy – 2,000 Córdobas ($83)
  •  A seat for the back of the bike that Mariselda could sit on – 180 Córdobas ($7.50)
  •  A wrench for the bike – 100 Córdobas ($4.20)
  •  A new bed (she was sleeping on a wooden board with foam on it, we figured she deserved something nice just for her) – 1,500 Cóordobas ($62.50)
  • Some spending money for a few other things (tubes for the bike, a charger for her school computer that has educational games and stuff like that on it, and books) – 500 Córdobas ($20.80).

At her young age there still may be a chance that therapy will enable her to walk, but she needs to go twice a week.  With how busy both of her parents are it was impossible for them to do that on foot.  To help you understand their family’s income, every year Mariselda’s dad rents an acre and half of land for 2,500 Córdobas ($104). He plants beans, rice, and corn, and then sells that, earning about 5,000 Córdobas from each harvest ($208). I think there are two or three harvests each year.  Buying that bike on his own is probably something he never would have been able to do.

Mariselda with her bike, Ometepe

My friend Ever is going to continue sending pictures as she goes to therapy. I really hope her therapy works! She is a bright girl with a lot of potential, her family just didn’t have enough money to do this themselves.

La Chureca

The next three donation projects were all in La Chureca, Managua’s city dump, where over 1,000 people live, sorting through trash and selling what they can.  There are already some nonprofits doing great work to assist them with living healthily and transitioning to a different life. There are a lot of needs there.  The following three tell the story of La Chureca well, showing a variety of the issues that confront the people and the things that can be done to help.

Santa Reina

Santa Reina in La Chureca

Santa Reina was 6-years old when her family moved to La Chureca, coming in from the mountain farmlands of Matagalpa shortly after her mother died.  When her father couldn’t find any work they moved onto the trash dump to make enough money to survive.  Her father was abusive and negligent.  Santa Reina and her sisters had to find their own food until they got boyfriends and left home, Santa Reina at age 15, but they didn’t move away from the dump: it is home, it is the life they know.  Santa Reina told me,  “Even though it’s a house of plastic, here I am with my companion and my two children.”

A few months ago, Santa Reina became very pale and started bleeding from her gums.  The bleeding wouldn’t stop, she became increasingly weak, and finally went to the hospital where she stayed 42 days before leaving to be home with her kids.  She was diagnosed with a rare blood condition called aplastic anemia, an extremely dangerous disease in its advanced stages with Santa Reina.  Her doctor believes she only has a few more months to live.

Anemia, in its general and less severe form, is a condition that affects the usefulness of red blood cells.  Sickle Cell Anemia, for example, is a specific type of anemia in which red blood cells are crescent-shaped, inhibiting them from doing what they’re supposed to be able to do.  Anemia is common in impoverished areas.  Without enough nutrients like iron, B12, and folate, our bodies can’t produce the red blood cells it needs to operate healthily.

Aplastic anemia is an advanced and rare type of anemia affecting not only red blood cells, but the production of white cells and platelets as well.  Without enough red blood cells to carry oxygen, enough white blood cells to fight infection, and enough platelets to stop bleeding, those in advanced stages of aplastic anemia don’t live for long without treatment.  While many people in La Chureca are diagnosed with Anemia due to malnutrition, three have been diagnosed with aplastic anemia.  They happen to all live next to each other.

With a probability of 1.5 people out of 1,000,000 for someone to contract aplastic anemia (in the US, but it’s the only stat I have), the likelihood that three people who live next to each other will all contract the disease is almost impossible unless it was caused by a toxin common to all three.  The dump is very toxic, but John Doty, a doctor from Austin who helps fund the clinic, thinks the cause was likely lead.  Residents of La Chureca breathe fumes from burning trash, touch the toxins directly that are left behind on old trash, and have been known to fish and do laundry in the highly polluted pond by their community.

Pond in Managua's trash dump
Decades of trash runoff has accumulated in the pond. The highest toxicity levels have been found in the people who lived closest to it.

At this point, Santa Reina’s treatment is just about trying to help her have a comfortable life before she passes.  The permanent solution to this in the States is a bone marrow transplant or a treatment based specifically on the toxin that caused the condition.  Even with a bone marrow transplant, which would be very expensive, she probably wouldn’t live longer than five years more.

By getting blood transfusions, Santa Reina’s blood is replaced with the healthy blood of someone else.  Temporarily her body all the blood cells it needs again.  Volunteers say she’s instantly happy, energetic, and talkative after returning from the hospital.  As the days pass she becomes weak, begins bleeding from her gums again, and starts to faint easily.

Children in La Chureca
Yoanna and Sarah playing behind me while talking with Santa Reina. Sarah is one of the children with aplastic anemia

We used a total of $271 to fund the clinic in doing the following things:

  • To provide extra medical care for Santa Reina.  Right now she’s receiving a little more than one transfusion a month.  We wanted to help her have more frequent transfusions, if possible.   We hope more transfusions will mean she’s at home with her kids more often, something extremely important to her (when she was hospitalized for 42 days she eventually just got up and left because she didn’t want to be away from her kids for that long).
  • To pay for tests to see what caused the blood condition.  Though Santa Reina is at the end of her life, it’s possible that something could be done for the neighboring kids. With a better understanding of what caused their aplastic anemia more effective treatment can be given.  MPI has a volunteer who is a pre-med student, JJ, who has taken special interest in Santa Reina.  JJ will work with Dr. John Doty, sending him information he needs to do remote tests from Austin, TX.
  • To provide iron supplements, mouthwash, and milk for her and the kids. Iron competes with lead and other toxins in blood cells, decreasing the amount of time it takes for the body to remove toxins, as well as being a main nutrient needed in red blood cells.  Mouthwash is for those times when Santa Reina’s gums are bleeding and she can’t brush her teeth.

This video is eight-minutes long, I didn’t have time to cut it, but just wanted to let you hear her voice and see her personality.  I’ll subtitle it later.

Right now volunteers have been paying for some of the things for Santa Reina out of their own pocket.  She’s technically outside of their mission, but they all love her, she’s very nice and always happy to see them, and they want to help.  Hopefully this donation will help alleviate some of that cost.


Esmeralda is the head nurse and social worker in the clinic within La Chureca.  Being Nicaraguan herself, and with 10 years of experience in giving medical and social care to residents of La Chureca, I’m not sure there are many people who understand their needs better than her.  In our candid conversation about issues in La Chureca she brought up an unmet need – scholarships for promising children to go to private school outside the dump.

Scholarships to 2 kids in La chureca

As she and the principle of the school explain it, going to private school means more opportunity for the children: smaller class sizes, higher discipline, access to a psychologist, a library, and a computer lab.  Also, children are given incentives to be the best in their class – the top student in each class has their tuition cut in half.  They begin English courses from preschool all the way through 15-years old, an absolutely huge competitive advantage for them (there are many telecommunication companies that pay very well in Managua, and more opportunities to come as Nicaragua develops).

We used $210 on scholarships, giving two children the opportunity of a better education

  • $80 each for beginning of the year costs (books, supplies, uniforms, etc.)
  • $25 each for the first month’s tuition

Meet the students:

Scholarships in La Chureca

Judith Mercedes Contreras Betancur – 11 years old, in 4th grade of primary school.

Scholarships to private school in la chureca

Roberto Antonio Martinez Chavez – 15 years old, in 1st grade of secondary school.
We’ve only provided the first month’s tuition for these two students – if you’d like to become one of their permanent sponsors please let me know!  It costs exactly what is above – $25 a month, $80 at the beginning of the year.  Esmeralda will be coordinating all of this in her spare time – I’ll send her the money each month and she’ll send me receipts, grades, and she’ll also send letters from the kids to the sponsor so you can be up to date (again all her idea).  Also, if one of the kids gets the best grades in their class and earns half-cost tuition, we’d like to do something special for them.  Kids have two breaks each year–one in summer and one in winter–and Esmeralda would like to give them the money they saved on tuition as spending money.
The impact of a good education can make a huge difference for a child – consider signing up to support one of these two 🙂

Jewelry Cooperative

Jewelry made in la chureca
Picture courtesy of Manna Project International

There are a lot of challenges facing the people of La Chureca.  With the Spanish program almost at completion, residents will be moving into their new homes shortly.  It’s a great opportunity, but presents a lot of challenges as well.  For example, they won’t be able to bring their animals with them, they’ll have less income, and they’ll have to pay electricity and water bills for the first time of their lives.

Four months ago, Manna Project International launched a jewelry cooperative, bringing women together to learn a new skill and have the chance for more income throughout their lives.  MPI received a $27,000 grant from Walmart to get started, but will soon be self-sufficient from sales.

handmade jewelry from nicaragua

They’re selling the jewelry in local malls and in the Airport, and are constantly looking for new retailers in Nicaragua, but so far haven’t found anyone to sell it in the States.

I’d like to help with that.

Jewelry from Managua Nicaragua
Made from cans and bottles

We purchased $105 worth of jewelry with your donations and brought it back with us to get started, and are working on being permanent retailers, hoping to provide consistent demand for their jewelry to help them have a better life.  More details to come 🙂

Special thanks

First of all, thank you so much to everyone who donated!  I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I do.  I’ll do my best to keep you up to date with our new Nicaraguan friends so you know how things are going.

Also, thanks to the nonprofits and people who helped me while in country.  Outmore Adventures, Manna Project International, Austin Samaritans, and the many others I’ve come into contact with since.

If you’d like to help

This trip was part of my continuing goal to understand philanthropy and find the type of nonprofit work I want to focus on.  I’m looking for an unmet need that matches my skill-set, something that I believe in passionately enough to [hopefully] make a long term impact.

I’ll be going on more trips, every 4 or 6 months.  I pay for the trips myself, but open it up to you to donate through me.  100% of every donation goes to the people the donation was meant for – I pay all the PayPal, ATM, and conversion fees.  If you’d like to be a part of it next time just send me an email and I’ll let you know when I’m accepting donations!

Also, if you’d like me to take a look at your nonprofit or an organization you think is doing some great work, I’d love to hear from you!

Check out the album on Facebook

Thanks for coming, and please – share this story with your friends 🙂

19 thoughts on “4 Donation Projects Funded By You!”

  1. Absolutely beautiful Jeff. DEFINITELY let me know next time you go. I would like to donate what I can at that time. Again, thank you for your time and dedication to helping people in this beautiful world. So many people talk about making a difference with the less fortunate (even me) and you are taking the action to doing it. You are an inspiration and I would like to help out with what I can. I hope that Andrew can help you to get the word out too! Would be fun to work/play with you 🙂 (P.S. Andrew is amazing at what he does and can make a video look unique and genuine, portraying exactly what you want). Lots of love!

    1. Thanks for the nice words, Nora – I appreciate it 🙂

      Ya we should definitely all hang out some time, maybe a double date or something! I’ll put ya on the list and let ya know next time I’m getting ready to go. 🙂

    1. Hi Hector! It’s been awhile, but we’re finally headed back. We’ll be doing another round of these donation projects, and we’re really excited! We’d love to have your support 🙂

  2. Your work is so uplifting, and it means alot that you give us the opportunity to contribute and then to really SEE what we are able to accomplish together. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get enough consistent $25 monthly contributions together to send a BUNCH of kids to the private school? Also, how are you marketing the jewelry here in the States? I’d like to do some marketing for you up here, at no charge, of course. 🙂

    That you can do this AND write about it so beautifully is a great gift. I’m proud of you, too.

    1. Thanks 🙂 And ya, that would be great! We’ll just have to see how this scholarship thing develops over the next few months. I’ll be putting up a little site for the jewelry this weekend so peeps can buy them for the holidays. Still working out the details with the jewelry coop to see if we’ll be selling the jewelry big time up here, I’ll let ya know!

  3. Gracias por toda la ayuda!!!! que has hecho para estas personas que lo necesitan mucho… en hacer, aportar un granito de arena a esta causa que es noble!!! en donde existe gente no sabe leer, ni escribir,, personas enfermas que tienen siempre un ángel detrás de ellos,, ayudandoles,,, que desean hacer algo bueno por la vida de otros!!! Dejar su aporte en esta vida,, hacer un pequeño pero gran cambio Social.. en romper el Circulo de Pobreza!! existentes en nuestra sociedad…. Sigue a si….

  4. Hi! I’ve been reading your weblog for a long time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Dallas Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the great work!

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