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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
Judith Mercedes Contreras Betancur – 11 years old, in 4th grade of primary school.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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!
Thanks for coming, and please – share this story with your friends 🙂