There are many things a Quaker couple can do together for adventure, relaxation, spiritual enrichment or simply for fun. My wife Pam and I are fortunate enough do all of those things, but the one that never fails to nurture us the most is our annual trip to Nicaragua. I write these words as our plane lifts off the runway in Managua, and I am overwhelmed by the Spirit as my wife, Pam and I realize once again that we have been blessed, very blessed with a life that contains a lot of love, and a life free from want.

Our efforts are channeled through the good works of ProNica, a Quaker-based nonprofit that has been providing assistance to Nicaragua since the bloody and useless contra war of the 1980s. It is hard to say if we chose ProNica or it chose us, but we journey back to Nicaragua each year with the goal of giving back some of what has been given to us, and each year we again realize that we receive much more than we can give.

Like us, the Nicaraguan people have lots of love, but they are not free from want. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. Many of its people live with hunger, disease, and neglect. As comfortable North Americans we try to help as much as we can.  However each year, as we did just moments ago, we bid good-bye to our dear friends. Our hearts tell us that we could do more, and we try to recommit to doing just that.

Pam and I began this year’s journey by meeting Georgiana Tigleno Zapata. Twenty five years old and a beautiful woman, Georgiana learned hairdressing at the Acahualinca Beauty School that Pam resurrected and sponsors.  The school rehabilitates marginalized women in the Acahualinca slum on the edge of the municipal dump. Hearing Georgiana’s story makes it all worthwhile. She graduated and set up her business in her home where she can earn a living and take care of her family at the same time. In a normal day she can earn twenty five dollars and on weekends, forty. This is enough to keep her family fed, clothed and secure. What a great gift.  After meeting Georgiana, Pam awarded diplomas to this years graduating class.  Each year the beauty school prepares about thirty students who hopefully will echo Georgiana's story.

Still feeling lifted up by the Spirit, we spent the afternoon attending the Jesus De Nazaret Preschool graduation, also part of the Women’s Center in the Acahualinca slum. Twenty or so adorable children basked in their achievement as sixty or so proud parents were filled with the hope that their offspring will escape the hardships of poverty that rules their lives. Once again I have to fight back tears, as I am blessed again by the privilege of being able to witness this heartwarming event.

Perhaps our uplifting morning was simply guided by the Spirit, because we were scheduled to break bread that evening and attend the Christmas party at the Los Quinchos Center in San Marcos, and we needed to be strong.  Los Quinchos cares for children whose parents cannot care for them or simply won't. They are given a clean environment, clean clothes and of the one hundred and fifty I observed, they all looked well fed. There are however too few arms to provide much needed hugs. I think it is entirely possible that between Pam and me, we hugged every one—twice.  The kids were provided with all the ingredients for a successful Christmas party. There was a clown, there was music, disco lights, and dancing, and I must report that kids enjoy watching, “The Grinch who stole Christmas” in Spanish as much American kids love it in English.

When dinner was served, the young people matter-of-factly waited until we were served before they picked up their forks, a phenomenon I have never witnessed before when dealing with children. I soon learned that there were far more people than forks, and the children were allowed to choose with whom they would share their forks. How hard it was it was for Pam and me to push back tears as we watched these children walk around the room holding their forks looking for someone worthy of sharing.  And then we took out our phones to take pictures (I know how weird that sounds). Of course they had never seen such a thing before, and I don't know how many pictures we took, but it was practically non-stop for about an hour. They had to see themselves digitally reproduced in every pose and wearing every hat and every facial expression they could muster. What fun for all of us.  And then we left into the quiet of the evening, our minds reeling with thoughts about the lives of these kids and what would become of them.  There is so much need, but maybe someday they will all have their very own forks.

The next morning we enjoyed a two-hour car trip through some of God’s most beautiful landscape to the Casa Materna in the northern city of Matagalpa.  This maternity house provides a short-term residence for high-risk pregnant women in the weeks before and after childbirth.  On the day of our visit there were twenty four residents and twelve more in the nearby hospital. Most of the mothers were young teens, and on the day of our visit there were eight who were younger than fifteen, the youngest being twelve years old.  While we were there, they discharged a forty-one-year-old who had just birthed her eighth child. She opted not to receive a tubal ligation even thought they are offered free of charge. In this calendar year 46 of the mothers have opted in favor of the procedure. To our delight, there were four newborn babies, the youngest being eighteen hours old. As I looked into their tiny faces I was compelled to whisper one of very few things I can say in Spanish, "Vaya con Dios," May God go with you. I can only hope they will escape a life of poverty and enjoy some of the blessing life has brought Pam and me. It is very unsettling as I take my last look, then turn and walked away, forever. Although they may not be present, I will spend the rest of my life wondering about their destinies.

That night, back in Managua, we enjoyed a Christmas meal with the women who run the Acahualinca Women's Center.  We enjoyed each other’s company, and they arranged for us to visit their shelter for battered woman that is currently under construction.  When complete, the shelter will house nine women and their children. There will be full-time psychological and legal support, a sewing center and a bakery.

From the shelter we returned to the airport to begin our journey home, and once again emotions welled up within me. The knowledge that another year will go by before we get to see these wonderful people again saddens me, but at the same time we look forward to continuing to support them once back in the States.

As the wheels touch down in the land of plenty, I wonder just what we can do.  We can give of our own resources, we can ask others to give, we can write for blogs, newsletters, and journals, and perhaps most importantly, we can hold ProNica and all its partner organizations in the Light. 

By Herb Haigh, ProNica Board President

Acahualinca Preschool Graduation Photos

Acahualinca Beauty School Photos

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