Archive for the ‘Health Care’ Category

I Saw a Man Walk Today

I want to tell you what I saw today. In short, I saw a man walk.

Well, not just walk: walk upright, without leaning on a walking stick or limping from the pain.

Of course, it wasn’t just any man. It was a friend of mine, a fixture in my barrio, my elderly neighbor Alonzo. For as long as anyone can remember, Alonzo has lived on the same corner and run the same tienda that sells the same little candies, chips, sodas, and about a million other things you’re so glad you can buy just one block away.

The other thing everyone remembers about Alonzo is that for almost a decade his ability to walk had gradually deteriorated, year after year of standing behind the counter eventually wearing his right knee down to the point that he could barely stand.

But today, as I sat at my desk, I glanced up to see something that made my heart swell. I watched my friend, our neighbor, walk right through the Amigos office door without limping, smiling instead of wincing from the pain, stopping to say hello to everyone as he easily navigated the sprawl of desks and chairs.

The difference, the moment his story (and his stride) changed forever, was a knee replacement surgery he received when an orthopedic surgical brigade came down at the beginning of this year. Taking on a challenge many consider impossible, they have come down two years in a row to implant dozens of state-of-the-art knees and hips into the aching joints of people like Alonzo. People who could never afford a surgery like that selling Ranchitas and Coca, people who were well on their way to losing their mobility and, perhaps as well, their livelihoods.

But now, thanks to the sacrifice and hard work of our friends in that brigade and the companies that sponsor them, Alonzo – and so many others – can walk right down the street and into our office, and you would never guess that not so very long ago that simple task seemed like an impossible dream.

And so I saw a man walk today, and I will never, ever forget it.

Bathing Naked

Last week I visited Maria. She lives in the tiny, remote hilltop community of Rancho Pando. She’s lived there all her life, in her small house with her big family, in a world where clean water and healthcare and education have never been givens, and more often than not were impossibilities.

Three years ago, though, a big miracle happened. After a long summer of hard work, we loaded up the buses, fired up the grills, and threw a big ol’ fiesta to celebrate the day Rancho Pando completed their water system. Clean, abundant water, all day every day, at the turn of tap inside every home. No more trips to the river, no more infants dying from diarrhea, no more kidney infections. It was my first water inauguration, a beautiful day, and a big, big miracle.

And, as we visited, Maria talked about all those things – how her life and the lives of all her family members would never be the same. How lives were changed, and even saved, by the clean, flowing water. But she also talked about her shower – an add-on, more than anything, just a simple pipe and a shower head – and her face flushed with a smile. “You know,” she laughed, “what’s so great is that now we can bathe naked! You know, just…well, naked. It’s just so lovely.”

My first thought was, “Well how on earth else do you bathe?” Then came the onslaught of forgotten images, memories of a community that not only drank river water, but also had to use its shallow, muddy flow to bathe and clean and wash in complete public view.

Of course she never bathed naked – she had never had the privacy to do so. Just a lifetime of “scrub-under-her-shirt” and walking home in dripping wet knee-length skirts, denied the simple pleasure of an ol’ fashioned, butt-naked scrub down.

And as the conversation turned I thought to myself that this, too, was a miracle. Maybe a little miracle, maybe an everyday miracle, but a miracle nonetheless. Bathing naked. It’s a miracle.

The Small Change That Changed Everything

“I told my husband that we’d spend all our money on that stove and not have any left to buy food to cook on it,” recalled Mercedes, pausing momentarily to look up from the pot of beans she stirred as we chatted.

After all, she continued, throughout their marriage Mercedes and her husband had struggled to make ends meet on the $24 a week (or about $3 a day) he brought home from long days working as a contract farmer. Back home, Mercedes stretched their meager income to prepare simple meals of beans and rice on an open wood fire. She knew breathing smoke from the fire put her health at serious risk, but what could she do? With so little income, change seemed impossible, or at least unaffordable.

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Then one day her husband came to her with an idea. After attending a community meeting where the Amigos for Christ Health Team presented the Clean Air Kitchen project, he became determined that his wife would have one. The kitchens, which feature a specially designed smokeless ONIL cookstove, practically eliminate the risk of lung disease that otherwise plagues rural Nicaraguan families.

But Mercedes was skeptical. “I didn’t think we’d have enough money,” she recalled. She resisted, but her husband persisted; her health was too important. “So we just started saving up a little bit at a time – one week, we’d put $3 or $4 aside, the next week we couldn’t – and after a few months we’d managed to save up.”

And once her kitchen was built, Mercedes was immediately impressed with how easy and comfortable her stove was to use; no longer was she plagued by fits of coughing, watery eyes, and shortness of breath. When she realized cooking was no longer a chore, but a joy, she got an idea. “I decided to start a little tortilla-selling business,” Mercedes explained, hopeful that any extra income she could make would take the edge off her family’s financial worries.

But more than simply helping her family, her new business completely transformed it. With just a few hours of work every morning,
Mercedes manages to bring in $20-$25 a day, increasing her family’s income sevenfold. Thanks to her initiative, Mercedes’ new kitchen not only saves her health, it also opens up opportunities for her future that she never before imagined.

Her first project was renovating her house to protect the new stove; a simple but significant investment in her small business. Mercedes points out each improvement proudly: a more protective metal roof to replace the plastic tarp, tables to provide more cooking surfaces, and a gate to keep the space clean and free of pests. It’s an impressive change, but even more striking is the sense of accomplishment I observe in her voice and gestures as she speaks.

After all, never before has Mercedes had the hope or the resources to create positive change in her life. Now, for the first time, her family has the means to invest, save, and dream about a bigger, better future. And, more importantly, for the first time she believes those dreams can come true.

Learn more about our Clean Air Kitchen project, or make a donation to help us share this opportunity with more families.

Making Good Even Better

Last week we had the honor of hosting our second clinic with OneSight, an international nonprofit that provides eyewear and primary vision care to millions of people in need across the globe. To list all the ways OneSight’s presence has inspired us would take much more space than we have here, but this year one particular way stood out: after 25 years, OneSight is still finding ways to do what they do well, even better.

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To give you some context, in the past OneSight clinics would operate using a large inventory of pre-made glasses with a variety of prescription combinations. When a patient came though the clinic, the doctors would measure his or her prescription and then search through a database, looking for a pair of glasses that matched the prescription as closely as possible. The glasses patients received were certainly better than any they’d had before (if they’d ever owned any at all), but at times were not an exact match for their personal prescription.

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But this year was different. This year, we had the honor of hosting the first-ever fully manufacturing clinic, including the launch of a special line of frames specifically for OneSight clinics. Instead of choosing from a limited selection of pre-made glasses, each patient received a pair of glasses made to order, cut and assembled on sight, with lenses exactly matched to their personal prescription. It was truly top-of-the-line care, born out of OneSight’s vision to treat each patient who comes through their clinic doors with the absolute highest quality of compassion, professionalism, and personal attention.

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But, make no mistake, it wasn’t easy. It took more staff, more time, and a great deal more precision to explain the process to every patient, move them through the extra steps, and ensure that each received the correct diagnosis and glasses at the end of the day. Before all that, it took a big risk on OneSight’s part to invest time and resources in developing a new process, and it took some seriously long days as we all worked out the kinks once they got here.

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No question, this year’s clinic was not easier than last year’s. But, let’s be clear: we couldn’t possibly be more OK with that. You see, over the years we’ve learned that, more often than not, easy is the enemy of excellent. What started, as OneSight CEO Jason said, as a “What if?” turned into the better question “Why not?”, but only because of OneSight’s willingness to sacrifice the easy, well-trodden path for the riskier, harder, but ultimately better excellent one.

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And the fruit that commitment to excellence bore last week – sending off nearly 2,800 patients with exactly the right glasses to give them the best possible vision – was  truly an extraordinary sight.

 

“They are making my dream a reality.”

For 50 years, Luis suffered from a debilitating hip condition that caused him to limp and put him in perpetual pain. Turned away from every hospital and clinic his whole life, his dream to live without pain seemed like it might never come true.

 

But that changed this past January, when orthopedic specialist Dr. Scott True joined our General Surgical Brigade and – through generous donations from Stryker Company and DePuy Synthes – was able to offer state-of-the-art hip replacements in Chinandega’s Hospital España.

 

It’s a beautiful story of resilience, faith, and healing, and no one tells it better than Luis himself:

All You Have To Do is Ask

For Amanda Burgess, longtime Amigos mission-tripper and Health Team intern in the spring of 2013, it started with a visit to conduct a health survey in the community of Mina de Agua. “When we were surveying, we came across a sweet little boy and his friend who both had distended bellies and no shoes. There were very obvious environmental risk factors that led us to believe parasites were the cause,” explained Amanda.

 

So she decided to ask what she could do. “Reyna [Amigos Health Team Director] told me that when I went home I should collect shoes for the kids in Mina to help with this obvious public health problem, and I agreed that I would try!”

 

And, she did. Once Amanda got back home to Lake Zurich, Illinois, she asked the Vacation Bible School committee at Peace Lutheran Church, where she is a member, if they would be willing to sponsor a shoe drive over the course of the VBS week. “The committee was really excited, and I started designing flyers and working on collecting information to share about Mina de Agua,” Amanda recalls. “I spoke a few times to just the kids and to the parents throughout the week sharing my experiences in Mina de Agua and answering questions about how shoes would solve this problem there.”

 

Within two days, the church members had donated 75 shoes; by the end of the week, the total was over 130. “My expectations were exceeded by so much,” Amanda said. “We had also collected monetary donations to cover shipping costs, which ended up being the exact amount I needed to ship the boxes!”

 

Once that shipment made it down here to Chinandega, the Health Team got busy contacting families in Mina de Agua and organizing a fun activity to go along with the shoe distribution. In particular, the program focused on educating children about the importance of wearing shoes to prevent parasites from entering their bodies through the soles of their bare feet. “Instead of just giving kids shoes, it’s important to teach them why we’re were giving it to them and how wearing a pair of shoes would make them healthier,” explained Amigos nurse Annie Bland.

 

Amigos nurse Maria Conchita leads an educational activity for the children in Mina de Agua.

Amigos nurse Maria Conchita leads an educational activity for the children in Mina de Agua.

 

In one day, the team distributed 49 pairs of shoes to children under the age of 12, and the Health Team has plans to distribute the rest of the shoes to children in the El Moto and Las Brisas communities. “My favorite part was seeing babies that were just around that walking age wearing their new flip flops, because you’re teaching healthier habits at a younger age,” continued Annie.

 

Amigos Health Team Director Reyna fits a child in Mina de Agua with a new pair of shoes.

Amigos Health Team Director Reyna fits a child in Mina de Agua with a new pair of shoes.

 

Here at Amigos, we’re incredibly thankful for Amanda’s commitment to meeting the needs of our friends in Mina de Agua. Not sure what you could do to help? All you have to do is ask.

 

Children in Mina de Agua show off their new shoes.

Children in Mina de Agua show off their new shoes.

Thank You for an Amazing 2013!

With your help we made a huge difference in 2013. We installed 3 clean water systems.We installed 78 Clean Air Kitchens!We prepared meals for 895 students. We provided 72 micro-loans!We hosted 1407 volunteers!

Changing the World, One Step at a Time

Last month, Amigos family member Makayla Lara walked  112 miles from Sealy, TX, to Austin, TX, to raise money for medical supplies to send to clinics and hospitals here in Nicaragua. Through this completely self-initiated and self-executed effort, she was able to raise an astounding $5,482 to serve her Nicaraguan brothers and sisters, and managed to inspire all of us along the way, too. Below, we asked her a few questions to learn more about what inspires her, and what Nicaragua and her involvement with Amigos has meant to her over the years.

 

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When was your first visit to Nicaragua? What do you remember about it?

My first trip to Nicaragua was about two years ago with a group that our Spanish teacher, Bill Dooley, took. I remember just being able to be truly present with the people of the village and how awesome that was; for example, I specifically remember one time when we were playing tag with a little boy in El Chonco in the rain. 

 

What about Nicaragua or the mission of Amigos for Christ inspired you to get more involved?

Everything about Amigos and Nicaragua has inspired me to want to do more. The people of Nicaragua and Amigos have taught me so much and made such an impact on my life, so I thought I should do something in return.

 

Where did your idea to do this walk come from? Why did you do this specific route?

The walk idea first started when I wanted to do a fundraiser to raise money for medical supplies. When thinking about what to do for it, it made me think about how the people of Nicaragua have to walk to get their water. This is why walking seemed like the path to choose, and I picked Austin for the destination because it is a recognizable end point.

 

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What did you do to prepare for this walk?

The preparation consisted of just lots of walking around parks and neighborhoods on weekends and after school. To practice I walked from 13-17 miles a day, towards the total of 112 miles, depending on the weather. My parents switched off walking with me, splitting the miles each day between them. We actually ate a lot of PB&J’s on the road and, when available, stopped at local restaurants. We practiced walking mainly in ditches and shoulders of back roads for the most part.

 

How did your friends/family respond when you told them your idea?

They were a little surprised and confused at first but were supportive the entire time.

 

What were you most excited about for the walk? What were you most nervous about?

I was most excited to spend time with my parents, take in the fresh air, and enjoy the beautiful scenery! I was nervous about the weather changes.

 

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What  was a surprising part of the fundraising process?

A surprising but awesome part was how generous people I have never even met before were.

 

How do you want the funds to be used?

I hope that the funds will be used for medical supplies mainly.

 

Why do you want the funds to be used that way?

I am hoping to go into the medical field so I thought that would be a cool way to help out.

 

Do you have plans to return to Nicaragua?

Yes, of course! I am going to apply to be a long termer this summer but if I do not get in I’m hoping to either do a short term stay or even a week this summer!

 

Why do you think it is important for an American to support an organization like Amigos in Nicaragua (or any country far away)?

I think that it’s not necessarily just Americans who can help, but I think that in the US we are given a lot more opportunities and resources to have the ability to bring help to organizations in other countries.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I think I would just like to share Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The Opportunity of Health

Over a year ago, complications caused by the smoke from Rosa’s wood-burning stove during her pregnancy resulted in unimaginable loss. But today, thanks to her Clean Air Kitchen, Rosa and her family are writing a healthier, more hopeful story for their future.

 

 

You can help change stories like Rosa’s  by giving the Gift of Opportunity today: http://amigosforchrist.org/giftsofopportunity.

It’s A Beautiful Thing

Several times throughout the year, our Health Team has the privilege of hosting brigades of medical professionals who offer their skills and their time in the service of their Nicaraguan brothers and sisters.
 
Most recently, a surgical brigade of OB/GYN specialists led by Dr. Lance Wiist provided medical services to 47 women who had been waiting months or even years to receive treatment. Each day the team woke up early and went to bed late so they could spend countless hours in the operating room performing a broad variety of surgical procedures. Without question, God used each person to bring love and healing to every life they touched that week.
 
During their visit, our longtime friend and photographer Lennox Bishop followed the team with her camera, recording countless beautiful images that tell the story of this incredible week. Each is exquisite, and we want to share a few of them with you; their beauty is only matched by the beauty of the hearts and hands whose loving work they so skillfully capture.
 

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Interested in leading your own surgical trip? Click here to learn more.

Check our more of Lennox’s work on her blog at www.lovelikecrazy.org.


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