Tuesday, December 31

Celebrating the New Year & 1.5 Years in Nicaragua

Today I officially have one month left in Nicaragua. I can't believe how fast the time has flown by & yet I remember moments when time went slowly. I am very thankful and blessed for the year that has passed. I have been challenged in new and hard ways this year. I have experienced God's presence in many different forms. I have fallen in love with Nicaragua. 

In celebration of 2014 & the final month of my time in Nicaragua, I want to share with you a list of things I love, things that have been challenging, things that I have learned, and the best memories of the year. 
Celebrating Christmas with Dra. Belinda & family. 
I traveled with Dr. Francisco & Dra. Alicia to Matagalpa for a few days after Christmas. 

Things I Love

  • Nica Food- gallo pinto, queso, tortillas, Indio viejo, pescado… I really do love me some Nica food & as I am closing my time in Nicaragua I’m desperately trying to write down as many reciepes as Ican.
  • Public Transportation- You can travel pretty much anywhere in Nicaragua using public transportation, even if some areas take more than a day. I know I will have days when I’m back in the States where I will miss feeling like a sardine on a bus or crusing in a panga down the river. 
  • The People- The most difficult part of leaving Nicaragua will be to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I have met. Nicaragua is filled with heart-felt people who have big faiths and strong spirits. I become overwhelmed when I think of how much I’ve been blessed by others here, even if I met someone for only a brief period of time. I will leave Nica with people in my prayers and a few Skype names or cell numbers written down.
  • The Language- I could probably include learning Spanish under challenges as well, but I also absolutely love speaking Spanish and despite the struggle I feel honored that I can speak Spanish at a fairly decent level.
  • Diversity- Many people do not realize, including many Nicaraguans who live on the Pacific Coast, that Nicaragua is a quite diverse country. Where over 4 languages are spoken and a range ofethnicities graces the country. From Mestizo to Creole to indigenous populations such as the Miskito and Rama, Nicaragua is full of many different cultures and people.
  • Natural Beauty- Nicaragua is home to many volcanoes, lakes, beaches, rivers, rainforests, lagoons, islands, canyons and many interesting insects and animals. Even in the capital city of Managua, you can come around a corner and catch gorgeous views of the lake and volcanoes that surrond the city.
  • Time- People who are not from Nicaragua or Central America might say that Nicaraguans do not make good use of their time, but for me I think they cherish time and use it in a valuable way. Families and friends know how to just sit and be with each other, people take long daily lunches and plenty of holidays which I see as good self-care.
  • AMC family-  I use the word family, because that is what many people who with AMC are to me now; family. They have allowed me to be apart of the AMC ministry and continue teaching me new things everyday.
  • AMC work- Acción Médica Cristiana is a rockin’ organization and I’ve gotten to visit almost all of our project sites and see the ground work of the NGO. AMC works with empowering youth, sexual and reproductive education, agricultural promotion and intelligence, women’s rights, basic health education, violence prevention, community pharmacies, radio programs, renovating schools, educating & supporting teachers, and so much more based on Christian faith. AMC is fighting/improving for justice issues that no one else wants to even talk about.  I pray that I can continue to do a good job at promoting and helping others realize the importance of AMC in the lives of so many Nicaraguans.

Things that Have Been Challenging:
  • witnessing unjust living conditions/opportunities
  • machista society
  • learning Spanish
  • being far from family and friends
  • wresting with my own culture & background
Things I have Learned:
  • to live more simply
  • about the diverisity that exists in Nicaragua
  • I lived in a bubble before
  • how to sit and do nothing with people you love & be content
  • the face of God may be different in each culture but God is definitely present throughout the world

Best Memories of the Year:
  • making my first friends at Spanish school
  • The river trip down the Rio Coco. The first time I learned about the Miskito culture and witnessed how different life on the river can be.
  • dancing & singing karaoke
  • my Nephew turned 2
  • teaching English clasess
  • saying goodbye to my fellow Mission Interns who left in February. It was nice to have fellow volunteers to share experiences & bestow their Nica wisdom on me. 
  • Fishing with Dr. Francisco
  • working with my first volunteer team (Medical Teams International) alongside wonderful translators & the awesome Matagalpa team
  • lunch times at the AMC central office - enjoying a long lunch with great company
  • trying to surf
  • the arrival of another Mission Intern, Sarah Fraizer, to Nicaragua and working alongside her at different times
  • my brother graduating from college & moving to California to work as an engineer
  • meals at Dr. Gerardo & Belinda's house
  • the struggles & successes of learning Spanish
  • celebrating my parents 120th birthday from a distance
  • working with an enormous dental team (Smiles for Everyone) and ending the week with lots of clean teeth and filled cavities
  • celebrating the engagement of several friends- from a distance
  • witnessing God's presence within other people, Nicaragua's beautiful landscapes, and within impoverished areas I have visited
  • the friendships that have grown
  • conducting over 40 interviews and listening to the beautiful , yet challenging stories of many Nicaraguans
  • visiting almost all of AMC's project sites in the RAAN & RAAS
  • celebrating my 2nd Christmas in Nicaragua

God bless! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 16


Before heading back to Managua, Sarita, the nanny who works with my co-workers from AMC in Kukra River invited me to eat lunch and visit her family at her house in Bluefields. 

It was a sacred afternoon- eating yummy chicken, fried plantains  and rice. Don't forget the CoCa.

I spent a month living with Sarita in Kukra River and she always talked about her family and her beautiful house.

It was such an honor to spend the afternoon chatting and munching on some delicious food.

I also concluded my time in Bluefields by spending the night at Berja's house with the two Norwegian volunteers and our friend Kesly. Berja and the Norwegians are involved in an exchange program called Communication for Change through the Norwegian Church. AMC helps support and provide experiences for these young people. Anna and Andreas just finished their 3 months in Nicaragua and Berja will leave for Norway on Jan. 1.

I flew back to Managua with the Norwegians and Belinda picked us up in the AMC "ambulance".  Belinda is the long-term United Methodist missionary who has worked for AMC for over 20 years. 

Sarah, the other Mission Intern was also traveling back to Managua on the same day, so she also joined us on the trip back from the airport.

The day after we arrived back to Managua, AMC held the annual Christmas party. It was extra pretty this year because the party was arranged outside instead of the cramped auditorium. 

Dra. Teresa Bobadilla is the big boss lady for AMC. She is the Director for the entire organization and a wonderful person to know. 
A few AMC workers had prepared a few Christmas Hymns to share at the party. 
Then, we played our secret santa game and each person had to give the audience clues as to who was their secret santas. 

Sarah left for the States on Saturday after serving in Nicaragua for 10 months. Also, the two Norwegians  left today. I will be in Nicaragua for about one month and a half longer. As I am facing this transitioning time and as we approach Christmas time, I really miss my family; however, I also feel overwhelmingly grateful. I will have over a month to reflect on my time here, remember the inspiring people I have met, cope with the challenges I have seen, and praise God for baby Jesus. 

I hope you all find joy and peace in this holiday season. 

With love, Whitney

Sunday, December 8

Hey, Ya'll! I'm doing well and still know how to speak Texan. The past 9 days Nicaraguan Catholics prepared for and then yesterday celebrated the immaculate conception of Mary. AMC in Kukra River hosted one of the novenas at our office to celebrate the holiday. On Friday, I traveled back to Bluefields from Kukra River and on Tuesday I will fly back to Managua for my last month and a half in Nicaragua. Also, my hometown in North Texas is living in a iceland for a few days now- It's been in the 20s.

I will have a longer update soon. 

Thanks for your support and prayers for Nicaragua!

God bless!

Monday, November 18

San Pancho Kukra River

Sarita and Miladis threw me a surprise birthday party. We sang karaoke and ate yummy cake!
Hola, hola, hola!!

It has been forever since I have written in my blog. Lo siento mucho. I have been working with AMC in the territory of San Francisco (San Pancho) Kukra River outside of Bluefields in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. Yep, this time I am down south. (There are even people who say Mr./Mrs. as well as sir and mam´m in Bluefields, people love to listen to country music and the other day for lunch we ate green beans. Yeehaw!)

In order to travel to San Pancho one has to travel by panga or the public bote (which turns a 2 hour trip in panga into 8 hours). During the very few days that the road is dry people are able to travel from BlueFields to San Pancho in taxi and it only takes about 45 minutes to get to the community of Aurora. (Aurora is where the AMC office is located and where I am living.) Otherwise the road is a hot mess with the mud mushing and gooshing all over the place. It is mud soup.  

In the 1900s 100% of the population in San Francisco Kukra River was home to indigenous people and now way over the majority of it’s inhabitants are of mestizo origin. San Pancho has around 20,000 inhabitants who live throughout 32 communities. The farthest community from Aurora is about 12 hours away by horseback. Only within the last year the main community of Aurora received electricity and community members depend on wells for cleaner water. The majority of the residents in San Pancho work in agriculture.

Violence is an extreme issue for this territory with statistics demonstrating San Pancho has the highest rate of homocides in the country. If only comparing San Pancho to other countries such as Honduras and El Salvador, Kukra River has a higher homocide rate. AMC´s current project in Kukra River is to help improve the rates of violence in the territory.  Those statistics really don’t take into account the domestic violence, bar fights, child abuse, and other forms of violence that is known in the region as well.

Antonio is the AMC project cordinator for the Kukra River project and the only other AMC employee is Miladis who is the educator for the project. Miriam is a long-term volunteer who helps AMC in whatever way is needed and pretty much volunteers like a full-time employee. It is a small project, but the project is making process. 

During my time in Kukra, we have worked in the Casa Materna with the young soon-to-be-mothers waiting to give birth. We are teaching the young ladies how to knit and cross-stich, and well, I am actually learning as well. I swear Nicaragua as helped me embrace my femine side more and I have learned how to do more sterotypical “woman things”. 

As we knit and sew, Miladis the AMC educator talks briefly about the importance as a mother to prepare your mind and heart for your baby. It is a way we can prevent violence in our homes- if we are excited and ready for our new children. I’ve noticed that sometimes women in the campo wait a long time after the baby is born to even give him or her a name, so AMC is also encouraging the women to prepare a name for their new baby. 
Another project is working with the teachers and directors of the schools to plan out ways they can create a culture of peace in their classrooms and help teach violence prevention to their students. There is one school in the city of Aurora and then I think 2 schools in some of the far away communities.

 One afternoon we taught a group of 20 middle school students who were selected specifically by the school director due to their behavior and self esteem problems. We taught an interactive lesson on appreciating ourselves and remembering we are beautiful children of God. The students had to look in a mirror and tell everyone who they saw in the mirror. Also, I found a poem where you have to fill in the blanks about yourself and then read your poem aloud to the class. These lessons was hard because many of the students did not want to participate or are so shy that it takes a while to convince them to share. I’ve always thought that the many times people who live in the campo are shy because they do not interact with new people, but I believe it is a self esteem issue as well. Also, the issue of violence- I’m sure there are people in the students’ houses telling them to shut up all the time or punishing them for small things. 

AMC also taught some of the students how to knit and sew. It was fun to see the students learn quickly and they really enjoyed the activity, as well as, most of the boys.

Another day we taught different classes how to make fancy cards out of nature or out of rolled paper. All the students loved making cards, even the teenagers, when in the US students would act too cool or think making a simple card was stupid or boring.  These students don’t get to do many creative things, so any activity that is new or different is so much fun for them.  I believe we take for granted our extra curricular activities within our education system in the United States and I have seen first hand how important it is for kids and youth to be able to learn skills besides the basic curriculum.

AMC is participating in the local sports league through the Catholic Church and so I am playing on our women’s softball and volleyball teams. It’s made me realize growing up playing all kinds of sports was really a huge privlidge and it helped me a whole lot with my self esteem, respecting others & authority, working with others, receiving feedback etc. I know that sounds cliché but playing with the young girls on my softball team has reminded me of these skills that are not natural for them. It is the first time many of them are playing an offical sport at 12, 14,16 years old. I think it’s really cool, too, that our league as about 5 women softball teams and women only volleyball teams in a community that really does not have any opportunities for women. It is a pretty big deal.  I think if the league continues it can make big differences in lives of the woman and girls who are playing on the different teams. (My only problem is that I just have to pray for pacience when we are playing volleyball ;) )

A somewhat hard thing about living in this community is the fact I am not allowed to do anything on my own. One day I thought I could walk to the volleyball field on my own, but everyone told me otherwise. I live with Antonio and Miladis and their daughter Sol (4 year old) and they do not feel that it is safe for me to walk on my own whether it be during the day or at night. I respect their direction and have realized perhaps this is true for many women in the community as well.

Sarita (the nanny for Sol), myself, Miladis, Antonio

My "little sister" for this month- Sol (4 years old) Sol means sun in Spanish
Kukra River also has a very machista culture, in which, the men dominate and the women have very little freedom or rights. I participated in a big event we had to promote crime prevention within 14 different communities and over 50 people attended the workshop; only 6 of the participants were women. Not only does this problem affect the woman of the community but also the young guys. I’ve heard many times now things along the lines of those boys don’t serve for anything or that they are useless. I fear it is a common belief amoung many of the women that even many of the young boys are just going to grow up to be failures and treat women badly.

I big inconvience for the community as well as myself now, is that there is only one place in the community where you can receive cell phone reception. Everyone who needs to talk on the phone has to climb up the largest hill in town. It makes it kind of an adventure because when you are talking on the phone there is other people standing around doing the same. It is a community activity.

Overall, I am honored that I get to be in our smallest and one of the most remote project sites, because I know this area has a negative sterotype and many people know nothing about Kukra River. I  have hope that  the negative sterotype can change and I hope the youth and women I am working with feel that AMC cares about them and wants to work in solidarity with them.

Recent Prayer Concerns:

·      Managua has a terrible outbreak of Dengue right now and several people have already died from symptoms.
·      Accion Medica Cristiana is facing a financial crisis as many projects are coming to an end this December and the organizations, which fund many of our projects, are not going to finance new projects in this upcoming year. AMC is a tremendous organizatio and it’s ministries benefit many many people throught Nicaragua and especially in some of the most neglected areas.
·      My sister has a recent apendicitice in the middle of the last weeks of her semester at seminary. Please pray for healing & for her not to stress over school. 

This is where I am living.
You can't walk anywhere without wearing your rubber boots. I think it is awesome, though, that the city recently built a sidewalk that leads through the main parts of the community.

Everyone uses a well in order to get clean water. Many neighbors come to our house to use the well. Also, Antonio or a Juan who is a teenager who lives next door has to collect water for the house every morning. I tried to fill a bucket one day and I could barely fill it all the way- it is not any easy task. I think that's why many women of such chiseled arms.

Wednesday, October 16


The door opened to the small hotel room in Bonanza and I think I almost gasped as I saw a big fluffy mattress, a modest sized room fan, and then turned the corner to see the bathroom with a real toilet and running water. The first thought that jumped into my head is Que lujoso (Wow! This is luxurious.)

I spent the past month traveling to different Acción Médica Cristiana project sites in the RAAN or North Atlantic Autonomous Region. (I talked a little bit about this region in my previous blog post). I visited midwifes, natural medicine doctors, and community health leaders in their homes; I traveled with a mobile medical team to 8 different communities that are located hours from a road or health center; I stayed with a hospitable family for a few days that lives on the Prinzapolka river; I went to a Regional Assembly in Puerto Cabezas with inspiring volunteers; and I talked and met a group of young people who are helping to educate their communities about sexual rights and health.

I want to be able to share the humble living conditions I experienced not for you to feel sorry for the “poor people”, but more to understand the differences in the way you live and the way people live in very remote areas in Nicaragua. I had a brief time to live in solidarity with such wonderful people and I want you to be able to understand the lifestyle, too. Also, I hope to share not just what I “did” and experienced, but more the stories and experiences of the people I encountered. The people who I will carry in my soul… in my view of life forever.

The Mobile Medical Brigade

After spending a week in Rosita, it was nearing the time for me to move on to a new project site and I was helping count medicines for the upcoming mobile medical brigades. Many AMC projects receive funds from AECID() to help execute and organize medical brigades with local doctors and nurses. AMC also receives donated medicines from Farma Mundi and the ministry of Health or MINSA. The brigade travels  7-9 days to remote communities where people live hours from health centers or hospitals.

Sarah, the other Mission Fellow who is stationed in Rosita and Carolina were scheduled to travel with a team of two nurses and two doctors for 8 nights. They would travel on horseback for hours at a time each day, sleep in hammocks, and bath in rivers.  Jokingly I mentioned I wanted to go, too. Doña Cecilia who is the project coordinator for Rosita immediately began thinking aloud about how we could organize and call the big boss lady, Yamilet, in the main office to see if I could go. We could run out and buy a hammock. I already had rubber boots. I didn’t need any money. Wah! For a moment, I was really excited, but then I started thinking about how we would be messing up my original schedule (how North American) and then I started getting worried about sleeping in a hammock and all the other challenges I would encounter. (It was weird because I’m normally such an adventurous person.) However, it was also because I had just found out my Uncle Kent had passed away and it made me sad/worried I would be without a way to connect with my family during his funeral- it would be our first day of traveling. After being able to talk to my family, being able to think and reflect and morn, and lots of positive pressuring from Doña Cecilia, I decided I had to go and I reflected on how many people are actually willing to visit these people. I was willing. And after the trip it felt more like a privilege.  

The first day on our adventure we loaded up the truck with AMC personnel- Sarah, Carolina, Jorge (carolina's boyfriend) and myself and then picked up the nurses and doctor from the local hospital. We rode with 5 in the front and 5 in the truck bed on top of our luggage. Once we arrived to the end of the road took our luggage and put each back inside a plastic bag and then a large sack. The sacks were tied together in twos and then thrown over each horse. One horse was loaded up as a carrier- the large ice box with vaccines was loaded up on the horse along with heavier luggage.

The first day it took us 6 hours to arrive to San Augustin and the horses sloshes and mushed through mud almost the entire time. I just had to relax and stop worrying about my horse or it would have been an even longer ride. The most impactful realization I had was that I was riding my horse on the day of my uncle's funeral and he was a real cowboy- he would be so proud. The whole day I thought about Uncle Kent and his family as I rode. 

I’m not going to lie- the first day was quite a challenge for me, because once we arrived in darkness, I could barely stand up due to tremendous pain in my knees and lack of food during the day. Dinner wasn’t ready by our gracious hosts yet, so a group of us decided to go bath in a nearby waterfall. However, the waterfall was about another 15 walk in pure mud again. We tried our hardest not to drop our clean clothes in the mud and made it to the refreshing waterfall. On the way back we were lead once again by a little girl from the community with a flashlight and managed not to fall over. At that point my body was officially fatigued and I was grateful to receive a warm plate of food; however, I had the smart idea to try and step outside of the house to put on bug spray and immediately slipped out of the door and landed on my butt and head in the mud as a threw my plate of food in the air. At that point, I almost cried and yet all I could think too was there are a lot of people who have to make the hard trip several times a month and they live with mud all during the rainy season.

We were grateful to have a dry place to stay and yummy food in our bellies. Also, we were grateful for Carmelo who walked the 6 hours the day before with the horses and then returned with us to his community the next day. In the 7 communities we visited, there were always volunteers who went over and beyond to help the brigade arrive safely, eat hearty meals, help organize people during the consults, and provide a place for us to sleep. These families did not receive anything in return for their help, yet they still were happy to provide amazing hospitality.

Each day AMC lead the crowd in a devotional, then taught others about the new inclusive health model in Nicaragua. Then, the consults started. The brigades usually only visit a community for one day and sometimes the community members still live 1-2 hours from the consult site. Also, many people pass the entire day waiting to receive vaccines, pap tests, a humble amount of medicines, and a moment to talk to a doctor. One night we arrived late to a community and the consults didn’t start till the afternoon, so some families had to spend the night at the church we were staying in and head home in the morning because it was raining and dark.

Many of the communities we visited do not have schools. The children work at home and help with daily chores once they are old enough. Many of the adults cannot read or write.

However, I met so many community health leaders and midwifes who work hard to help take care of their communities.

Mariluz is the mother of 3 little girls and her and her husband hosted us for two nights. Mariluz recently decided to become a midwife simply because her community does not have anyone who is working as a midwife. She already has a lot of work in the house but decided to attend one of AMC’s workshops in order to learn about being a midwife. Sarah and I also tried to spend some time learning some of her everyday tasks like carrying a bucket of water on my head and milking a cow. Work in the country is no joke, hombre.  Mariluz is such a brave and strong woman.

The most vivid memory I have from the house of Mariluz and her husband Nicolas  is sitting on a bench with their three daughters in front of the house with the moon shining down on us. The 3 little girls were telling me silly things and we were all giggling for the longest time, when earlier that day they would barely even look at me without running and hiding. It was a really spiritual moment. It was hard to leave that family- A family that is always willing to help out their community by hosting the medical brigades and be hospitable, loving hosts.

Don Arsenio is another person whose care and dedication to his community really touched me. Sarah and I did an interview with him because he his a community leader, is always helping with medical teams and is the host to the community pharmacy or botiquin and we discovered he had walked about 13 hours in two days to help out the brigade. He also worked throughout the entire day of consults to make sure all the patients were being helped and were in order.  Also, Don Arsenio has three children who all became blind when they were 2 years old and on top of that responsibility he is in charge of maintaing the community pharamacy.

In final community where we worked, we stayed at Doña Rosa’s house. Her and her sister Berta are famous in the area for their hospitality as well as the efficiency of their house.  The house is still 5 hours from the main road but Rosa has a solar panel which powers the electricity for her house and the family built there own water system with pipes leading down from a waterfall on the nearby hill. The kitchen is enormous at Rosa’s and it is always busy. Rosa is always willing to host medical teams.

I will never forget the long trip with the mobile medical team outside of Rosita and all the generous people and beautiful people I met along the way. I think of how Jesus traveled with his disciples. They were dependent on the hospitality of others during their journey and teachings, yet we often don't think about the people who helped Jesus and the 12 disciples by opening up their homes, providing a warm, dry place to sleep, and gave of their resources so that he could continue his ministry. Lord, thank you for your children who share their gift of hospitality. 

To be continued…