Nicaragua Hearing and Vision Mission, Grace Church, Cape Coral 2011
We left for Nicaragua on June 25, a seven woman Hearing and Vision mission team guided by the scripture “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5) We went on the surface to meet the physical needs of the children at Fabretto School in Esteli and La Cruz, but deep down each one of us wanted to be sure that the people we met would both see and hear Jesus through our work.
Several on our team were quite seasoned with Nicaragua, specifically, Fabretto school. Several of us were first-timers thrilled to be included in the groundbreaking work being done there. In the early days of Grace Church’s partnership in Nicaragua, a team of twelve made a visit to the dump in La Cruz, the place where all the refuse from Esteli is taken. In this dump about 50 families live and work. They fashion houses from scraps of wood, metal and other pieces of refuse they can find. When the team first visited many of the inhabitants scattered so they wouldn’t fall victim to another entourage of rich Americans taking pictures and expressing empty empathy. Many people had come to the dump. Took their pictures to show when they got home the poor souls in the dump in Nicaragua, but none returned and no changes ever came.
When the team from Grace arrived, it was 2009 and they were right on the heels of a teaching by Bill Hybels entitled “Holy Discontent”. When they got in the van and headed back they were overwhelmed with the gravity of the situation. In despair, one person muttered, “Someone has to do something….” In that moment the spirit moved and Patti, the leader of the team replied, “What are WE going to do?” God did not send them there to see and leave and not make a change. God sent them there to drown in a holy discontent so deep that the only way out was “to do something.”
With the help of one of the English teachers at Fabretto, Esteli, Grace began facilitating growth in La Cruz. They cultivated buy in from the main office of Fabretto in Managua and soon a drive to build a school in La Cruz was undertaken. Grace Church took responsibility of child sponsorships. In early June 2011 a three room school with a primitive, though functional kitchen was opened. Each child who attends school there is afforded a uniform, books and an education, as well as a square meal. Just a short distance down the road, Grace Church teams partnering with the local people built a well, privacy stalls for bathing and a space for washing clothes. An effort began throughout the church to provide sponsorships of the 47 children who attend the school. When we left 30 had already been sponsored by Grace Church efforts.
So in two short years God has moved mountains in La Cruz. On the heels of our fellow Church our team of seven women set out to meet some different needs. Our goal was to establish hearing and vision screening programs in the schools of Esteli and La Cruz in a way that the staff at the schools could continue the work without us, to fully embrace the value of vision and hearing to education. During the week we screened the vision of 115 children and staff, provided glasses to 15, dispensed medicine to one of the cooks who has glaucoma, and escorted four others to a local ophthalmologist for special help. We were able to negotiate ongoing care at reasonable prices for those who need help in the future. Two staff members are now fully trained to carry on the screening, finishing this year what we were not able to complete in a week and prepared to undertake screening annually according to a protocol guide we are designing stateside.
One hundred forty seven children and adults underwent hearing screening. Two children were found to have hearing loss as well as four adults. The nature of the hearing losses required a specialist and a more valid testing environment, so for now no hearing aids were dispensed. We are continuing to work with the staff at the school to assure that the students and teachers identified see specialists and are followed up.
While the hearing and vision screening mission was ongoing, Several members of our team presented the age old bible stories of Zaccheus and Bartameas in a special way, called “storying”. Each story was chosen for its content that would spur conversation about healing, miracles and salvation. The impact of the stories was great. In the high school after the stories were told, some students opted to come and talk more, individually. They shared their lives and their struggles with divorce, drug and alcohol use in their families and poverty issues like hunger. Five of those students gave their life to Christ the week we were there. What’s more, one of our interpreters was led to Christ during the week as well!!
The Kingdom of God is surely expanding in Esteli and La Cruz and the Holy Spirit’s work continues while we await our next visit. Since our return, the 17 remaining children in La Cruz have been sponsored. In addition monies have been committed to purchase a piece of property near the dump and the school so that we can begin to realize the dream of Grace Church, Nicaragua. Details have barely been discussed, but we know that God is continuing to work through us and in our absence, preparing the way for the expansion of His kingdom.
One of the team members from the Hearing and Vision Mission team has taken on the responsibility to coordinate sponsor activity. Her hope is to have sponsors meet regularly to write to the children they support, coordinate provision for the children’s additional needs including Christmas and birthdays, and is even considering a vision trip for those sponsors to meet the children they sponsor.
The next trips to Esteli is on the move as well. A spiritual retreat for the teachers at Fabretto and perhaps the Methodist pastors in Nicaragua is being planned for January and our youth minister is in the beginning stages of planning a spring trip Mission for high school students.
God is moving like the wind. Sometimes quietly like a whisper and other times quickly and forcefully like a storm. Nonetheless He is confirming, breath after breath how happy he is with our presence in Nicaragua!!!
There comes a time in a person’s life when he realizes that he has been blessed so much that to continue to exist without sharing it would be senseless. Several years ago, I came to this point in my life, where my skill and education as an audiologist and my desire to serve merged and led me on the path to Panama, Central America.
For over a decade a group of medical professionals, under the leadership of Dr. Rufus Jennings, a retired pediatric cardiologist, have left the comforts of America for the heat of Central America to serve the indigent of Bongo, Panama. They leave their pristine sterile offices and hospitals, with state of the art medical equipment to practice a different kind of medicine born of desire and compassion. They have provided general health care, bloodwork, EKGs, obstetric and gynecological care, eye care and pharmaceutical intervention. The consistency of this team, their dedication and commitment , has begun to change the prevalence of many common diseases and improved the health education and habits of many of the people in this rural area.
For the first time in January 2008, I brought hearing care to Bongo. Not knowing if the environment would lend itself to accurate testing and unsure about the prevalence of hearing loss in the area, I didn’t bring any hearing aids along with me. My “clinic” was set up on the porch of an old school house, the quietest area available. The noise and echo inside the school which was a 3 room concrete block building with a tin roof made it impossible to perform accurate diagnostic evaluations. So the porch, with only two enclosed sides actually proved to be the most suitable for hearing testing. That year I evaluated about 50 individuals and identified between 25-30 people with hearing loss. This helped me to set some goals about the need when I returned the following year. The people of Bongo were patient and appreciative. Even when I explained that they had hearing loss, and that I didn’t have any hearing aids to help, they thanked me. Most memorably, an elderly woman replied when I told her I would try to get hearing aids to return, “I will wait for you.” Those words rang loudly. She would wait for me. A year, two years. Inadvertently, I had become the tangible manifestation of hope.
Unfortunately, a personal tragedy prevented my return in 2009, but I returned in January 2010 equipped with 50 hearing aids generously donated by ReSound, one of the five major manufacturers of hearing aids. I had enough batteries to power the hearing aids for a year for each aid I dispensed and these were donated by Phonak, another hearing aid manufacturer.
Many of the people we serve in Bongo do not have a mailing address and only few have cell phones. Word of our arrival spread by word of mouth and through the local church community. On the first days, our patient load was rather light, but by the end of the week, once news of our arrival had traveled, the numbers of people in need became daunting. With limited time and resources, I had to set limits on those I could evaluate or fit with hearing aids. I made special exception for children and carefully calculated my time and apportioned my hearing aids and mold material so that I could serve as many as possible.
In the morning I did evaluations, determining who was a candidate for hearing aids and who may need some other kind of medical attention. Just before we broke for lunch I made impressions of those who would be fit with hearing aids, carefully identified each impression with its owner, and set it to cure for about an hour. Once lunch was completed, I fabricated earmolds for each person. While I worked on mold fabrication, Jeff Hunsucker, a Ft. Myers contractor input each person’s hearing test data into the computer and performed initial programming. Once the molds were attached to the hearing aids I counseled everyone together on care, use and maintenance. Whenever possible I involved family members and neighbors to learn how to use the hearing aids. Since I wouldn’t return again for another year, as a community they would need to help each other to use and maintain the hearing aids.
All told, I was able to fit 43 hearing aids on 23 people, 9 of whom had been waiting for two years. Admittedly, the most rewarding were the three children and the five others who were still of working age. I believe their lives may take a different course because they can hear better. They may learn to talk, learn to read or get a better job now that they can hear. For the remaining 15 abuelos and abuelas (grandpas and grandmas), my hope is that the years remaining are fulfilling because they can communicate better with their family and friends.
January 2011 will be here before I know it. I have already begun to gather resources: earmold material, hearing aids, batteries etc. for my return. Over the next several years I will be working to set up a system so that I can maintain the hearing aids that I fit more than once a year.
This trip is primarily funded by the individual members of the team. If you would like to help be an Ambassador for Better Hearing in Panama through your financial contributions, you can donate online or send a check to Southwest Florida Center for Hearing and Balance, 9732 Commerce Center Court, Unit A, Ft. Myers, FL 33908. Make the check payable to: Faith United Methodist Church