DailyCommercial.com: Mayor Chris Bell in Nicaragua

From the Daily Commercial, Saturday December 7, 2013:

Nicaragua through the eyes of Lake residents

By Livi Stanford | Staff Writer at the Daily Commercial livi.stanford@dailycommercial.com


Mayor Chris Bell with Nicaraguan villagers

The village elders had to make a decision no one wants to make.

Two young men had been bitten by the Fer-de-Lance, a venomous snake in Nicaragua.

But there was only enough antivenin to save one of the men, Pastor Sidney Brock said, recalling the story he was told while visiting Nicaragua last month.

“They had a medical clinic there supported by the government, but they lacked resources,” he said.

As a result, the elders had to choose who would live.

Such circumstances often illustrate life in the second poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Many villagers in Nicaragua lack safe drinking water and sanitation. They live in huts and hunt and fish for their food.

Brock, Fruitland Park Mayor Chris Bell and eleven others from the Heritage Community Church traveled to Nicaragua in separate trips this past month to aid those in the region. During one mission, the visitors built a water well. The church has also been actively investing in the country, working to train lay veterinarians and medical personnel where there is no medical assistance.

Image of Mayor Bell in Nicaragua

Mayor Chris Bell helping villagers dig a freshwater well in Nicaragua

Bell can’t forget the couple whose 6-year-old daughter contracted a bacterial infection from drinking the river’s water and died.

“We all wanted to get to work to dig the well,” he said of the experience.

The mayor made the trip with his two oldest sons.

Bell said the visit affected him.

“Anytime you see it, it makes you very humbled at what we as Americans take for granted,” he said.

Villagers wash their clothes by hand, hanging them outside to dry. Meals are cooked on a clay oven stove warmed by a wood fire.

Even though the villagers have little, Bell noted, they are content with what they have.

“There was no quarreling and no ugliness at all,” he said.. “And they had nothing. It makes you wonder what is important in life.”

Medical care in the region is poor. Only 6.3 percent of the population is insured, according to the World Health Organization.

Further, WHO reported that “22 percent of children living in the most disadvantaged quartile of urban areas suffer from malnutrition” in Nicaragua.

Municipalities with indigenous populations in Nicaragua also suffer from Malaria, WHO reported.

Bell he was shocked shocked when he came across a cemetery where workers were unloading a casket with an infant inside.

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About 300 children die each year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, according to Water Aid Nicaragua, a nonprofit organization working to improve water and sanitation services in the region.

Dr. Marty Schnell, medical director for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine for Central Florida Alliance, who accompanied Brock on the trip, said he believes that number to be much higher.

“People have standing water underneath their homes,” he said of the remote villages of IMAK and San Andres, where indigenous tribes live. “These are areas where waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera breed.”

Water Aid also stated that about “2.8 million people don’t have access to adequate sanitation in Nicaragua,” which represents half the population.

On a separate trip from Bell’s, Brock and several others took a journey down the Rio Coco and Bocay rivers to the Village of San Andres, which lies beyond the entrance to the Bocay River.

The route along the Rio Coco is known to be dangerous because of drug trafficking and other illegal activities. Violence on the river is not uncommon, said Brock.

Medical facilities do not have enough medication to meet health needs.

“They have a clinic with a nurse but very little medicine,” Brock said of the village, which is 12 hours away from by boat to the nearest city.

“In the Village of San Andres last month, nine children died from pneumonia,” Schnell added.

Educational resources are few and far between, Brock said.

“Most children are not busy with school, but they spend their time working to assist the family because if they do not do the work, they don’t eat,” he said.

The work entails gathering unclean water, field chores and washing clothes, he said.

San Andres is situated in the jungle and is home to the Miskito people, Brock said.

“The night was pretty tough, trying to get used to sleeping in a hammock as well as the sounds of rain, animals,etc,” he said.

The group then traveled back up the river and down the Bocay to locate the Mayangna people, an indigenous tribe living in and along the Bocay River. Two armed guards accompanied the team because of the instability in the area, Brock said.

The village had similar medical issues. Schnell said the clinic had one nurse to serve more than 8,000 people.

“They have reasonably well-trained health care providers, but they don’t have any resources,” he said. “The medicines are very scant.”

Many travel many miles to the clinics, Brock said.

“Some would walk two days to get to the clinic,” he said. “It was humbling to see the conditions they were working in : few medications, poor working conditions, few instruments.

Many Mayangna people suffered from mountain leprosy and other ailments. The group brought medications to treat them.

“We took them a lot of antibiotics and a lot of medicines for dealing with parasites and skin diseases,” Brock said. “Basic things we take for granted.”

Overall, the group’s mission was to walk alongside the villagers.

He remembers many of them.

“I have a picture of a young man who was blind in one eye, and approached us while we stopped along the river for a brief break,” he said. “You could tell that life had been horrendous for him. He kept inching closer and I started feeding him.”

And then there was Noni, a little girl who was curious about his arrival but too shy to interact with him.

“I have a progression of pictures that shows her progress in approach, with the last being eye contact,” he said. “She eventually made it close enough that I was able to communicate through an interpreter, but then she disappeared.”

Bell was taken aback by the “sincere gratitude of the people.”

Brock said the trip reminded him of the all the blessings at home, he said.

“There is a whole other culture of people out there that are still living in extreme poverty and living off the land,” he said. “We live in the land of the plenty and act as if we are so poor. We were in the land of the poor and yet they acted as if they had plenty.”



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