In Nicaragua a couple of weeks ago, Lief and I set out early Saturday morning to visit a development community we invested in several years ago, to see what had been accomplished since we were last in the area. We made the short drive from Granada to Vistalagos, overlooking Laguna de Apoyo, and were happy to find several houses built and a couple of owners in residence.
One house in particular caught my attention, and I asked Lief to stop the car.
“They have such a nice garden,” I said. “I’d like to have a closer look.”
“But they could be home!” Lief replied. “Don’t go creeping around some stranger’s house.”
“No, no, I don’t think anyone is here,” I said. “I’ll just run around back. I’d like to see the garden up close and the view of the lake from their patio.”
As I was making my way around the side of the house toward the lake, I heard someone call out and Lief respond. Uh, oh, I thought. Busted.
Indeed, it was the homeowner, Brian Davis we soon were to learn, who had spied us out his window and come to the door to ask Lief…well, I’m not sure what he asked Lief. Fortunately, he didn’t seem too bothered by two people appearing on his property unannounced on a Saturday morning.
“Would you like to come inside?” Brian asked after we’d all introduced ourselves. “You’re welcome to have a look if you’d like.”
We climbed the stairs to the front deck and Brian stepped to the side to let us pass. When he did, we were presented with a panoramic view of the lake. Brian and his wife Nancy have positioned their living room so that it opens entirely to the still water beyond. It’s something to see.
“We’re packing up,” Brian explained, “preparing to return to the States. We spend part of each year here and part of each year back in Oregon. It’s gotten so, though,” he continued, “that we prefer it here. We don’t ever want to leave now.”
Their setting is beautiful, no question…idyllic. But what would you do living here even part of the year? There’s nothing around but the lake and open fields. Enjoying the landscape would occupy you for a while… but then what, I wondered…so I asked.
“Ah! We’re busier here in retirement than we were when we were working. We’ve become involved in the local community,” Brian explained. “Specifically, we’ve started organizations to help the village over in that direction,” he pointed. “It’s a tiny, poor community just outside Granada that needs everything, really. So we’ve been trying to help.”
I’ve felt a connection to Granada, Nicaragua, since my first visit, more than 20 years ago. This is a charming colonial city with an intriguing, romantic past, I enjoy any chance to return (one reason we invested in the development community at Vistalagos just 10 minutes away). It’s hard, though, and harder for me every visit, to spend time here without being distracted by the great local need. Nicaragua is a poor country. On the streets of Granada are homeless, including homeless children. Speaking with Brian, I realized it’s time, finally, for me to find out how I might do something to try to help them.
Brian has put me in touch with an organization called Granada Street Kids. You can read more about it here. I’m planning to become involved, and I know they’d welcome your contribution, too.
Meantime, Brian also forwarded a letter to me that he and Nancy have sent recently to those who’ve contributed to the programs they’ve begun. One is a business that produces efficient wood-burning stoves at a very affordable price for the local market; another is a health clinic. I thought you might be interested in learning more. Here, in Nancy’s words:
“Brian and I were sitting at the clinic yesterday and marveling at how well the projects are going, how the Clinica Apoyo and the Coci-Nica staffs have come into their own on their respective projects. Their leadership, innovation, initiative, stewardship of resources and money, and dogged determination, not to mention an incredible work ethic, have transformed the projects, the comarca, and themselves.
“The team is now producing about 26 stoves a day and can barely keep up with demand. We’ve sold more than 4,000 stoves, so many that we have lost count. We’ve just started an expansion project to double the size of the factory. Who knows, maybe next year we will have eight employees! None of the people working with us now had a steady job before they started with the project. Only one has been educated through high school, but they do an amazing job with a very complex product.
“The business now covers all expenses related to the production and sales of the stoves, which sell for US$10 each. We, with your help, continue to pay capital expenses as well as some delivery expense and the cost of innovation and experimentation. With every stove sold, a family in Nicaragua is using less than half the wood they would have been using previously, putting far less CO2 into the air and saving more than US$100 per year in wood expense.
“We are looking for opportunities for expansion in other parts of the country. Six or eight little Coci-Nica factories spread around the country would be nice. We just found out that 700,000 people in Nicaragua are dependent on wood for cooking. Yikes. That should keep us busy for a while.
“Clinica Apoyo opened quietly in early January this year and is having a huge impact on the community. We have settled on a permanent staff of three. One full-time doctor, one person who is half-time medicine dispenser and half-time administrator, and a third person who is a half-time medicine dispenser and is also in charge of over-the-counter medicine sales.
“Additionally we have identified 12 women in the community to be Health Promoters. In exchange for free health care and medicine for their families, these volunteers are our main communication link with the community. The promoters go door-to-door in their neighborhoods, letting people know about our regular services, hours, etc., as well as informing their neighbors about specialists who come to the clinic, outside brigades, health fairs, health and sanitation classes, and other activities sponsored by the clinic. They inform our staff of any medical problems in their neighborhoods and about shut-ins who may need attention (yes, we make house calls). The health promoters help clean the clinic each day and sponsor monthly community events, such as movie night, to create a greater sense of community and help people become comfortable coming to the clinic.
“Clinica Apoyo operates on a contribution basis. We ask for a contribution of US$2. This covers the patient’s examination with a doctor as well as any medication they might need for a month. If they don’t have the money, we treat them anyway. No one from the community is turned away for lack of funds.
“Clinica Apoyo also charges for medications if someone comes with an outside prescription or needs an over-the-counter drug. Our mark-up is never more than 10%, making our dispensary cheaper than any pharmacy in Granada. This income to the clinic may seem small, but for the past two months contributions and sales have covered all clinic expenses, including utilities and the purchase of replacement medicines and disposable equipment. Only salaries are paid by us. All of the salaries together come to about what I was paying for health insurance, before Obamacare.
“The clinic has treated 505 individual community members over the past seven months, many of them multiple times, seeing on average 12 to 15 patients a day, six days a week. In July alone, our doctor and outside doctors working at the clinic saw a total of 350 patients.
“We’ve sponsored our first outside foreign medical personnel to help us out in specialty areas. A pediatrician from Oregon came down for two weeks in February, seeing about 80 kids. He also helped someone get a stinging bee out of his ear. We recently had a Canadian gynecologist who spoke with 30 women about women’s health issues. A nurse from Seattle has been helping us each week since the clinic opened. In the coming months we are hoping to locate a dentist(s) and a urologist. Any volunteers?
“Health education is a priority for Clinica Apoyo. Education is the key to improving the long-term health of community residents. In the first seven months of operation, we presented six different community education talks to more than 50 people on topics from nutrition for diabetics to family planning. The health promoters also worked with the kindergartners and first graders at the schools on toothbrushing. They worked with 97 children who all walked away with their own toothbrushes.
“With all of these successes, we of course have had some problems, as well. Our pharmacy is licensed, but we are still waiting on our final license for the clinic. They tell us it is in the works, but who knows? A license would be helpful for the obvious reasons, but also it would make it easier for us to bring in medicines and doctors from the States.
“And, for the past two months, the entire community, along with the clinic, has had no running water, due to a broken water pump. (Cost more than US$15,000 for replacement.) Every drop of water used by the clinic is brought from town, then hauled up to our storage tank by the bucketful. But the clinic staff and the community residents are resilient and innovative. A little thing like no running water doesn’t stop anyone here.”
P.S. We’re hoping that Brian and Nancy might be able to join us for our Live and Invest in Nicaragua Conference taking place in Managua in November. More details on that program are here.
Meantime, Brian and Nancy’s website, which they share with the NICA Foundation, is here.