I was in Nicaragua last week, a country to which I had never traveled. Accompanying me were two long-time Plan donors, Kicab Castaneda-Mendez and Marta Chase, both from North Carolina. Plan has been operating in Nicaragua, a beautiful Central American country that has had a long and at times very difficult relationship with the United States, for more than two decades.
We took Kicab and Marta to see projects that illustrated well the breadth and impact of Plan's efforts. Plan’s programming in Nicaragua focuses on initiatives that help ensure all children grow up healthy and safe, providing prenatal care for mothers and early childhood development and nutrition programs. We help prevent violence in Nicaragua and call attention to gender stereotypes by working with young men in an innovative program called Champions of Change. We also focus on entrepreneurship—key for a country with a fast-growing and young population putting pressure on the economy—as well as disaster preparedness. Nicaragua is prone to these natural disasters, most recently a devastating hurricane. Kicab, Marta and I had enlightening and inspiring trip.
In the community of San Jerónimo de Teustepe, we met a group of teen entrepreneurs who had become expert apiculturists --a fancy word for beekeeping. Apiculture is a challenging occupation. Bees are delicate and, if you are not careful, dangerous creatures. They also require constant care. The youths’ goal was to develop a wholly organic product. In a vivid illustration of what it means to make lemonade out of the lemons life hands you, the lack of commercial farming in this rather remote region also meant the environment was free of chemical pesticides. Voila: organic apiculture! The group figured their organic product could find markets abroad or in the growing tourism sector. They told us about their challenges developing the honey – which was a delicious product, by the way – and finding financing to buy equipment. Plan helped them with advisory services and initial seed capital two years earlier. But the rest was all them. Theirs is an isolated community; just getting the honey out to market through the rocky and mountainous road presented challenges.
We also saw the power of Plan’s work to promote healthy infants. In the community of Asedes, for example, we met a young pediatrician who told us about the work Plan is carrying out with the Casa Materna, or Mothers' Home. The objective of this initiative is to ensure a higher number of expectant mothers receive prenatal care and have a professional attendant during childbirth. The young doctor was one of several attending physicians in the health clinic. Having a clinic in Asedes able to provide prenatal care – including ultrasound screenings that could detect potential problems at child birth – saved expectant mothers hours of travel to the faraway hospital in Boaco. It increased the likelihood they would get prenatal care and experience complication-free births. It meant access to the various classes the clinic offered in nutrition, again increasing the likelihood of healthy babies.
The initiative in Asedes is a good example of the partnership between Plan, which provides some of the material for the mothers’ education as well as key lifesaving equipment like the ultrasound machine; the national government, which provides the personnel and additional equipment; and the municipality, which provides the location. Working together in this fashion has helped significantly reduce maternal mortality and childbirth complications in this the community.
This programming by itself is inspiring. But what really brought home the power of Plan's programming was learning that the young pediatrician who had so articulately and passionately described for us the program in Asedes was herself a sponsored child. In an amazing coincidence, her sponsors had been a couple from North Carolina! She described how Plan's support of her and her community had helped keep her in school and enabled her to access books.
This extraordinary young woman credited Plan with sparking in her a desire to superarse (better herself).
Sometimes it is hard to see what our contributions do for a community. And sometimes we despair because it seems like the amount we have to give is so small relative to the challenges these communities face. But the stories from Asedes and San Jerónimo should encourage every Plan donor. It is not the size of the donation that matters, but the long-term commitment Plan sponsors make to these communities. Your steady donations, no matter how small, make a huge difference in the lives of these children and teenagers. And, in transforming their lives, your gifts help transform the lives of others in their communities and in their countries.
Thank you for your support.