Nicaragua – I can’t escape you

I left Nicaragua six months ago knowing the experience had marked me, but not knowing when or if I would return. A few months later, while at a friend’s house party for a lil’ show my musician husband was playing at, word got out that I’d recently come back from the country of gallo pinto, poets, lakes and volcanoes and that two of the guys there were in the throws of a start-up international health development project in Nicaragua. Sitting in that crowded living room, serenaded by the music and over plastic cups of red wine, the founder of the project – a recent grad from Chiropractic College and all around brilliant guy – convinced me to join their adventure. It was a serendipitous night. I don’t believe in destiny, but I do believe that life has a way of taking us back to the people and places we feel called to.

The project is called Doctors for Doctors & Nurses for Nurses. We provide full scholarships for young, impoverished, rural people to fulfill their dream of being a doctor or nurse. We are working towards increasing access to and the quality of rural healthcare in Nicaragua. We are empowering young people to be the agents of change in their own communities. I’m working on grant applications now with the hope of opening a clinic in Esquipulas next year with El Colectivo de Mujeres el 8 de Marzo, focusing on women’s reproductive health and other female specific health issues. We are life-long, local and life-saving.

Myself and Andrew, DFD & NFN Founder, with sponsored medical student Bryan and his family.

Myself and Andrew, DFD & NFN Founder, with sponsored medical student Bryan and his family.

In July the team and I headed down to Nicaragua for 2 weeks to meet with our local partner organizations, check in with our sponsored medical student, develop new connections and produce some exciting documentaries and short promotional videos for our work. It was an intense and rewarding trip – 18 hour working days were not uncommon. Beach days got tossed aside in favour of visits to rural communities and hospitals. We met some truly incredible people. I interviewed a woman who told me she has given birth 11 times – alone, holding on to a rope suspended by the roof of her house, kneeling over a bucket to catch the babies. They all survived. When I asked how, she laughed and said “Luck!”. I interviewed a gynecologist who is leading the fight for the legalization of therapeutic abortion – the right to have an abortion when the woman’s life is at risk.  She told me about a 15 year old girl with leukemia who was pregnant. Doctors were forbidden from treating her because it could compromise the life of the fetus. Both the girl and the baby died. I interviewed a doctor in a small, sweltering room at a small healthcare centre. He apologised for being so exhausted, but he had seen 300 patients that day and it was only 4pm. All of these stories illustrate to me just how vital the work is we are doing. There is a deficit of resources in the country. A lack of adequate care for people living in rural communities. A battle being waged over women’s bodies. So much needs to be done, and I am proud to be involved with an initiative that is trying to be part of the solution.

Our website just went live. Please check it out at http://www.doctorsfordoctors.ca or http://www.nursesfornurses.ca. We’re looking for more talented people to join our team. We’re looking for people to help us with publishing cutting-edge research reports. We’re looking for sponsors for some of the incredible and inspiring candidates we have lined up for our scholarship fund. Join me – join us – in saving lives and making people’s dreams come true.

Why I support a woman’s right to choose.

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September 28th is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. I’m late on this one, but feel the need to comment on it since this issue is so central to the work that the Colectivo does. This day has its roots in Latin America where women’s rights groups have been campaigning and mobilizing for the last twenty years, demanding that their governments decriminalize abortion and provide women access to affordable and safe reproductive health services. These groups are also working to end the shame, stigma and discrimination associated with having an abortion. Nicaragua is one of a handful of countries where abortion is outlawed in all cases, even when a woman’s life is at risk. Young girls who have been raped, sometimes by their own family members, are forced to have babies. Children having children. Doctors risk being put in prison if the government finds out they have helped a woman terminate a pregnancy. Women are needlessly dying.

I received an email from the Global Fund for Women on September 28th asking the question “Why do you support a woman’s right to choose?” This is a question I have been thinking about a lot lately, and the answer to which I need to articulate in my work on a regular basis. Abortion is a divisive and controversial issue, but for me it is a fundamental right. Women have the right to jurisdiction over their own bodies, to decide if and when they will give birth. I am fortunate to be from a country where abortion is legal, where I have access to contraception and where many women, myself included, are able to insist that their partners use protection. Many girls and women don’t have these options: they can’t say no to sex; they can’t demand that their partners use a condom; they can’t access or afford birth control and when they are pregnant, and don’t want to be, they can’t do anything about it.

Who then is raising these children? Who is paying for them? Who is dropping out of school for them? Who is staying trapped in a cycle of poverty? Who is dying when complications from pregnancy arise and they are not allowed to seek medical help? It is not the men. I am absolutely convinced that if men were the sex that gave birth abortion would be legal and free worldwide. It is the women that are suffering and that are dying.

Denying women the right to an abortion is oppression. Abortion happens whether we legalise it or not. It happens in back rooms with untrained hands, overdosed pills and dirty equipment, in conditions that are unsanitary and dangerous. Women have the right to have their governments provide them with safe and affordable reproductive health services, including abortion. Women have the right to be able to make informed decisions, to have control over their bodies, their health and their future.

A distinction needs to be made. I am not pro-abortion. Abortion can be traumatizing and can be an incredibly difficult choice to make. Many women suffer in silence, scared to seek support and talk to friends about their decision and experience. Abortion can be painful. Right wing conservatives, religious fundamentalists and certain media outlets often vilify women who choose to have abortions. Abortion is not easy, but it exists and rightfully so. So I am pro-choice. Pro-agency. Pro-liberty.