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.
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.
Feria de Aprendizajes Género y Gobernabilidad
I arrived in Nicaragua last week and have begun to settle into my new home – a friendly and lively house on a shady and quiet street in Managua. My new family for the next 6 months has been incredibly welcoming and I’ve quickly become friends with their sweet 3 year old daughter who calls me “Auntie Sarah” and their two dogs and two cats. The heat is sweltering, but there is reprieve in the evening with cool breezes and tropical rainstorms. I have been reminded of how much I have missed Latin America – the colours, the sounds, the food, the music, the people, the language. It feels like being reunited with an old friend.
On my first day with the Colectivo I attended a national conference on gender equality and governance. Women’s rights organizations from around Nicaragua came together to discuss and share best practices on their work in areas such as ending violence against women, reproductive health rights and the economic empowerment of women. It was powerful to see these groups come together to champion the rights of women and to speak passionately about the absolute necessity to continue in the fight for true gender equality. These organizations work with little resources and receive no funding from the government. Despite these limitations it seems they are having an impact – their voices are being heard. In the few days I have been here I have seen the Colectivo present a powerful workshop at the conference, give an hour long radio interview on their work and host a workshop on human rights and systems of oppression attended by nearly twenty young people.
Today begins my first official day on the job. I am excited to get to work and to myself be a part of the women’s rights movement in this country.
Life is about to change (again) – in a few weeks I will be moving to Nicaragua to take part in a six-month internship program working with a grass roots women’s rights organization. My passion for social justice and love for Latin America first took root more than ten years ago when, at sixteen years of age, I spent a week volunteering at an orphanage in Venezuela. A lot has happened in the intervening years and I am excited to be at a place in my career where I have the opportunity to work directly in the field for a cause I deeply believe in.
I will be working as a Gender Equality Outreach Worker with the organization el Colectivo de Mujeres el 8 de Marzo (CM8M), which in English translates to the Women’s Collective – March 8th (International Women’s Day). CM8M is based in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, and provides educational and social intervention programs for marginalized young girls, teenagers and women in the area of sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, women’s rights, domestic violence and citizenship participation. Through their work CM8M helps empower local women and youth to become aware of their rights and to fully take part in the democratic life of their community.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Central America and many people there, particularly women, do not enjoy the same freedoms, equality, social assistance or opportunities that we do here in Canada. The work of CM8M is essential to helping create a more equal, prosperous and peaceful Nicaragua.
My internship is fully funded through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and is coordinated by the Quebec international development organization CS/TR, which has worked in partnership with CM8M for nearly a decade. In order to help support the project I have been asked to fundraise $1000. All money raised goes directly to CM8M and their work. I would like to ask you to please consider giving to this important organization.
Tax receipts can be issued for any donation made above $20. You can make a donation online on CS/TR’s website here: https://www.jedonneenligne.org/cs3r/frm_detail.php?FrmUID=10 Please make sure to choose my name (Sarah Topa) from the list when it asks you: Quel est le nom du ou de la stagiaire qui vous a parlé de notre programme de stages.
International development and the global promotion of human rights really is a collective effort, so thank you for your support and solidarity.