by Jonathan Butcher, COO
I often have the opportunity to stand in and listen to the community meetings that take place with The Lily Project. Typically, I’m just involved in the strategic operations and “heavy lifting” while Anielka and her team organizes the community. However, yesterday I had an opportunity to do a little more.
While in the community with The Lily Project, I work on another project that focuses on connecting capital resources outside of the country with local communities in order to bring more opportunities to the local folks. As most of us know, foreign cooperatives and distributors take the biggest cuts of the profit in rural communities and the farmers are left poor, so we have a plan to change that scenario. At the meeting yesterday, we gathered a group of men and women to talk about the opportunities with The Lily Project as well as other sustainable opportunities.
Key to our approach with the community is the message that ALL people in the community have equal value. Both projects believe women and men should have equal opportunities in the home and the workplace. In the U.S., the philosophy is not foreign; however, in Nicaragua, the belief is not always welcome. When only women attend the meetings, heads will nod in agreement. However, yesterday the meeting was mixed with men and women, and the women did not even make eye contact with us. The men, on the other hand, were very vocal.
The first objection came from a 30-something year old man with his wife in the back of the room. He thought the idea of a woman being naked in front of another person violated God’s laws regarding women. Another objection came from the other side of the room regarding the position women take when the exam is being performed. Another man spoke up about the privacy of the women and felt that it was not worth it if others knew about an issue she may have. The Lily team answered all of the objections gracefully; however, considering it was the men who were vocal, I felt it was my responsibility to respond as well.
My response was “How can we as men gather together and talk about the women and their rights while they sit in silence? More importantly, we should be talking about reasons the women SHOULD have the exam. Cervical cancer is the number one reason women are dying in Nicaragua – the highest in this part of the world; only Africa occupies a higher place. The reason for this is clear: men are speaking for the women and often times pressuring them or prohibiting them from taking care of themselves. We as men have the responsibility to change this. We SHOULD be talking about the reasons the women should be at the Lily event and start encouraging and supporting our women to take care of themselves considering they take care of us and the family always.”
Men of Nicaragua, it is time to step up and end the control over women. Women deserve to be treated as an equal part in the relationship, and it is imperative that we ensure their needs are met just as we would attend to any need of a member in the family. Moms and wives are the cornerstones that must be cared for. After all, if your mom were not healthy enough to take care of you when you were growing up, where would you be today? Think about it and let’s change this situation together.
by Hortencia Gonzalez, Cervical Technician
According to the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua (MINSA), female mortality from cervical cancer is still the highest in Nicaragua compared to all the Americas. Next to the high female mortality, Nicaragua registers extremely low in the level of education of girls - below the Central American regional average. From birth to death, women in Nicaragua are at a serious disadvantage in terms of health and education.
When I was in college, I decided to do my internship at the Bertha Calderon Hospital where I worked with women in the final stages in their battle against cancer. It was an extremely difficult year because I never imagined the stories they would share. The women always talked with me about their lives and their feelings, and it truly opened up my eyes to our situation in Nicaragua.
My first close experience with cervical cancer was when I met Patricia. A woman from the rural community of Jalapa, in the north part of Nicaragua. Patricia carried sadness, pain and despair on her face every day. She visited the hospital laboratory once a week for screening, which was very painful for her because of how the treatment reduced her vessel size and blood flow. The cancer was torture as she battled against its growth daily. Besides the physical suffering, the cancer kept her away from her family. When I visited her in the radiotherapy center where she was housed, I learned more about her life, her family, and her desires to beat the disease. Her ultimate dream was to just return home to be with her daughters who lived back in Jalapa. According to Patricia, they rarely visited due to the distance and cost of the trip to Managua. During my time with Patricia, there was a period when all seemed lost. The treatment was so devastating and painful; she eventually lost her appetite and her desire to live.
Fortunately, Patricia never gave up her battle and continued the treatment. Patricia survived the two year battle and is now back with her daughters, who ultimately were the reason she kept fighting. Patricia is a symbol of hope for many women going through treatment, and a voice of caution to all women who are prone to the disease. Cervical cancer is preventable, and we have an opportunity to make a difference.
Since working with The Lily Project, I feel as though I am living each story of the women we exam and treat. As we venture to these little rural communities there are so many stories of women like Patricia that did not end as well. I see daily the cycle continuing as little girls are not being educated, often pregnant by the age of 13, and mothers supporting the cycle of something we must break in our country. This is the motivation and inspiration that make me want to do this work. I know that we, as women in Nicaragua, must be together on this mission. I believe we all play a part in the future. I hope that if you are living in the communities we visit, you will participate in our events; and I hope that if you are reading this from afar that you will support our efforts through whatever means you can so that women can realize hope for themselves and their families in the near future.