There’s nothing like travel to make people feel naive. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; travel gives us the opportunity to see, hear, and live other perspectives. As someone who has grown up in the United States middle class, I thought my perspectives were spot on. However, as I sit here listening to the breeze through the palm trees on my third night in Nicaragua, I realize that there is way more to consider about the world around us that must be experienced, that cannot be taught.
As I said, this is my third night in Nicaragua. This two week study abroad experience takes us through urban areas, the rural countryside, and the forest. The past two days in Managua have been spent meeting with various groups ranging from human rights activists and impoverished women’s clinics, to the manager of a maquila, commonly known as a free trade zone (think sweat shop).
I came to Nicaragua with the intent to study health disparities and how both the government and NGOs are addressing these issues. When most people think of health, they think of nutrition and hygiene. However, the health issue we have focused on for most of our trip so far has been human rights. “But Tori, human rights have nothing to do with health!” What some people (and unfortunately, professionals) don’t understand is that human rights and safety are huge factors in whether or not someone can improve their wellness. For example, El Centro de Mujeres Acahual provides healthcare services at a low cost to women in the poorest neighborhood of Managua. However, they aren’t just Pap smears and condoms; this center helps women and children out of abusive relationships and provides resources to stop the cycle of violence. Not only did we learn about how cervical cancer rates have drastically decline since the clinic opened, but we also heard heart-wrenching stories of abuse. Health is more than physical, but also emotional and social.
Poster in El Centro de Mujeres Acahual describing the “route of access to justice.”
Another instance where this new perspective on health issues came about was when we visited the maquila. This factory has been deemed a model for how other factories should run. Although the wages are far from fair and the hours and labor are unimaginably difficult, the general manager argues that this system raises people from misery to poverty. It’s a system set up for basic survival, not to bring people into the middle class. This factory has an open door policy, provides bonuses for Christmas and employee anniversaries, provides some payment and leave for pregnant women, has an on-site clinic, and has a management system devoted to helping laborers through loan and medical bill assistance programs. Wow. When I think of sweat shops, I think of a small child missing fingers, starving at the sewing machine. Although this factory contradicted my previous beliefs, I still know that this is the exception from the norm based off responses from the labor union and human rights center. However, it does give me hope that there are more responsible people like the manager see met with, and that more factories will follow this lead to help employees improve their quality of life at what ever level possible.
Tomorrow, we head to the rural countryside of Estelí to live with families who grow both conventional and organic fair trade coffee. Let’s hope my blood to caffeine ratio will stabilize by my next post!
Paz y salud. ¡Hasta luego!