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Skills to save lives of women in rural Nicaragua

by Dorothy Granada

The true heroes of the health care system in Nicaragua are the traditional midwives, health brigadistas, curanderos, raiceros, and other health workers in communities who respond to the pain, fevers, diarrheas, and accidents of their neighbors. These health workers live far from health facilities in remote areas with poor roads and often impassable rivers. Some are women and men who learned skills from mothers, grand-mothers, and other elders. Others were youth who learned to read and write in the Literacy Campaign of the just-birthed revolution in 1979 and 1980 and emerged as leaders of their communities.

These healers are peasants who, along with their neighbors, struggle to have a piece of land to grow beans and corn for their families. They are very skilled in the art of living; with a machete as their only tool, they build homes of a packed-earth floor, bamboo or rough-wood walls water-proofed with mud and stones and a roof of leaf. Elders teach them the use of plants, clay and water that relieve pain, bleeding, swelling, fever and cure snake-bite as well as relieve anxiety, insomnia and sadness.

Since the Sandinista Government was re-elected in 2007, the Ministry of Health has recognized and validated the traditional healers, providing occasional trainings to midwives and other rural healers across the country. While these are important steps in the right direction, my own experiences from 20 years of working with traditional midwives and other rural health workers, confirm the classroom is far different from the reality in rural communities. If new information and skills in prevention of illness and deaths are to be incorporated in the daily work of rural midwives/healers, a way of being closer to the traditional healers must be found.

The Pilot Project Skills to Save Lives attempts to reduce death and illness of women and girls in rural Nicaragua by introducing the role of the Mentor. The mentors are nurses working out of health centers corresponding to the distant communities of the midwives/health care workers in the Pilot Project area of Matagalpa. They will work very closely and respectfully with 100 traditional midwife healers to offer more skill-sets to save lives, focusing on the reproductive life of women and girls. These trainings will happen in both urban and rural settings. This work will broaden the understanding of women’s health beyond the reproductive processes to include but not be limited to: women’s and children’s rights, violence in the family; nonviolent conflict resolution; prevention of illness including healthy environment and adequate diet; understanding gender roles and sexuality; prevention of unwanted pregnancy.

I am back in the US to share my excitement and raise funds for this life-saving project. We need to purchase supplies and basic medical equipment, educational materials, pay for transportation to and from trainings as well as food for week-long intensive sessions, and individual accompaniment in the rural communities.

I am optimistic this is the critical health care model to be replicated across the country. Traditional healers everywhere must be honored for their wisdom and commitment to their communities. They also deserve to have access to additional life-saving skillsets and information, as well as broader medical support networks. Please join me on May 15 for an update on changing Nicaragua and this project.

Dorothy Granada, longtime peace activist and solidarity worker in Nicaragua.

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