See our flyer below for additional details, and click the link below to purchase your tickets before they sell out!
It's that time again- our summer fundraiser is coming up! For those of you who weren't able to attend last year, the fundraiser is a great chance to meet fellow Circle of Empowerment supporters, hear stories of our work in Nicaragua, have a chance to win great prizes, and, of course, meet Meg Boren, our founder!
See our flyer below for additional details, and click the link below to purchase your tickets before they sell out!
Hello! My name is Liz, and I am the Communications, Public Relations, and Marketing Director for Circle of Empowerment. Whenever you see posts on COE's Facebook or webpage, it's me behind the keyboard! Today I want to tell you a personal story.
Four and a half years ago, in January of 2013, I went on my first trip to Nicaragua with COE as an occupational therapy student through Concordia University Wisconsin. To say the trip was life-changing doesn’t quite do it justice. There has to be a less cliché way to express how you feel about something that will forever change the type of person you are and strive to be- but unfortunately, the words escape me. I guess you will have to go on your own trip and see if you feel what I mean! My first trip rekindled in me a passion for service that has always been in my soul, but in an entirely new way than I had felt previously in my life.
I went on my second trip to Nicaragua in May of 2014 not long after graduating from occupational therapy school, and returned as an OT helping to supervise OT students from Concordia. Once again, I was overcome with feelings of awe for the incredible people who call Nicaragua home- people who were so grateful for what felt like even the littlest ways that we were able to help them. When I returned from this trip, I sought out ways to become more involved, beyond just the occasional time that I was able to travel down to Aposentillo. This desire to become more involved on a long-term and ongoing basis led me to my current position on the Board of Directors. It also motivated me to finally take the step of a sponsoring a student throughout their education through Circle of Empowerment’s Student Sponsorship program- a decision that had been in the back of mind for almost a year and a half.
Two months ago, I visited Nicaragua for my third trip. Now immersed in my career as a pediatric occupational therapist, getting away for a week to travel to Nicaragua was more difficult- but it was an important commitment I had made to myself that I had to fulfill. This most recent trip was entirely different than my first two treks to Nicaragua, because this time I understood, and was a part of, the day-to-day operations that are necessary to keep Circle of Empowerment running smoothly, both in Aposentillo, and back in Wisconsin, where our Board is based. It can at times be difficult to imagine the humanity and reality behind the situations and needs that we discuss regularly at our Board meetings- but being face-to-face with the people we serve, it becomes so delightfully apparent how dire our work is.
Of all the ways that Circle of Empowerment and Aposentillo have made an impact on me, there is one that will always stand far above the rest. When I first started sponsoring my second grade student through Circle of Empowerment, I enjoyed the pictures and letters from him, even though my own Spanish skills are subpar. I got excited when we talked about the annual school shopping trip to acquire all of the supplies for our sponsored students, or when Meg sent us pictures of the annual water park field trip. I knew that my monthly donation was making a difference- but I couldn’t quite feel it yet. This May in Nicaragua, at around 8:30 PM on the last night of my stay, I was finally able to arrange a ride to the home of my student. I can only imagine how disoriented and confused he must have been when an American showed up at his house out of nowhere on a school night! When I introduced myself and told him that I was his sponsor, I received the most genuine hug I have ever had the pleasure of receiving. The conversation that ensued in which I was able to learn about my student and his family was incredibly impactful. My heart was bursting just being in the presence of this family who cared so much about their young son and was so happy to see him succeeding in school. He was- is- such an energetic, happy, dedicated young man who loves soccer, biking, and writing, and who will undoubtedly go far in whatever path he chooses to purse. The ability to play even a small role in his life is the biggest honor I have yet had. I no longer just think that my $8 a month is going to a good cause- I can feel it in my heart.
The stories I could share about my trips to Nicaragua and the student I sponsor could fill many more pages- but, if I laid them all out here, what reason would you have to connect with Circle of Empowerment and learn more?!
Earlier this month, Meg took all of the grade school kids on a yearly celebration water park trip! The students who achieve an 80% or better attendance rate for the school year are invited to this day of fun. They travel to a water park that has spring-fed crystal pools- one shallow, one medium and one deep. The trip lasts the whole day, from 8AM to 4PM! The kids enjoy lunch, two pinatas, and a goodie bag of assorted snacks and candy. The kids love it! The year-end trip is a great way to motivate kids to attend school regularly, and is much more effective than penalizing them for not attending!
Here in Nicaragua, we are finishing up the 2016 school year and preparing for 2017. There is a new country policy that everyone passes on to the next grade each year, which makes our work more challenging. At COE, we do testing to make sure our children with sponsorships are at grade level. For the two month school vacation, we have identified and will be working with those students that need help to reach grade level. Because some have suffered from early childhood malnutrition, that is not always possible, but we work wholeheartedly to get as close as we can.
We have seven possible candidates for university sponsorships this year, but it has been difficult to make decisions and prepare the students, as many have not yet received their grades three weeks after school was completed. Those that will go on to university need to have an 80% average, and must take the university entrance exam. This year, however, they have discontinued the university entrance exam, except for the Medicine and Engineering departments! I am still having all our candidates take the test and a prep course, so I have some idea if they will be able to function at that academic level. They must have above a 50%. The recent education changes are not the kind of changes we would hope to see, but we will do our best to fight for a quality education for our children here, as it is critical for the future- not only of these young people, but for their country as well.
We are so grateful for the determination of so many of our students and families, who despite difficult circumstances, continue to push forward. We are so blessed to have such wonderful sponsors which assist us in our education mission! Thank you for using your blessing to be a blessing!
We have run our health care worker “brigadistas” program for 13 plus years now, and it has had a significant impact on important health statistics in our area. We have now trained health care workers in the most isolated areas in our zone- the area called El Viejo North with 42,000 inhabitants. The farthest Northwest point of the country has some of the highest mortality rates. They are 4 hours by bus to the medical center, and this is their only option. Although the local hospital tries to have doctors and nurses visit these remote areas regularly, transportation is always an issue, and they are without support most of the time. The goal is to have trained workers who live in the villages to help make educated decisions on if a situation is minor or emergent.
We held classes for new health care workers during December, January and February, and now have 10 new brigadistas prepared for work in these most vulnerable areas. The brigadistas have 60 hours of intensive classes so they can better serve the needs of their communities. Usually the health care workers have been trained in, and serve in, prevention only. Our brigadistas are trained to provide more education for the villages, to help organize the villages with such needed things as emergency transport, and as triage to identify the emergencies, communicate with area health resources, and facilitate transport of those in acute need. They also have special training for emergencies and disasters, such as IV skills. It is part of our disaster preparation in our remote areas to treat as many people locally as possible to allow the hospital to care for the most critical. The one ambulance that serves the area of 42,000 people has to bring unstable patients from the outlying hospital to the regional hospital, and at times is unavailable to serve an emergency in an outlying area. A round trip to go to the most remote areas would take up to 6 hours if the ambulance was free. There is a huge need for locals to collaborate with emergency transport.
This week we had the first of our health fairs in one of the outlying villages, Rossario, about a 2 and a half hour drive from the area hospital- 5 hours roundtrip. Our new brigadista, Anna, has become an extraordinary asset for the area! She is a mother with 3 children and is nothing less than incredible. She has already found a donor who is willing to fund the building of a small village health outpost. She is helping coordinate this (with some help from us) with the health care agency of the region. She helped organize the health fair we had this week at which we had:
It was a great day of collaboration with our organization and the public health department, and a fantastic example of the fruits we can produce!
Her name is Ashley and she is 4 years old- actually very close to 5, as she will quickly correct you! She has dark brown wavy hair, bright semi-sweet chocolate eyes, and a white, bright smile. She is a cute little one, with an inquisitive mind and excellent manners. She is the youngest of three children in a rural family. She started having seizures about two years ago, and thanks to a special donor who helps us with neurological problems, we had the resources needed to address her problem.
In the public health system in Nicaragua, a person may have to wait six or more months to get an EEG (electroencephalogram) when they have seizures, or up to a year for less urgent needs. If a child or adult needs a CT (computerized tomography) scan, it may likely just not happen, unless they present as an emergency patient in a city with available neurology services. That leaves our patients with few options. Ashley was able to get that needed EEG in a timely manner thanks to our special fund. She has been safe on seizure meds for two years, but has recently developed more seizures - up to 5 a day- and even with increased meds the seizures have been difficult to control. She needed a CT scan and fast! Again thanks to our precious gift, we were able to do it!
We seem to have a higher than normal rate of seizures, mostly in children but occasionally adults as well. Part of the reason is due to a predominance of parasite infestations in the brain resulting from eating infected, under-cooked animal meat. We are also suspicious that perhaps a piece of the puzzle is from past use of the insecticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) during the cotton producing days, for which our area was prime land. Nicaragua has a higher rate of DDT contamination than other countries. DDT contamination is measured by the average of DDT or its byproducts found in breast milk. The only countries with higher rates are those who still use DDT for malaria control and a few African countries which use high levels of DDT for agricultural uses. On average, we have about 3 to 4 people (usually kids) who need a CT scan per year, and with the parasite issue it is important that these are done in a timely manner. Usually we do the EEG first, and work up those with more complicated cases with CT scans. We are able to do another 3 to 5 (again usually children) who need urgent EEGs!
Ashley had a rough day, as the IV needed for the contrast was difficult for her, but with both of her dedicated parents there with her, it went as well as it could. Only after the procedure was complete did I discover she had a respiratory infection. On our drive back she started to shiver severely, and started spiking a fever. I thought the trembling was perhaps from the trauma of the procedure, but when the trembling stopped her temperature started to climb rapidly. We were about 15 minutes from home when the seizure started in the truck, so we went directly to the hospital. Her temp was indeed up, which might have contributed to the seizure. Upon examination she was diagnosed with pneumonia and was treated for that before she returned home. The results of the CT scan showed that there were no structural changes, Thank God! Her meds were doubled and she will need another CT scan in a year to verify all is normal, but she is stable thus far!
Thank you to our humble donors who make our neurology work possible. God has indeed blessed you to be a blessing to the people of Nicaragua!
As the upcoming 2016 Nicaraguan School Year approaches, we have a new, convenient option for sponsoring a student. Cornerstone Community Bank has helped us set up a direct authorization form to make your student sponsorship donation even more convenient. You may fill out an Authorization Form endorsed by Cornerstone Community Bank to automatically withdraw your donation of $7.50 each month from your bank account. Click here to fill out an authorization form. Please return to Circle of Empowerment at the address listed on this form.
Students sponsored through Circle of Empowerment receive not only the gift of an education, but also the materials it takes to be an engaged and successful student. Just $90 a year provides a student with two school uniforms, shoes (often the child's only pair), a backpack, and school supplies.
The sponsorship cost also helps to offset the cost of classroom materials, such as tables, chairs, white boards, markers, and textbooks. In addition, transportation costs to and from the Saturday tutoring class on the Circle of Empowerment grounds is included, as is a stipend for the bus driver.
Students in the Student Sponsorship program have a unique connection with their sponsor. Sponsors and students exchange letters, and a picture of the sponsored student will be provided, as well as updates. The relationships between each sponsor and student are unique- some sponsors are even lucky enough to visit their student in Nicaragua!
As always, we thank you for supporting Circle of Empowerment, and we look forward to sharing the benefits of student sponsorship with you!
There are times when life gives you surprises, and not all of those are welcome surprises- but there is always something to be learned.
We had just one of those surprises when recently replacing the palms on our rancho. A rancho is a palmed pavilion often found near beaches, or other areas where people can relax out of the intense sun. Our rancho is a working rancho, used as a school for around 100 children who are sponsored for tutoring classes each Saturday. It is also used for community education, our leadership activities, general meetings, health-related activities, and much more. Our rancho looked great, all of the wood looking in good condition, and we thought we would need only the new palms, with an estimated cost of $2,500 to $3,000. We got numerous estimates, but most said they couldn’t give a solid price until the palms were down and they were able to see if there was damage to the wood. I knew there were a few termites in the palms, but was told they were probably not in the wood. WRONG!
As the old palms were removed we were horrified at how much damage had been done. The rancho was essentially a complete loss. We were thankful that there were no accidents in its disabled state. Some of the wood could be salvaged for other projects, but most of it was unusable. Our price for completion had more than doubled! Our expenses have been high the last few months, over our usual expenditures due to some higher than expected costs, and we were going to be way over budget on this project.
When hit with such problems, I tend to isolate, pray and be very emotional for a day or two, and then get my act together and make a plan. I am blessed with a Nicaraguan team of staff who is creative, supportive, and has all sorts of knowledge of local resources. We sat down to problem solve and find ways we could get the rancho built without going $4,000 over expected costs. Each member of the team had some input. They felt that cement pillars were a better long term plan than wooden ones with termites in the area. Although I prefer natural wood, and the pillars would cost more initially, it would more than double the life expectancy of the rancho. We decided to do the subcontracting and find the best values for good materials. It was Ricardita, who works part time as house staff, that came up with the idea of having the parents of the children who use the rancho for Saturday classes assist us in resolving the challenge. We decided to have a meeting with the parents, and see if they were willing to help. The people of the communities get called to all sorts of community-based meetings, and it is seldom that more than 20% of those invited show up, but we would give it our best shot- even with short notice.
I was shocked that about 65 parents came to the meeting. Considering that many of the families have two or more children in the program, this was close to 80% attendance! It floored me that Fransisco Laguna, which has always been the community most difficult to get volunteers from, had a 100% attendance rate, as did Mansano 2, who doesn’t even use my rancho for classes! I was simply blown away by the response. It is an overwhelming testament to the success and value of the program as seen by the parents and students. We pick our students from the poorest of the poor in our villages, and what they willingly offered in assistance was incredible! The story of the widow’s mite comes to mind. I have never seen the kind of generosity in the rich that I see in the poor. After working for 14 years with the poor, I know why Christ loved them so!
Oneyda was our master of ceremony, getting pledges. We planned to ask them for cross bars for the rancho that the palms are tied to, as that is something they have access to without cost. The group decided to have several people get the “barias”, and the others would contribute 100 cords (around $4.00) PLUS a day’s labor assisting with preparing the wood, pealing, spraying for insects, and varnishing. With this help we would not only get much closer to our first estimate, but have allowed something bitter to be transformed into something sweet! I am so touched by the enthusiasm, and the communities coming together. It was an overwhelming affirmation, that what we are doing here makes a difference, and we are doing it together!
When life gives you lemons… well, who thought you could make lemonade with termites!
Nicaragua has some of the most beautiful children in the world! They, like their parents, warm to strangers with an openness that is seldom seen elsewhere. Their smiles are enough to lift your spirits, and assure you that, despite the financial poverty they live in, they live with joyfulness! We have 180 children who we sponsor, and they are the poorest of the poor in our 9 rural villages. The $90 paid by the sponsors provides two school uniforms, a solid pair of leather shoes, underwear socks, backpacks and school supplies. For many of these children these are the only new clothes they have ever received. We also provide extra classes on Saturdays for those falling behind, many because their parents are also illiterate and cannot help with homework.
Each year I take pictures of my students to solicit support for those children in need. One of the things that has struck me over the years, is how they will avoid smiling for pictures. They are smiling most of the time, but when pictures are taken, they often have difficulty smiling. It took me awhile to realize that this not a cultural thing, but instead that they don’t want to have their teeth show for pictures. The adults as well tend to avoid smiles in which their teeth show. In Nicaragua, dental care is pretty much limited to pulling teeth, and the majority of the adults have lost their front teeth by the age of thirty. When we have activities they smile freely, but when you get out a camera, it is rare that you will get a smile showing their teeth. The majority of young children have rampant cavities, many loosing adult teeth long before they have reached adolescence.
We are in the process of starting a dental clinic here which will give them access to dental care that involves more than just pulling teeth, and the education to help them maintain their teeth through adulthood. I have 4 high school students who have lost their front teeth entirely, and many on the way. In Nicaragua sugar is a calorie source that is readily available and inexpensive. It is an important supplement to their caloric intake. Education will be a huge part of helping turn that around, but that needs to be combined with access to basic dental care. It is our hope to be able to bring more smiles to our villages in Nicaragua, and we hope we can partner with you to do so.
Nicaragua is a beautiful country, and there are parts of it that take your breath away. This past week I was helping with transport for the annual vaccination drive. It is a time of the year when the medical and nursing staff of the public health system go into the areas that are less accessible to give vaccinations to the people. They often send me to the regions that are the furthest, and most difficult to reach, which makes sense as I use my truck and gas.
This week they sent me to a place called Salvia which is in the department of Chinandega, and the municipality of El Viejo. It is on the peninsula that Volcano Cosiguina is on. I can’t find it on any map, but it is about one hour West, and another hour south of Potosi. The volcano is about 835 meters, and has a blue green crater lake inside. I climbed it a few years back, probably not the smartest thing for an overweight woman in her 60s, but it was worth the near death experience! You can sit on the edge of the crater, (or in my case, lay), hear and see wildlife of all different sorts. I wasn’t able to see a scarlet Macaw, but I was able to hear them, and see the monkeys in the trees, and what appeared to be a large cat. I learned at the national zoo that there were at one time Bengal Tigers in Nicaragua in the area of volcano Cosiguina, but the last sighting was over 8 years ago, and are thought to be extinct in Nicaragua now. When I first arrived in Nicaragua, in 1999, they were selling Ocelots, parrots, and Scarlet Macaws, on the street corners! Well, Salvia might be a bit out of the way, but the wildlife is incredible. I didn’t get to see them but the great cats of Nicaragua are there including pumas, jaguars, jaguarondi, margays and ocelots. I did get to see some bird life, including beautiful parrots, and at least 10 flocks of chcoyos, which are bright green parakeets, with 50 or so in each group. They have a distinctive sound you learn to hear quickly. They have wild groups of scarlet macaws here, and I got to visit with the family of a man who is a photographer, and works to protect them. I stood in the yard and watched for them with his brother. He said most days they show up around now. I didn’t get to see them, but I am coming back! I did see a collared peccary, a form of wild pig. I was served deer for lunch.
There is no electricity here, no bus you can bring food in with. The only transport is by boat, (in which case the nearest medical care is in El Salvador on the other side of the bay of Fonseca, that connects with Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador), or in a four wheel drive vehicle, or motor cycle. I have had the privilege of seeing the humpback whales that come down the pacific mostly from the San Diego area to give birth in our warm waters in February. I was able to go out with a local fisherman off the shores of La Salvia to visit with the dolphins, and in November to see the breeding giant sea turtles, and newly hatched baby turtles, where they are less molested. The area has no infrastructure, no hotels, or restaurants, but it is an outstanding place to see nature, and I felt blessed to be there!