AMOS Mission Trip
A message from Carol Harvey and the Rev. Brian Nystrom
Dear People of St. John's,
We want to let you know how grateful we are for your support and prayers for our mission trip to Nicaragua, for AMOS Health and Hope, and for our team, Brian, Flo, M.E., Lonnie, Lachlan, Kathy S., Kathy H., JR, Dawn, and Carol. During our time there we had several meetings with AMOS leadership, and we all came away in awe at the faith and dedication of the staff doing this hard work. The success of this organization is truly inspiring! Data shows that their community based primary health care really does work in preventing maternal and infant deaths, and through their initiatives to provide clean water and early intervention, serious preventable diseases can be avoided and managed. Health educators and promoters, trained by AMOS, provide this care and are continuously supported to maintain communication and competence. They are amazing people and our time there was blessed.
We all enjoyed collaborating in spreading the love, are grateful to have had this transformational experience, and to help in our small way to support the work of AMOS and the people of Nicaragua. We will present a program with trip highlights and more information about AMOS on Sunday, June 11 at 9:00 a.m. in the Underground and again at coffee hour.
AMOS Health & Hope
St. John’s Episcopal Church travels to Nicaragua. Images by Florence McCall & Team
Our first Sunday was so meaningful as we traveled about 1 hour west to the village of Porto Sandino to Santa Maria Magdelena Iglesia Episcopal - such a miracle that this church has the same name as the one St. John’s is connected with in Favorito, Cuba. The priest, George Martin, is native to Nicaragua from the Caribbean coast region. He is related to AMOS, via Christy Lafferty – AMOS Director of Mission/Volunteers - who is in a Master’s program with him, focusing on Theological Studies. Christy is from the US, but has lived in Managua for about 13 years with her husband and 8-year-old son. Her husband is a native of Nicaragua. Father Martin gave a marvelous sermon we could easily follow in seamless Spanish/English in honor of International Women’s Day. The service was in Spanish but followed our lovely Episcopal service rhythm, and we sung several recognizable hymns in Spanish. The congregation greeted us so warmly, gave us cold bottled water, and it was an amazing way to start our trip.
We even ventured a little farther west to the beach, and smelled the warm salt air, and had a look at the tide pools for a few minutes. For many of us, it was the first time we had been to the ocean in quite a while.
That afternoon we had a tour of Managua and saw not only the beauty but the blight of this once highly developed city. After the earthquake of 1972, the war, and the ongoing political conflicts, the poverty is everywhere as well as the trash. We did go to a hilltop that was once Somoza’s “castle” but now is a monument to Sandino and gives an excellent view of the city and one of the many water-filled craters. The cathedral, at the heart of the city, has never been re-built after the earthquake and serves as a monument to those who died.
Our major work started on Monday. We made excellent progress on the construction project to build-up the entrance to the AMOS campus with trenches – all dug by hand – and placement of 100lb blocks to create a firm driving surface and prevent flooding during the rainy season. It was hard work in the humid heat (about 90 degrees every day) but they got the project about ¾ done and the AMOS team will finish what we/St. John’s funded. Lonnie said that Brian was in “Disneyland” every time he had a shovel in his hand. Lonnie, JR, Flo and Dawn worked very hard on construction as well.
ME took the lead on care of the children while their parents were in our health classes all week. The multiple art projects were a hit, and Flo took pictures of each child with the instant camera, and there were glitter and beads and foam models everywhere while the children decorated the frames… they loved it. The bible stories set the tone and were the basis for decorating bandanas and making beautiful rainbow tissue flowers in honor of God holding the whole world “In His Hands” – the song we taught the children. They even “acted out” the Good
Shepherd story – holding a “cardboard goat”, instead of a lamb, the shepherd and even the wolf. They put animal stickers on “Noah’s Ark”, and they chased each other with balloons and beach balls. They had a wonderful time.
On Tuesday we travelled 4 hours up into the mountains via a bumpy dirt road in the large AMOS truck, to the village of Tierra Blanca, a very poor dry area but with an amazing Health Promoter trained by AMOS named Yadira. We saw her clinic and the wonderful census the Health Committee of the community has done this year with written goals and objectives, and even a hand drawn map of the location of the 51 spread-out homes and the 260-person community.
We saw the hand crank water well for the village where families carry buckets of water by hand up steep hills to their homes, and then use an AMOS installed microfiber water filter (2-bucket system) to filter the water to prevent diseases like diarrhea etc. We visited a home where one of the filters is in place and the owner (Marta) was so proud of her dirt floor house, kitchen with a wood-fed concrete cooking platform, and showed us how she kept the area clean and orderly. The dark cement block houses of the village had pigs and piglets in the yards, and chickens all around.
The highlight of our visit to Tierra Blanca was our time with the 30 children in the school. We shared the art panels June Nystrom made for us for the Creation story, sang with them, helped them trace their hands on the bandanas and make the tissue flowers while Flo took every child’s picture to take home with them. They also received green and blue clay to model God’s world when they got home. The children were all smiles in their neat and clean white shirts and dark shorts/skirts uniforms, and eager to participate. We gave the teacher extra art supplies, baseball bats and whiffle balls, and soccer balls with pumps. She was thrilled and said that they had not had soccer balls for a long time. It was a joy to visit this community, and the clinic. People there have so little, but also have so much love, and caring for each other, and work hard to care for their families. They have a tremendous amount of pride in their remote community.
Our team was busy with health classes for 3 days with the urban Managua health educators / Consejeras, and all 24 of the rural health promoters. We were so fortunate to have our team be at AMOS during the same week as the biannual Promoter training. Kathy S., Kathy H., and I (all RN’s) took the lead. The Consejeras and the Promoters learned life-saving skills of CPR, and what to do when an adult, child or infant is choking. We had fun teaching the rhythm of doing chest compressions to “Stayin Alive” by the Bee Gees, while using blue balloons on chests. We were fortunate to have CPR mannequins for both adults and infants for practice. Lachlan was a tremendous help with translating and teaching, and all-around was so helpful. Lonnie and JR taught the group the basics of emergency head-to-toe assessment and emergency transport carries to move victims from one location to another. In addition to the CPR training, we worked with the Consejeras for identifying healthy self-care (American Heart Association 8 Life’s Essentials) and stress and anxiety management. We used a Spanish relaxation video made by our friend Sarah Brindle in California and excellent Healing Arts/Grounding techniques to promote coping and stress management. All participants were engaged and came away with resources for practice and ongoing reinforcement of these techniques.
At the end of the training with the Promoters, we gave each of the 24 participants a baby-layette… lovingly made by our St John’s congregation, women from the Soroptimist group of Vallejo, CA (Kathy H’s chapter) and by JR’s sister’s friends who crocheted/knitted numerous hats and booties. They were so amazing, and in addition there are 15 more layettes that AMOS is holding to give to pregnant or new mothers who are involved with the Parenting with Love program in Managua. So, the Promoters will return with these to their villages and give the packet wrapped in a baby blanket with onesies, sleepers, diapers, hats, booties, and even a toothbrush, to a new mother, who otherwise would not have access to these baby supplies, and they will be passed on to other new mothers to use. We are so grateful for everyone who helped build these amazing gifts.
We toured the AMOS urban clinic – El Samaritano - on AMOS campus in Managua and were so impressed by the services offered and the cleanliness and orderliness of the entire facility. They see an average 45 patients a day at low or no-cost to the patients who are mostly older adults with chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, pregnant women, and children. They have a small pharmacy and lab and even have a dental clinic room. Our construction team painted the fence around the play-yard for the children who come to the clinic. AMOS runs another smaller clinic in the poorest part of Managua, but unfortunately, we did not have the chance to see that clinic which sits on the site of a former garbage dump.
The heat was probably one of the biggest challenges – even at night… but fortunately AMOS has a continuous supply of electricity (not always the case with the water for cold showers) so we had numerous fans in our dorm rooms and that really helped. The cold showers felt marvelous at the end of each day. Even though there was very little “down-time” our team enjoyed the hammocks to relax on the cooler porch of the AMOS guest house. Food was mostly traditional Nicaraguan with rice and black beans for most meals, but they added delicious chicken, plantains, and eggs frequently. They even made us lasagna for us on our last night.
We hosted a “Movie Night” on Wednesday and the families of the Consejeras and most of the Promoters attended while we watched Disney’s Encanto in Spanish with English subtitles. Our team made popcorn and the children especially enjoyed the evening.
On our last day, we ventured south of Managua to Massaya. We saw the smoke from the active volcano, explored the central market, and visited a 2,400-meter deep crater filled with a large fresh-warm-water lake.
Every morning and evening, we had Reflections / Devotional time, where we shared readings, prayers, and songs that helped us with processing our own responses to not only the tremendous needs of the people of Nicaragua, but also with how God was guiding us day by day during this mission. There was laughter, singing, and even tears as we experienced the challenges and joys of doing this work. We know that the Holy Spirit and God’s love surrounded all of us at AMOS.
We had several meetings with AMOS leadership, and we all came away in awe at the faith and dedication of the staff towards this hard work. They are successful, with data to show that community based primary health care really does work in preventing maternal and infant deaths. And, with clean water and early intervention, serious preventable diseases can be avoided and managed. The health educators and promoters are trained by AMOS to provide this care and are continuously supported to maintain communication and competence. One example is that during the pandemic crisis, when meeting in-person was impossible, AMOS used donated funds to supply every rural health promoter with a cell phone so that they can use “What’sApp” to text and AMOS can provide remote support. Our delegation coordinators, Jilmer and Violetta were with us all the way… providing direction, translating, and answering our numerous questions. They were amazing.