In some families the expectations are for the children to be doctors or lawyers, in our family the expectation was always that we give back to our world and our community. Not that giving was your primary job, just that giving should always be part of anything you choose to do.
In college I studied business and political science and graduated with the opportunity to go work with my husband in a small woman-owned real estate corporate housing business in San Francisco.
Two years into this adventure my father, who was only 53 years old, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within a few months. His life story was one of overcoming adversity and giving back. So it was quite a shock that at the young age of 53 his life would end so abruptly. I got angry at our imperfect world, but I also thought if I am here on this earth for 27 years, 53 years or 100 years I better make sure I make a “contribution” to this world.
I abruptly quit my job, decided to move back to Denver, and my husband and I decided to start our own real estate corporate housing business. Over the years we did better than most, started two more businesses and continue to run those now 15 years later. But the large cash bucket we had originally envisioned never materialized. What I did realize during those years is the importance to give what you can now and not just wait for some big event in the future. So I challenged myself to figure out what I could do to support my community and my world at each stage of my life and not just at some future point in time.
I came to learn about Clinica Verde and was invited to join the Board for their annual meeting in Nicaragua. As a mother of two young boys my free time was limited, but I decided a 4-day trip to Nicaragua was something I could do and was the best gift I could give to myself. The next challenge for me was what could I do that fit my limited budget but might be helpful. Not a doctor, I didn’t know where to find medical supplies and I thought there had to be something I could bring with me. I learned that in Nicaragua the kids played baseball and there was even a local baseball field and team. As the mother of two boys who played baseball this was something I was familiar with.
When I arrived in Managua, Nicaragua I was carrying over 100 pounds of baseball equipment.
During our trip to the clinic we met with a local baseball team and had the opportunity to share the items directly with the children. We all had a great time tossing the balls, wearing new hats and laughing a lot. It was a great way to get to know the community we served and support their local recreation.
During this time I was traveling with the Board of Directors for Clinica Verde that also included a number of doctors. The meeting site chosen for me to meet with the baseball team was in front of a family’s home in a rural community outside Boaco where the clinic is located. While I was playing baseball, the doctors went inside to meet with the family. In the home there was a young teenage girl who had recently given birth via c-section and the doctors discovered her incision was deeply infected. The doctors we able to help care for the infection and coordinate for her to visit Clinica Verde.
Some time later I was speaking with Clinica Verde founder Susan Dix Lyons and inquired after the girl’s health. Susan let me know the girl was doing fine. She had come to the clinic and the infection was gone. However, Susan went on to tell me the girl had stolen some surgical gloves during her visit. Shocked I was very confused at why someone who had just been given so much would steal something as small as surgical gloves. Susan went on to tell me the girl had stolen the gloves to fill up with clean water from the clinic to take home to the child. Wow, in that one moment I got some glimpse of how important Clinica Verde was to that community, how even a small amount of clean water could make a difference in someone’s life.
What I first was attracted to with Clinica Verde was how they were able, in just a few short years, to conceive an idea, develop that idea and create a vibrant structure, health system, community center and vision for the future. As we progress with the development of the Boaco facility I develop an even greater appreciation for all the details that the founder’s vision for Clinica Verde incorporated from the water system that now waters the organic garden to the open courtyard that supports educational events. I appreciated that the vision for the first Clinica Verde clinic was to create a “prototype” on which to develop a larger system of clinics that can deliver “Heath and Hope” wherever they are built.
I know the Boaco Clinic is the first, but really it is the foundation on which successful clinics and health cares systems and services can be developed. I appreciate now that “contribution” to our world can be done one small step at a time.
I'd like to share two separate stories with you this month. One is a brief snapshot of two of our patients, written by Maria Jose Montiel, a Nicaraguan student of Communications who sometimes interviews patients for us. The other is a blog post by one of our interns, Paige Preston, a student at University of Southern California. Both offer perspectives into our work in the world. I hope that you will enjoy the inside view.
Thanks, as always, for making our work possible!
Susan Dix Lyons
12 Hours of Travel
By María José Montiel Castillo
From a far-away community – farther than San Pedro del Norte – in the department of Boaco came Elena Rios and her daughter Claudia. They had traveled a long stretch to arrive at Clinica Verde, arriving with closed faces that made it difficult to read their moods. This bearing is common among women in Nicaragua, who present themselves as humble and submissive according to the cultural roles of women and men in society.
Claudia, 17, had come for a consult: She was extremely thin and fragile, appearing malnourished and coughing frequently. Her mother Elena, 38, also appeared worn and concerned for her daughter, who she said had problems with her blood pressure and ovaries.
“The illness made me come,” said Elena, while her daughter withdrew shyly. Together they had discovered Clinica Verde when they passed the clinic on a bus and they decided they liked the way it looked. And, Elena added, they needed to go somewhere where costs were low. Basic household expenses made healthcare difficult.
Both mother and daughter said they were housewives. Claudia was the youngest of seven siblings. Elena said they were also looking for a psychologist for one of her other daughters because she was often depressed. Concern was etched in her eyes as she shared that she didn’t have options because there is no health center near her community.
For Elena and Claudia arriving at Clinica Verde was an odyssey, taking them 2 hours on horseback and 10 by bus. Elena said she wanted only the health of her daughter – it was the only thing she could offer her. She said her daughter wanted a different life, but she didn’t know how to help or please her. Claudia said she had left school. Her mother showed no emotion. Resignation invaded her.
The two women prepared to see the doctor.
This story is simply a snapshot of some of the patients we have the honor to serve. The names of the patients have been changed.
María José Montiel Castillo is a student in the School of Communications at the University of Central America.
• • •
More than Just the Facts
By Paige Preston
I had all the facts—the first trip, the million dollar fundraising campaign, the number of people seen and served in the first year of operation. I would tell anyone and everyone that would listen about this ambitious vision that had turned into an amazing clinic in a small town in Nicaragua. No matter how much I believed that there was a mighty force for good working behind Clinica Verde, I would see doubt in other people’s eyes. I could only throw more facts at that doubt, and I knew that would never be enough.
In many ways I agreed with them and their skepticism. In their position it would take more than a 16-year-old who had never even been to Central America, let alone Nicaragua or the clinic, to make me believe in what could be perceived as an idealistic mission. I would need more to convince me as well. When I finally did make it to Boaco, Nicaragua two Februarys ago for the annual board meeting, it is quite possible that I spent more time in our van driving to the clinic than I actually spent inside. I had seen the drawings, prototypes, and photos of Clinica Verde, but nevertheless as we drove up to the gate, my breath was taken away.
Perhaps it was the direct contrast between the numerous sheet metal “houses” I had passed on our way, but the clinic looked beautiful. I understood the sense of relief that a patient would feel as they arrived, as well as the hope and security they would feel once inside. For the time I walked around the clinic, I evaluated all that I saw. I am no medical professional, but I tried to objectively observe. I noticed people looking genuinely comfortable in the waiting room. I noticed natural light flooding in from widows and skylights, and fans to keep the temperature cool. I took note of the brightly colored walls that inspired warmth and power. I saw a smiling staff that was Nicaraguan just like the people they served. Seeing it in person, the why care? Why bother? What’s so different? And all the other answers to the questions that founded the doubts I had faced became illuminated.
Clinica Verde does not just treat the symptoms—it heals the person. I was not sick upon arrival at the clinic, but nevertheless I left healed, hopeful, and somewhat relieved that a place like Clinica Verde in all its idealism could actually exist. It is a clinic that could be placed anywhere and would continue to challenge the norm for healthcare. It’s a new model that is not only for those who can pay for the best treatment and care, but for the poorest of the poor as well.
It has been a year since I saw the clinic for those brief few hours. That initial impression has not left me. I believe now more than ever in Clinica Verde. When people ask me now why Clinica Verde matters, I can give more than just facts. I can tell them that mine is not a blind belief in the mission, but that I have seen it and the work being done there will truly change the world. I can tell them that it is a place I would be honored to receive treatment from. For those who doubt it, I challenge them to go see for themselves, see how this clinic is different. Don’t simply rely on my story, but dig deeper, decide for themselves, and then share what they discover.
Paige Preston is a sophomore at the University of Southern California studying Political Economy. She has been an intern with Clinica Verde since her freshman year of high school, volunteering and contributing research.
Julieta came to Clinica Verde from El Jocote, an area that belongs to a municipality in the department of Boaco. To get to the clinic, she woke at 4 in the morning.
"We have to walk 30 minutes, then grab a bus or truck, then take another bus that brings us to Boaco. It takes us over 2 hours to make the journey."
Julieta says she has come to Clinica Verde many times with her mother and children. “The nurses are very friendly, the doctor (Dr. Miranda) also." As a patient at Clinica Verde, Julieta contributes a “donation” to the clinic for the services provided. She says the fee is lower than at other places with medications. Recently, Julieta shared, she had to pay 1,600 cordobas (approximately $62) for exams at another health institution, and she’s still trying to pay the last 450 cordobas ($17). She hopes that Clinica Verde will one day have a laboratory and provide such exams “at a lower cost, because sometimes her family has to go without eating in order to cure our children of their illnesses.”
Julieta has 7 children – 5 girls and 2 boys. On this visit to Clinica Verde, Julieta came with her younger daughter, Mariana, 19 years old. It is her third visit to Clinica Verde, and she arrives with pain in her throat. Dr. Nubia Huete diagnosed her with pharyngitis and malnutrition. Mariana weighs 38.6 KG (aoubt 85 pounds). Julieta’s other daughter, 22-year-old Valeria, had visited Clinica Verde recently with stomach problems.
“I am very grateful to the doctors and Clinica Verde," said Mariana. “My Mom has received treatment here and also much of my family.”
Message from the Founder:
We love to share stories of our patients, which highlight our challenges as well as our triumphs. Julieta and her family underscore our challenge providing transportation to indigent patients, and also our need to expand our services. Clinica Verde is seeking funding to support a van and to begin laboratory services.
The question of patient fees - or, in our case, a requested "donation" - is also something we're always reviewing. In trying to create a sustainable financial model, Clinica Verde experiments with services that produce revenue while not interfering with our primary purpose to serve those in need. How do we reach the most patients, providing excellent care and education, while contributing to our long-term financial health and sustainability? In the coming months we'll continue to explore this, looking at ways we can expand our U.S. student education program, consider occasional specialist services such as dental, and open an in-house laboratory. We welcome ideas and feedback from our supporters!
In other news we'd like to share: Our wonderful clinic director, Dr. Alba Castillo, has breast cancer and begins chemotherapy this week. Our Clinica Verde staff has been coached and trained to help cover her duties while she goes through treatment. Please hold her in your prayers.
Thanks, as always, for your wonderful support! We couldn't do our work without you.