Being employed is one of the most important values for young people with a handicap who are part of Familias Especiales in Matagalpa Nicaragua. Right now in many businesses are closing. Some big international factories have recently moved out of the country because of the social political crisis that we are all living since April 2018. This has caused widespread unemployment. One company in our northern area closed leaving 8,0000 workers without a job. So when they begin to close we are aware that the person with a handicap is usually the first laid off. In 2020 Familias Especiales hired people who were laid off by these companies because they had skills that we needed either in administration, business or social services and they happened to be people with a handicap. But as they started work the corona virus came to Nicaragua invited by a government wanting foreign investment and yet denying the existence of the virus. So we have not seen the benefits yet of our new employees. As of March 25 we decided to go on lock down to protect our health and those around us a very hard decision but necessary for an organization who works with people who are vulnerable and at the greatest risk of this virus. The decision was made by the foundation to close as Nicaragua started having cases of Covid19. We could not envision doing anything else. This was not mandated by the government, schools have stayed open, nothing has been shut by government health concerns. At this time in late June the government of Nicaragua has mostly ignored the pandemic and have not order any social distancing or self-protection for their citizens. The country leads in the percentage of deaths : cases ratio in Central America. This is a sad reality that we have to live with and come through alive. Our projected return is now scheduled for end of July, with hopes that we can feel secure to bring all workers back without infecting one another. Since there is no testing in our country we don’t want to just start up again. It is very hard without any support or acceptance. Everything is an unknown for us but we continue to follow social media from Central American countries and the World Health organization. That is all we have.
We also set up WhatsApp groups to keep in touch with workers and those families who have access to social media. The small businesses in FE worked together on the closures to ensure that we did not lose products and all employees were in on the loop.
As our main goal is to create jobs for people with a handicap who otherwise would not have the opportunity to work, we started with the idea that it would be a shorter time. We said “ you are being paid to stay at home and take care of your health and protect yourself and others.” three months into the lock down we have several of our workers who have gotten the virus and are struggling to recuperate because it is not recognized here and there is no special treatment developed or put into practice. We also recognized that people were not getting the right nutrition and most social programs were shut down many permanently so we have taken it on ourselves to begin to provide monthly food packages. Staff were very active in getting out each month more than 200 packages of basic grains to people we work with in the neighborhoods of Matagalpa., including the workers.
We used the delivery of these food packages to educate as we went in trucks with our workers in protective gear not getting out of the trucks but letting each individual enter into the double cabin and receive a small talk about the virus and being able to talk a bit about their experience so far. We are trying to motivate people to stay in their homes to avoid the virus. This is not our usual style of direct work with the families but because public transportation is so crowded and the food shortage is so great we decided to do it in this manner to help our families when they are getting no help other help. We posted a you tube link of an inspirational video that we did about corona virus for our organization, on our you tube channel. We are a program to provide employment not a program to lay people off while spreading the disease unknowingly
Families Especial wants to thank everyone for their support of our jobs program and to say directly we are not going away we would prefer to be working actively to involve people with a handicap We are already working on plans on how we will reopen in a healthy safe way, but it is not easy. We have all changed in many ways and the job market is different with more competition for jobs and less security in our society.
We are aware that all over the world countries are at different stages in this virus, this dangerous unknown threat and we continue to keep everyone in the world in our prayers. A small prayer from children: Dear God be good to me the sea is so wide and my boat is so small. Let’s all share our boats to be safe.
Food package to help get through the lockdown.
Goodbye was not easy as workers left for lockdown.
Valentine’s day was very special this year for two artists who work at Special Families in Matagalpa Nicaragua. Valentine’s day or Friendship Day in Matagalpa is also the anniversary of the founding of the city. There is usually a lot of activities during this week. So the artists were busy creating cards and other materials to sell during the week of friendship. Then their boss came in and said “Hey what do you think there is an art contest as part of the celebration this year but we only have one day to prepare.” They were up to the challenge and all of the art department got together and started reflecting. Literally reflecting as they used some recycled mirrors as the base for their entry. Two of the artists worked together to create large hearts with flowers out of recycled cardboard. These hearts won first place in the city recycle friendships contest. But they didn’t stop there the contest on Valentine’s Day moved to national competition and their hearts continued to win first place in Managua the capitol.
“Wow this is the kind of job I have always dreamed of where we can work together to win contests on a moments notice. “ The artists are a part of special family’s environmental program. Both men are deaf and when they won they were greeted by the hand waving which is part of their sign language for clapping.
The artists won baskets full of basic grains and staples and they were nationally recognized. Other artists entered their creations and special families also won second and third place locally and nationally. These are the rewards of keeping the discipline of a full time job painting and creating with whatever can be recycled and reused again and again. These young men are grateful for being able to work at something they enjoy and know that they are appreciated and that their art reflects the joy they feel working together all year long.
There are times that our staff lose sleep thinking “What job can this young person do? where will they be successful? Where can they use their unique abilities?” Even though we toss and turn with these questions they are better than not being able to sleep knowing that there are young people entering into gangs or just sitting at home hopeless because they have no one to help them find or create work programs that can improve their lives.
This is a priority for Familias Especiales to find the right job for the young person with a disAbility. We write the word disAbility with a capital in the middle to emphasize that they have abilities that there whole life is not just about the dis ( I am creating this word dis) but about their abilities. But we often bump into obstacles in our society where only the dis is emphasized not only in those who can offer jobs but also in the young person themselves. What do we do in these cases? Special Families works with both those who have jobs to offer and young people to discover their abilities and to share this information with others. The Social Staff was reflecting on the people who are motivated in their jobs. They came to the conclusion that those young people who saw their work making a difference in general for other people were happier. And the area where they are having the biggest affect is in the work with things that are more natural: work with the natural environment, work in our programs to recycle paper, to do artwork with recycled materials, to do artwork to depict the animals in danger of extinction in Nicaragua (and the world) to make bags out of recycled kraft paper and cloth to try to eliminate plastic bags, to work in our small accessible park with the plants and care of orphaned turtles, to make natural yogurt and granola. As a staff we have decided that these are our priorities for the young people working as we close this year and plan for 2020.
We have young people with many different abilities and also dis. Those young people who are deaf and mute have found creative work with us in our programs for the environment. We have also placed several young people in a local environmental reserve and they are being able to show others that their dis is small compared to their abilities and creativity. Recently we had a meeting of those young people who are deaf and mute and they shared through their own language of signs that if they were not working with us that they might be at home dong nothing or they might be entering a gang who have recently formed in the midst of the crisis in Nicaragua. This gang who are young people who are deaf and mute has been responsible for several robberies and threats to other people. The police are searching for them. But in their search the police have not had to worry about checking on those who have jobs with us. Working has helped them make positive life decisions against situations which otherwise they would feel compelled to follow. In our meeting the young people shared about their abilities and saw that if they were not working they would be falling only into their dis. We are grateful to all who are helping us in this project “Jobs Make A Difference For Young People With Disability”. And we want to work with you to practically make the dis disappear as they become people with natural Abilities.
Paul who has an intellectual disABILITY has been working in Recycling, however staff began to notice that he was having a hard time meeting his daily goals in paper selection. Finally, one person talked to the psychologist and suggested that maybe Paul needed glasses. The psychologist helped Paul to get an eye exam and yes, Paul had a vision problem. FE was able to find a donor to help to pay for glasses for Paul but there is more to the story. Because of Paul’s struggle FE decided to start a new program called Super Lenses. Workers at FE can qualify for a free eye exams and for a discount on glasses and pay for them through deductions in their pay checks through a certain company.
We checked with this company and decided to see if they would do free eye exams for all of our young people whether they were working or not. So we made a list of 80 people who needed exams. We are also including the children from the special education programs for super lenses. We are going to have the exams in early Nov. and when those young people with a handicap come for their exams which will be in our center they will also receive several other health orientations. We have a program for understanding Dengue Fever and the government insurance also has a program for testing for Diabetes.
In the meantime, Paul has been ever so excited about being able to see things clearly that he has doubled his daily goals in recycling selecting papers and he cannot keep quiet about how glasses have changed his life. This in turn has animated other young people to sign up for the eye exams. We are starting a campaign to earn money to see if we can get glasses for those who show a need from the exams, our dream is to earn enough before Christmas so that all can enjoy the holidays more brightly and clearly.
We try to find out the needs of the young people in our work program so that they will have success at maintaining their jobs. There are so many aspects that we are never bored in the social labor program. Orientation is the most important so that we find the right job for the right person.
You can’t really use the same idea more than once because the world of work is so dynamic that it might not work the second time around. One has to have a bag of ideas to be able to keep these young people working. So we just recently placed several in our Kraft bag project which is meant to help eliminate the plastic bags by making Kraft bags. Our young people are so proud of their work and we are also as we say thank you to all who have contributed to this project in global giving so that our young people can work in an environment that is positive and life giving, as they learn the culture of work through FE.
The young people who are in the Social Empolyment program celebrated their fourth annual Assembly The main presentation was on the Protection Policy which FE has developed to insure that the person with a handicap is protected in a safe environment in the organization. FE is finishing a three-year program focusing on prevention of violence by recognizing the violence the person with a handicap faces in their daily life. Many of the young people needed to learn to differentiate between peace and violence. Because many of them live with violence as the norm in their lives. The discussion in the assembly centered on when is a person safe and when do they feel un-protected.
The assemblies were started as activities to get feedback from these young people with disAbilties and their family on their experience of the social employment program and to recognize each one of them for their achievements. Each young person is accompanied in their work by a God Mother or God Father who works in the same area and takes the time to help, orient and assist these young people with disAbilties as well as help in their social integration in the workplace.
Each young person received a certificate of participation in the social employment program for the year and they were accompanied by a family member. There was a lot of joy in the room as each person shared where they worked and a bit about their experience. There were over 6 different types of disAbilities represented by these young people who are striving to learn employment skills and to integrate in the work force. Many of them work in one of the environmental programs or in the nutrition programs in Familias Especiales as well as in the Wheel chair workshop.
The young people also performed cultural activities such as dancing,and singing during the event. It was a special time for all to share together and be affirmed. There was a large umbrella actually made by several of the young people to depict the concept of protection and they later posed under this umbrella to symbolize that they do feel a protection participating in this social employment program.
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