by Susan Bramhall, New Haven/ León Sister City Project
In March and April, as the world began to face the historic public health crisis caused by COVID-19, the Nicaraguan government flagrantly ignored recommendations of health and human rights organizations by encouraging mass gatherings and requiring school attendance. During the April holidays, people were encouraged to celebrate semana santa as usual with trips to the beach and large gatherings. As of this writing, there are still no recommended social distancing measures and professional sports events continue to draw fans.
In the last few weeks, reports of the coronavirus illness have begun to emerge in the larger cities and there is now an outbreak in Chinandega – not far from our Sister City, León. There is still no acknowledgment that the pandemic is the cause but hospitals are reporting many cases of atypical pneumonia and a rise in sudden deaths from heart attack and stroke. Nicaraguans are reporting that when patients die, the bodies are buried immediately, often before families are notified. Testing, treatment and results are kept secret leading to more fear and suspicion.
The staff of the New Haven/León Sister City Project are currently healthy and trying to work from home but it is difficult to do social distancing or self-isolation. It is common for homes to contain large extended families and multiple generations and often a small store open to the public. During March and April, our staff was able to continue visiting the rural communities bringing some protective gear (masks) and, most important, information about the facts of the situation. As the community has begun to hear of the cases in nearby areas they are becoming more fearful of people from the city and our staff are now doing as much as they can from their homes.
Our León Director, Erendira Vanegas, reminds us that this is a new crisis within the existing crisis created by the 2018 crackdown against protest and the devastating effect that was already having on the Nicaraguan economy. The crisis created by the pandemic on top of the economic challenges already in play have been overwhelming and has created increased food insecurity. Our Nicaraguan team advises that an urgent need is enhanced access to food for the rural population. The Sister City Project has long been supplementing the meal that children get at school – a meal they may miss if they are not in school. We are currently researching organizations we can partner with to ensure food security for Goyena and Troilo.
If you would like to make a special donation to bolster our programs please visit our website at newhavenleon.org/get-involved/give.
As always, muchisimas gracias to all our supporters in the area.