Virtual Home Visits
By March 2020, we knew that COVID 19 was inevitably going to come to Nicaragua. With the tight living situations in barrios, the close-knit high-touch nature of Nicaraguan society, and the health care available to our families, we were afraid it would really hit hard.
Over the course of several emergency meetings, we formulated a plan for the next months. At the start, I needed to ask everyone to what extent they were willing to stay on, keeping in mind the risk involved. The team was determined to find ways to continue to support our communities.
The home visit and health team was the most affected because they also had the most work to do in a short time. The number one task at hand was to run a significant educational campaign to create an informed awareness of COVID and its risks to our 204 families, as well as best practices to lower their risks. Then there were all the other health and emotional issues that we would surely need to support in the near future.
To keep them safe, it was decided to work remotely. Auxiliadora, Brenda, and Olga were given cell phones and a short training on how to effectively connect and communicate with people on the phone. This was not a simple task since the information we needed to ask and address was sensitive and could escalate over time with COVID and the pending isolation. Besides the need to give families information on COVID 19 and best practices to keep their family members safe, the team needed to learn to screen and support the families via phone calls on such issues as intrafamilial violence, unemployment, hunger, mental health, and physical illness.
Since those ‘early’ days of COVID 19, we have not stopped, nor has the need for our support. The team of three averages 600 calls a month. The calls are also supplemented with SMS and WhatsApp text messages. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive; the families are feeling very supported during these frightening times where the only support available to them has been Empowerment International.
On a “normal'' day, each team member uses their list of families they are responsible for. Each separates in our now quiet and empty educational center where they distance from each other, making their calls and texts and documenting them in our database. Besides offering support to the families, the information collected is vital and is the key to how we are able to assess and evaluate the ever-changing reality of the situation in the communities we serve. The situation they are facing for example in June was found to be the following:
·unemployment has reached an astounding 60% (up from less than 30% in January 2020)
23% of the homes have at least one person with a pre-existing condition that puts them in the high-risk category for COVID-19
20% of the homes presented with one or more household members with a case of probable COVID-19 (tests are not readily available)
The data collected and compiled arms us with the ability to determine the best use of our resources in this fast-changing and daunting situation. Key decisions are made on how we can improve our programs and support our families in the best way possible with our few resources. For example, as COVID-19 continued to spread rapidly, we shifted our daily take away meals for the children to an emergency food relief program. This unprecedented program supports our families with the basics they need to feed their children and also provides them with basic hygiene materials to help prevent the spread of the virus.
During calls, we also support each family with organizing medical care and appointments with private physicians as needed, as well as support them with medications. For example, this was the case of doña Marlene who has chronic diabetes and needed to get her monthly medication. And then there was Gladys, a university student who needed her thyroid medication. For Covid-19 cases, we are creating a reserve fund for the rest of 2020 to support medication, physician appointments, and funeral expenses as needed.
Our home visit program has always been the foundation of our program, upon which all other things have been built. While face to face encounters is always the preferred method, the team has proven that we can support the families and stay close and accompany them while also maintaining a safe distance. Continuing to take the time to connect with our children and families has been one of the best decisions we have made during the crisis. And, even though we are not able to see the children's faces, hug them, or see their smiles, we are continuing to strengthen our connections with them and their families, and meet their greatest needs in this time of extreme duress. In the end, the knowledge that they are not alone, even now, is helping them to get through this pandemic with faith in a better future and with the strength to start again. By Marcia Miranda
Home Visits to Calls
New Country Director
20 Year Supporter
Empowerment International News
Auxiliadora working Remotely with a family
Brenda working Remotely with a Family
We are delighted to announce a new Country Director for Empowerment International Nicaragua, Marcia Miranda. Marcia joined the EI family in early 2020. Marcia comes to us with a massive amount of experience with well-known organizations, such as Nicaragua Red Cross, Heifer International, Bridges to Community, and Rotary International.
She has experience with youth, volunteers, entrepreneurship, and educational programs. Her passion for education as a vehicle to lasting change and her shared value of empowering people really distinguished her from other excellent candidates in her interviews. The team unanimously voted to hire her and we couldn’t be more pleased and excited.
While other NGOs had closed their doors when Covid-19 hit Nicaragua, Marcia led the team to find creative solutions to serve the community who needed support more than ever. The results have been evident, with new teaching and counseling methodologies that are adapted to safe distancing. The team feels inspired and empowered to be part of a very difficult and challenging situation. Marcia has also been expanding our network of local contacts and support, by sharing the work that EI has been developing over the past 15 years with other strong organizations. This has led to fruitful discussions on extending partnerships to better leverage all our resources.
Over the past six months, Marcia has demonstrated a firm but flexible leadership style which has been vital to mitigating the pandemic in our communities. She has proven she can adapt to change quickly, lead the team effectively, set goals, and generate results, all the while maintaining the spirit of active and united collaborators working for a common goal. She also has a trove of funny stories and anecdotes that helps the team release stress during difficult moments..
by Lisseth Potoseme
She is bilingual and has spent time in the USA as her family lives in DC. Her husband works in agriculture in Malacatoya, Granada. They have a precoscious 10-year-old daughter Fernanda who sometimes joins her in the EI Center and on Zoom meetings. When she talks about her family, her smile lights up her face.
If there is one thing we can be sure of, it is that the future for our children and families is uncertain. Today we have the pandemic, tomorrow we will not know what it will be. However, we have an amazing leader and with the help of God we will achieve the proposed goals and face the challenges as they arise. The EI family is united by the desire to serve with patience, commitment, and love for children and families of EI.
From left right: Fernanda (Marcia's daughter), Marcia, and Maria Belen serving a student take away lunch
New Country Director
Back in 1998, when Kathy moved to Costa Rica to work for Intel, she kept in touch via email. She commented on her shock and dismay at the numerous street and working children, begging and selling food or small articles, she met. As she learned Spanish, and started to be able to communicate with them, she wanted to help. Frustrated that she could not find a Costa Rican organization that directly addressed the situation of these children, she started helping a few families with her own funds. Over time, she “adopted” an entire community or row of shanties and tried to help them with their most urgent needs, all with her own funds. I had always given to charitable organizations, but decided to offer to help with some of the expenses she wanted to cover as she was stretching her personal budget. It started with a pair of glasses for a girl with an eye disease. It was not long before I was helping with the purchase of school uniforms and supplies.
As an engineer and scientist, what appealed to me the most was how she used her engineering skills to analyze, evaluate and assess the situation before taking action. She visited an organization that worked with street children in all of Central America minus Costa Rica. They suggested she carefully consider what end results she wanted to achieve, and to focus only on those. They told her she would always find hunger, abuse, and neglect, but to make real change, one had to focus on the bigger picture and vision. Upon reflection, she decided that the most impactful way to eradicate the plight of the children in the street and eliminate generational poverty was to get to the root of the situation. Education, and removing the barriers that prevented children from accessing it, was her new goal.
The analytic approach EI takes is unique. While not having a preconceived ideologically driven plan, they observe, try new things, measure the results, then adjust, always with the goal of refining the program to achieve the desired result (school retention and graduation rates). One of the best examples of this is Home Visits. Continuous refinement over many years has improved school retention rates dramatically, so much that similar local organizations have copied this program.
I visited Costa Rica several times. Each time we drove up to the long line of shacks, before she could open her car door, kids started running towards us. Within a few minutes, there were dozens of them eagerly circling around her. They were not just there to greet her, but also to show her their prized school work. The simple act of someone caring about their efforts in school turned out to be the most powerful tool of all. This, coupled with positive peer pressure, which came easily due to the close proximity of the houses, shifted the mindset and value of education for most of this tiny community of squatters.
Something powerful was happening here and I remember when she realized it was not due to the gifts of school supplies and uniforms alone, but was actually due to her weekly visits, where she went house to house, talking with each parent and their children. Encouraging them. Talking through their resistances. By helping them find solutions for issues that would otherwise force the kids to drop out, a small revolution was happening.
As a friend of hers, as well as a donor, I know that while this has been her greatest passion, it did not come without personal sacrifice. Regardless, her passion and dedication has never waned. Now she has a 100% local team and they work with over 300 children in 200 families. The entire team shares her passion for the work.
I’ve been a consistent supporter, both financially and with my time for over 20 years.No other charitable organization has held my loyalty for as long. This is due to:
Their Efficiency: EI’s efficient and prudent use of funds. I feel that each dollar I give has a greater impact on the world than if I’d given it somewhere else.
Their Target: Educating children multiplies efforts and dollars over time. It can change the entire arc of their lives, and their families’ lives, and the lives of their future family members.
Their Success: Students are graduating from college who come from families and communities where no one has graduated high school before.
Their Community-Based Approach: Built into the program is a culture of giving back. Older students tutor and lead activity groups for their younger peers. They learn the joy of giving back while also cultivating leadership and life skills. EI works intensely with the parents. With parental buy in, it’s much easier to take the kids to their fullest potential. Indeed, there was an unexpected result from this work. Some of the parents have returned to school themselves. One single mother had only a third grade education yet she became so inspired that she is now in her last year of high school.
The People: I’ve met many of the staff members and they are truly dedicated and passionate about kids and creating opportunities for kids to work to achieve all that they can. It’s catching.
The Kids: I’ve met them, seen them on FB, and in videos. The kids are eager to learn, eager to improve themselves if given the opportunity. Not a hand-out but a hand up.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing and impactful organization.
by Charlie Partee, donor, volunteer, and board member.
Click to sponsor FRAN
7 years old,
2nd Grade, 8 years Old