One of the communities Manna Project works closely with is Villa Guadalupe, a fairly new neighborhood in northwest Managua. Before Villa Guadalupe was the barrio it is today, it was known as La Chureca, the largest open air landfill in Central America. The dump was closed by the Nicaraguan government, and the thousand or so people that lived there were relocated to Villa Guadalupe, along with another nearly 4,000 people displaced by floods in 2010. Although La Chureca is officially closed, many people still work illegally in the dump, mainly because they have no other option. Those who live in Villa Guadalupe face unemployment, food insecurity, and chronic malnutrition.
As an intern with Manna Project, I am in Villa Guadalupe a few days every week, building relationships with those in the community. Last week I met a woman named Ingrid and her four year old daughter, Stephanie, who is in Manna’s Child Sponsorship program. At first we talked on her doorstep and watched Stephanie gleefully play with the coloring pages we’d brought her. Ingrid was all smiles and warmth. After a few minutes, she invited us to walk through her house, into the back garden area. In the privacy of the backyard, she began to tell us about Stephanie’s severe malnutrition and her son’s headaches and vomiting. She had no money to buy nutritious foods or medicine for her twelve children. She began to cry as she asked us for help getting a job.
When we left, we discussed our options. We told Ingrid to take her son to the clinic Manna works with in Villa Guadalupe, and that we would talk with others to see what could be done. Ingrid’s problems are not uncommon in Villa Guadalupe. Over 80% of the residents who had their blood tested were anemic, and many children have trouble growing at healthy rates. Once a month Manna gives bags of beans and cartons of milk to the children in the Child Sponsorship program, which helps, but doesn’t solve the chronic malnutrition problem. One of the things I’m learning while working with Manna is that development is a long, slow process. We could bring Ingrid some food next week, but what about the week after, and the week after that? She wasn’t asking for a handout, she was asking for help to help herself.
It was so painful to walk away from Ingrid’s house knowing that there was nothing we could do right then and there to help her and that it would take thoughtful planning to help her get out of poverty. The reality of working with a nonprofit is often heartbreaking and hard, as I’m learning every day. Manna Project is doing good work in Villa Guadalupe with the Child Sponsorship program and jewelry cooperative, but results take a long time to see. I have learned so many things in my first month in Nicaragua, the biggest being patience.