By Amanda Sadie
My husband Jacques and I have spent the last six months living in Nicaragua, working for World Orphans. We have learned a lot, witnessed much, prayed hard, listened often and asked a lot of questions.
About half of Nicaragua’s population lives in poverty (earning less than $2 a day) and one in five live in extreme poverty (IMF, 2010). This number hasn’t shown marked improvement over the years. Public policy, traditionally favoring the small elite class, along with low levels of technological progress, poor education and health programs, inappropriate natural resource development, a number of natural disasters, and recent global recessions have all factored into what some say is an increase in poverty.
Nicaragua doesn’t have the highest orphan population in the traditional sense of the word. The country hasn’t been as affected by AIDS as many African countries. But economic, political, natural and culture factors leave many children in Nicaragua vulnerable to abandonment when the family doesn’t have enough money to provide for them. Sometimes, children are forced into child labor so that their earnings can help support their family. Many of these children will be kidnapped or lured into the sex trafficking industry. (Nicaragua is a principle ‘supplier’ of trafficked children.)
While a child’s parents are walking the streets trying to sell copied CDs or perfume, or digging through the area landfill to see what’s sellable, the child is left alone - vulnerable to accidents, house fires, or to the abuse of people from the neighborhood. Many children are forced to work or beg instead of going to school.
In our travels to different neighborhoods around Nicaragua we’ve seen many of these children. We’ve seen a tiny four-year-old carrying around her baby brother while her mother and older siblings worked in the landfill. We’ve seen a child who suffers from epilepsy have a seizure on the street while alone and not medicated. We’ve met seven-year-olds who spend the day selling candy, gum and cigarettes in street markets. We’ve heard of an eight-year-old boy being sexually violated by gang members who found him alone in the streets. We’ve seen the scars of a four-year-old who's mosquito net caught fire and burned most of his body when he was left alone by his mother. We’ve watched as small children juggle at the traffic lights and then beg for money hoping to have some to take home to their families.
One church in a poor neighborhood, strongly affected by crime in the capital city of Managua, has a response to caring for the vulnerable children in their community. The pastor and his family at Verbo Sur wanted to open a Child Development Center - a place where children could come while their parents were at work, a place where they would be safe and cared for, where they would get an important head start on learning, and learn about Christ’s love for them. Through a partnership with World Orphans the Child Development Center at Verbo Sur opened at the beginning of September.
Yesterday we visited the center to see how it was going after being open for a few weeks. The teachers were full of smiles, and told us they already see the fruit of their labor. They see the children stop crying and become accustomed to being at the center; they see children begin to break out of their shells, to hear them talk and laugh; they dance together, paint together, read together, and pray together. As they told me about the kids being kids – running around the room or fighting over the crayons - the teachers' smiles remained, their love for the children and for the Kingdom work they’re involved in very apparent.
We feel blessed to be in Nicaragua and to witnesses not only the poverty, but also the love of Christ being preached loudly through the Church’s love for the children in their communities.