Thursday, December 10, 2009

La Tienda de Esperanza

The First "Order" for León's HIV/AIDS Self Help Group

Five of the last six years I have found my way to Nicaragua, the largest and poorest country in Central America. What started as a research project as a sophomore at Fairfield University turned into a self conceived summer internship that changed the path of my life. This larger story of transformation and discernment will be featured in a piece I am putting together for What I want to get across (less than 10 hours from my flight) is why I am returning this time.

My summer internship in Nicaragua introduced me to a world I had not personally known. One of the projects I was assigned to work with was logistical and planning support for the city of León’s first ever HIV/AIDS self help group. I had never known anyone with HIV/AIDS let alone work with someone. Yet, on my first day at work I was brought to the hospital to meet María, the catalyst behind forming a group. María’s struggle to triumph is one I featured at my World AIDS Day presentation last week at Fairfield University. It merits its own entry and will be saved for another day.

A year after first meeting María her dream of the first ever HIV/AIDS self help group became a reality. They received a grant from a German non-governmental organization that officially cemented a joint HIV/AIDS self help group that bridged to cities in Nicaragua’s Occident region. From three individuals the tally at the inauguration, which I attended, was near 35 members. Within the last year the group has grown to 70 and started “Tienda de Esperanza” (The Hope Shop). It is an income generation project that addresses a major human and development need – a job.

I have been keeping tabs on the HIV group. Last March when I acted as a field aide for the research team from Fairfield University I brought students to meet the group members and, of course, become customers. I myself bought a few colorful bracelets that my sister wears all the time. Handmade with multiple colors and metal designs I know the bracelets are catchy enough to the eye. Yet the relatively new shop has had some difficulty building a market given their non-touristy location. Therefore, I have started the wheels turning on the first commissioned order for a product made by the group.

It is a process and learning experience for both myself and the HIV/AIDS group, but the final product will be sold at my speaking engagements. It will be a great connection since María and the group are often featured in my examples of individuals and groups creating hope in their community against seemingly endless odds. I look forward to sharing photos and videos of the process these coming weeks.

No comments: