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More than 12,000 hurricane refugees were transported here, we were told, and each family was given a tiny plot of bare land and some black plastic sheeting for a home

Weston Benedictine Monks
Journey to Nicaragua
Winter Retreat, 2001

Sandino City: Finding 'New Life'
in the midst of extreme poverty

(ONE OF A SERIES )

A view of Ciudad Sandino
A view of Ciudad Sandino

NUEVA VIDA: The sisters tell us that we are to visit Nueva Vida in Ciudad Sandino. That sounds good. Sandino is a beloved hero of the poor, and "Nueva Vida" translates as "New Life."

But the sisters have warned us, "the people are poor," and indeed we are about to find poverty that would be unimaginable back in Vermont.

In the years following the great earthquake of 1972, which destroyed more than three-quarters of the buildings in Managua, countless thousands were relocated to this area on the western edge of the city, a dozen or so kilometers from the capitol.

Ciudad Sandino, now approaching 150,000 population, has grown to have many times the number of people it was prepared to support, and, especially after the influx in 1998, the poverty, hunger and unemployment has reached terrible levels.

More than 12,000 hurricane refugees were transported here, we were told, and each family was given a tiny plot of bare land and some black plastic sheeting for a home.

It was here, under the worst of conditions, that they would attempt to start a new life.

We turn a dusty corner, abruptly plunge down a dirt road into a dry riverbed and pass by a dump where a small boy is picking in the garbage. The bus goes up the opposite bank and there a sign meets us: "Welcome to Nueva Vida."

Nueva Vida
A view of Nueva Vida

Now, through a fence, we can see a grid of dirt roads with concrete block houses and galvanized metal roofs.

At the gate, a security guard, hired by the directors of Nueva Vida as protection from robbers, drug dealers and local gangs, checks us through. Inside, so much is happening -- it's a world unto itself!

We are given a tour through each area. Nicely plastered and brightly colored buildings house a health clinic, a day-care center, a primary school, a bakery and a co-op store for food, clothes, and personal needs.

A community of sisters from Colombia and a group of lay people direct and manage the project, and many good people from different parts of the world have had a hand in contributing to this "new life."

We pass through the busy day-care center, but when we get to the classrooms, they are empty. It is vacation time, and classes for children of the area will resume in another week.

at the health clinic
A Colombian sister, the directress of Nueva Vida, and a doctor
at the health clinic, with Brothers Augustine and Peter

A young woman doctor and one of the Colombian sisters speak with us at the health clinic. They tell us of the shortage of medical supplies and the enormous health problems due to malnutrition and lack of hygiene in the surrounding settlement.

Next: Nueva Vida: A visit to the bakery

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