photo of water tank


It is very difficult to obtain even the most common medications that are found in North American pharmacies.

Weston Benedictine Monks
Journey to Nicaragua
Winter Retreat, 2001

San Nicolas de Oriente:
Health care & planting practices


SAN NICOLAS -- The sisters are eager for us to see the town of San Nicolas and to meet more of the people. Since the town is small, it is easy to go on foot. Small groups of men are chatting in front of the few stores. In the early morning, a few young boys drive a herd of big horned cattle down the street to pasture.

Houses are mostly one-story block dwellings; many were built since the Hurricane and floods. Rarely is there a building of wood. While there is no sign of wealth, the homes are neat and simple.

We stop at a place of special interest, the Parish Pharmacy. It faces one of the main streets, a short walk from the church. Its walls, inside and out, are of freshly painted plaster. We enter through a plain wooden door.

inside the pharmacy
Inside the Pharmacia Parochial

The first room has metal shelves along the walls. Neatly displayed are the rather meager supplies of medicines available. The friendly woman who is tending the store explains that it is very difficult to obtain even the most common medications that are found in North American pharmacies. On the floor in the center of the room are several sacks of rice, beans, and millet for sale in bulk.

Exploring an adjoining room, we discover an assortment of items of clothing. Prominent are the ever-present baseball caps with North American names. And there are racks of shirts, pants and women's clothing. Most of the articles for sale are second-hand and inexpensive.

Attached to the rear of the pharmacy is a small cinder block addition that houses the health clinic. The room is bare except for a cot, a table and a chair. We are introduced to a serious, friendly, and gentle young man who is the 'Doctor' of the clinic.

Juancito is soft-spoken, a little shy, but eager to share his experience in the health clinic. He acquired the name Juancito (the endearing diminutive name for 'John') when, as a little boy, he traveled from village to village with his Uncle Juan, who practiced natural medicine.

From his uncle he learned of medicinal herbs and how to diagnose ailments by traditional methods. He offers his services at a nominal fee, and with the aid of one of the women parishioners, he carries on the work of his deceased uncle.

Earlier that same morning, Juancito was feeding the chickens in the back yard of the sisters house, and helping out with other chores. He lives at a considerable distance from San Nicolas and comes twice a week on horseback to work at the clinic. The sisters offer him food and lodging in exchange for his assistance around the house.
Juancito on horseback, with brothers
Juancito, with Brother Peter, center,
and Brother Patricio

In the yard behind the clinic are a few trees and an herb garden. We bring out chairs and visit with another young man with an engaging and cheerful personality. Augusto is the single parent of two little girls and is a trained agronomist. He is articulate and enthusiastic about his work with the peasant farmers of the area.

Augusto, with Sister Otilia
Augusto, with Sister Otilia
From Augusto we get a view of the problems of the peasants who try to make a living in this difficult land and climate.

He explains the need for building earth barriers and establishing planting practices that prevent erosion when there is heavy rainfall.

He describes the few grain crops that can survive the times of severe drought.

Augusto speaks of previous practices that have depleted the fertility of the soil, like 'slashing and burning' after harvests and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

In spite of many obstacles, he says, he has begun to see some progress and change taking root among the peasant farmers in the area.

Next: A big step in cooperation

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