Living with Disabilities in Nicaragua
According to Global Health studies, approximately 12.5% of children under the age of 14 have some form of disability in Nicaragua but only 3.5% of children between six and 16 years of age are enrolled in a special education program.
Between 10 and 15% of the population of Nicaragua suffers from some form of disability (Mont, 2007 Center for International Rehabilitation) or conditions brought on by deficiencies in prenatal care due to the limited medical resources during and following pregnancy, particularly among the poor. People with disabilities are often isolated, stigmatized, and deprived of education, healthcare, rehabilitation therapies, and job training and opportunities. Within Nicaragua, health literacy surrounding disability is low and there is a shortage of children’s services that address functional and social needs and provide early detection of infant disabilities. In a study made in 2015 it was estimated that 70% of disabled children in Nicaragua have no father in their lives, making the mother’s responsibilities heavy and more difficult.
Slowly, however, Nicaraguan attitudes toward people with disabilities are changing. Even though some governmental programs and private initiatives exist, they only reach a very small part of the population with disabilities.
The Samaritan Program was founded in March 2010 on Ometepe Island by four volunteers. They all had professional backgrounds in therapy and started working with local children with disabilities, most of whom had never received any specialized care before.
After moving the main home of NPH Nicaragua to the mainland, the physical and occupational therapists decided to stay on the island in order to continue providing support to the children with disabilities and their families.
Currently, the program supports 45 children on the island and 16 on the mainland. The medical and special care they receive helps improve their autonomy in their daily lives. Activities include – physical therapy and occupational therapy, home visits, visits to schools and integration of patients in schools, urgently needed transportation, medicine and medical supplies (such as belly tubes), appointments and exams with specialists, and prenatal and postnatal classes for pregnant teens and adults.
Our doctor also visits the program in Ometepe Island once a month to follow-up with medications, check-ups and any needs the children and their families have. We are still facing some challenges and difficulties in the program; however, the achievements have been incredible. The community acceptance of the work the program does is growing.
Program participants are included in internal NPH activities like the anniversary celebration as well as Casa Samaritano activities (Mother’s Day, Day of the Child, Christmas). They get very excited for the activities and, because the families do not have many resources, they enjoy being able to get a break from their daily life and do something special.
During the last few years we realized that our surrounding communities near Carazo were lacking a program like the Samaritano, and some of the children who attend our school have a family member with a disability and through our field visits we noticed the need in the area. For 2021 we would love to serve more children with disabilities in our main home who come from the surrounding communities. Our approach is based on the transformative Programs which make use of the existing infrastructure and resources to strengthen the areas of early education and therapeutic care and procure attention to these children with disabilities in order to improve their quality of life. We are also projecting 4 more children for 2021 to be part of our program.
For this reason, we restored and refurbished a building on the grounds of Casa Padre Wasson that will have the necessary accommodations to provide specialized attention. We are still in need of the acquisition of furniture, accessories, and the equipment of mechanotherapy in this new spot. We are using many of the resources that we already have, including our doctor and social worker.
Our program includes a psychologist and one physiotherapist at Ometepe Island and one more physiotherapist at our main home; our doctor who travels once a month to Ometepe Island and will also supervise the new members and a social worker who coordinates the program.