Love and Pain

After spending the summer volunteering for the Honduran Red Cross blood program, I knew that I would return to Central America sooner or later. Daily encounters there challenged me, taught me, and delighted me unlike anything I had experienced in the course of normal Los Angeles life.

As luck would have it, it would only be another four weeks before I was able to return to Central America, this time spending the majority of my time in Nicaragua. Opting to take Spanish classes for the first half of the trip, I then tried to spend the last three weeks in a whirlwind tour. I did not have time to volunteer with the Red Cross but I did rub up against the organization several times. Seeing the Red Cross around the country and in the media, responding to local and national emergencies, helped to contrast the pain of life in Central America with the beauty and kindness of the people I met.

The first introduction I had to the Nicaraguan Red Cross was a short television interview, in which the head of the organization denied that when she stepped down her son would be running for her spot. My house family confirmed that the Nicaraguan Red Cross President publicly ran for the position.

In the colonial town of Granada, I luckily stumbled across the city’s Red Cross headquarters. The sign was half-hidden by a tree and the building itself was tucked behind a worn-out basketball court that was baking in the midday heat. There was little order in the building: a few volunteers were sweating inside, while the 22-year-old manager was energetically running in and out, oddly contrasting the tall weeds and broken boat, ambulance and bus that were sitting idly on the property. He worked long hours for a meager salary that barely allowed him to eat but it did not seem to bother him. After relating his background, he loved hearing about the American Red Cross and asked that a youth program send him a tee shirt in the future.

The organization received daily media coverage the entire time I was in Central America owing to massive flooding at the end of the rainy season (Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega declared a national state of emergency).

El Salvador
I saw a variety of Red Cross vehicles in San Salvador but that was not unusual. I do think it is worth mentioning that the Swiss flag was used to create both the Red Cross and the Green Cross. Having never heard about the organization, I was surprised to find Green Cross phone numbers on the second page of a popular daily newspaper. It was founded by Mikhail Gorbachev and provides assistance to people affected by the environmental consequences of human conflict.

While catching up with my former landlady and coworker from the summer, one of her staffers walked up to inform her that there were no more reagents for blood testing. Apparently her staff did not think to inform her until the moment before it would be a problem—and it takes six weeks to order to the reagents from Germany. The Friday work day was winding down, giving her only the weekend to beg her colleagues from around Central America to send reagents that would match the equipment she used to test.

I learn also that the Finnish Red Cross has not yet approved the grant proposal that we developed for Club 25. They will receive word sometime this month.

Home Again
I am back in Los Angeles these days and reflect fondly on my experiences climbing volcanoes, eating local food and meeting people to talk about their unique life and culture. However, underneath the glamour of being a tourist in these beautiful countries is the inevitable hardship of viewing abundant poverty and suffering. It is hard to fully appreciate or cope with the scale of the problem but it does provide some comfort knowing that the Red Cross is providing fundamental services to those in need.

Mat Morgan, California

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