By Pablo Jaime Sainz
When Dorothy Granada arrived in Nicaragua 18 years ago, the country was torn due to the Civil War and the recent disater caused by a hurricane.
Although she had planned to stay in the Central American country for just two years to help build a health clinic, she settled in the small rural community of Mulukuku until this day, where she is director of the Maria Luisa Ortiz Clinic, which is part of a women’s cooperative that provides social and health services to the poor.
Granada, 74, was in San Diego last Wednesday, April 13, at an event called “Hope and Inspiration: Women Making a Difference in Nicaragua.”
There, she described her work in Mulukuku.
“The community is rural, very poor, suffering the sequelae of a prolonged war,” said Granada, who’s a Chicana/Filipina who was born in Los Angeles. “The clinic is part of the Maria Luisa Ortiz Women’s Cooperative. The Cooperative is an effort by organized campesinas who had nothing except a dream to survive with a dignified life by identifying and trying to respond to the needs of poor campesinas like themselves. All the work is made possible by solidarity and friends who help.”
In her 18 years in Mulukuku, Granada has seen the devastation that war has caused in Nicaragua, especially among the poor, women, and children. She told a story about how the clinic’s work has changed the lives of many residents of the area.
“The Contra/Sandinista war ended in 1990, but in our remote area, the war continued with bands of former contras terrorizing the countryside and threatening and killing Sandinistas,” said Granada, who received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Los Angeles State College. “Our Cooperative is Sandinista and we were the only health service serving the poor. The right wing forces that wanted all trace of the Revolution destroyed continually threatened our Cooperative.
“One day, a few years ago a man came to our door. Patients waiting fled because they recognized the man as a particularly violent contra leader and the patients thought we were being attacked. I saw the man in consultation. He had a Sandinista bullet in his head and was in continuous pain.
“ I told him he would have to see a neurologist in Matagalpa (a city 8 hours away)for evaluation. He told me he was afraid to leave the community for fear of being arrested or killed.
“Members of the staff and I took him for several visits to the neurologist. He began to trust us and brought his family for care.
“A few years later, in 1998 there was a rumor that an ex-contra band was coming to kill several Sandinista leaders and me.
“Our ex-contra patient heard of this plan, found the camp and told the group that they should not kill us because ‘These are the only people taking care of our families.’”
Although the Maria Luisa Ortiz Clinic now offers different health services, such as reproductive health, mental services, and community pediatrics, the beginnings of the cooperative were difficult, Granada said.
The clinic has grown thanks to the help received from “brigadas” of doctors, nurses, and medical students from the United States.
“The Cooperative’s largest program is the clinic that serves women and children and a few men; three legal offices to assist in the protection of women and children against violence and to gain justice; many workshops in gender sensitivity, human, legal, and civic rights, organizing and nonviolence,” she said.
Granada’s own experience growing up made her realize that there are many people out there who need a helping hand.
“As a Chicana/Filipina growing up in Los Angeles in a poor community, I was always aware of racism and classicism,” recalls Granada, who’s father is Filipino and mother is second generation Mexican-American. “I worked hard to get an education and be accepted in the dominant, anglo culture. Once there instead of being content that I had ‘arrived,’ my awareness of abandoning and leaving behind my people grew. I then began making choices to resist racism, dominance and violence.”
Surviving war, hurricane floods, and political repression, the residents of Mulukuku have rebuilt their homes, established schools, a furniture factory, a legal office, a community/cultural center, a clinic and they are still building.
There are many ways people can help the Maria Luisa Ortiz Cooperative, Granada said.
“Giving money to keep the service going, organizing a health team or a work team and come down. All work against the cruel international (especially the U.S. government) economic policies that exclude the poor from life. Work against the Central American Freee Trade Agreement and other measures that exclude the poor,” she said.