Succoring the “sick men” of Nicaragua: Vision Nicaragua

There’s a long-standing relationship between Christian evangelism and providing material aid. Vision Nicaragua does both, attending to the spiritual needs of several Nicaraguan communities while also supplying shelter, medical aid and financial support.

Setting up shop: Asheville electrician Scott Bruns (center) teaches Nicaraguans Marlon and Melvin (seated) some basic electrical principles, with Carlos, a local translator, standing by. Photo courtesy Douglas Van Wirt

The group was formed in 1998, after Hurricane Mitch unleased severe flooding there and in Honduras, but what began as a response to a single tragedy turned into an extended aid campaign once the organizers got a firsthand look at local conditions.

Vision Nicaragua started out erecting wooden houses in villages where many people were living in dire conditions, some with only plastic sheeting for shelter. After that, the group moved on to building concrete-block houses in Bethel, a small refugee village two hours noth of the capital city of Managua.

But over the past 10 years, Vision Nicaragua has pursued a far more ambitious mission: caring for the men who toil in the sugar-cane fields and trying to improve their working and living conditions. The cane fields provide the only work in the area, and pesticide use has led to a high rate of kidney failure, sometimes in men as young as 20, says spokesperson Val Mydske. And when the laborers get too sick to work, they’re let go. Dubbed the “sick men,” they’re simply left to die.

“There’s no [cure] for it,” says Mydske. “But we can at least make the last years of their lives more comfortable.”

Besides providing medicine and housing for the men, Vision Nicaragua bought a parcel of land in Bethel and has since developed several businesses there—a used-clothing store, a bicycle-repair shop and a concrete-block factory—to give villagers other job options.

Vision Nicaragua volunteers make at least six trips a year to Central America, and the group provides financial support to 350 students, 60 “sick men” and 20 widows of cane workers. But finding sponsors, notes Mydske, is getting tougher during the current economic slump.

To that end, Christian radio station 106.9 The Light (the radio arm of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) has conducted an on-air fundraiser the last two years that put $100,000 in Vision Nicaragua’s coffers in 2008. In addition, a fundraising dinner is planned for Sunday, Feb. 22, at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Vision Nicaragua is not affiliated with the Graham organization, though some of its volunteers work at The Cove.

“We just keep plugging away,” says Mydske.

Info: Vision Nicaragua, P.O. Box 2172, Fairview NC 28730 (628-1444;


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