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Quincy Herald-Whig: Medical mission finds suffering, gratitude in Nicaragua

EXTRACT: Silva said more than 12,000 former workers and residents in areas near the banana plantations are in litigation in courts in the United States, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Colombia, with U.S. companies accused of manufacturing, selling and spraying Nemagon, even though its perils were known since 1958. The product was banned in the United States in 1979. The litigants are claiming a total of nearly $17 billion in reparations against food industry corporations such as Dole Food Co., Chiquita Brands and Del Monte, and against Shell Oil, Dow Chemical and Occidental Chemical, the petrochemical companies that manufacture the pesticide, Silva said.

THE ARTICLE

Sunday, November 25, 2007
By Kelly Wilson

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Marianne Adams and Celeste Eaton offered kind smiles as they checked temperatures and blood pressures of people who waited patiently — some for hours — to be seen by a doctor.

The two were part of a nine-member medical mission team that spent the first week of November serving the poor in the Central American country of Nicaragua.

“When I looked in the eyes of the Nicaraguan people we served, I saw the gratitude for the few minutes we spent holding their hands, listening to their stories, treating their ills and giving them a hug or a prayer,” Adams said. “It certainly gives one a lesson in humility.”

The mission team, sponsored by First Presbyterian Church in Quincy, included members of various faiths. Members provided assistance to the Rev. Esteban Park, a Korean Presbyterian missionary who has been serving the people of Nicaragua and Costa Rica for the past 18 years.

In Nicaragua, where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line, Park has focused his ministry in the capital city of Managua and in rural villages such as Tecuaname and Santa Rosa.

Park scheduled five medical clinics for the team, and about 850 people were seen in those five days.

Jairo Cortez, who lives in La Paz Centro, the site of one of the clinics, served as one of the team’s translators. He said that most of the people the team served cannot afford medical care.

“If they live in the rural areas, they don’t have a (medical card) from the government, or if they have it, they have only the medical consultation, but they don’t get the medicine for free. They just get the prescription, and they have to buy it on their own,” Cortez said. “The same thing happens in the city.”

‘The … trip really enriched my soul’

Adams, of Pleasant Hill, and Eaton, of Quincy, were the first faces the people of Nicaragua saw during the clinics. They were responsible for checking them in, getting basic medical information and sending them to one of the team’s physicians — Dr. Ayca Raif of Barry, a pediatrician; Dr. John Scott of Quincy, who specializes in internal medicine; and Dr. Larry Davis of Quincy, a family practice physician.

Then, the patients got medications — Tylenol, vitamins, parasite medications, antibiotics or other drugs — from Dr. Mark Khil of Quincy, who was assisted by Kelly Wilson and Elaine Wallace, both of Quincy.

The Rev. Rod Bakker, pastor of First Presbyterian Church and the team’s spiritual leader, prayed with the people.

“The Nicaragua mission trip really enriched my soul,” Adams said. “It made me realize how truly blessed I am and reiterated the need to give back at a time in my life when I can.

“What a great group to spend a week of my life with,” she added. “The docs were wonderful in the way they treated each and every person with the respect and dignity every human deserves and everyone else gave what talents we could muster to minister to the people.”

Scott said that the most common problems the doctors saw were parasites, heartburn, arthritis and low back pain, headaches, colds and urinary tract infections.

Just as important as the medical care, the team showed the Nicaraguan people in whatever way they could — a gentle touch, a tender word, a fervent prayer — that they weren’t forgotten.

‘They are suffering’

The children and adults at each location touched the team members’ hearts. But perhaps the most memorable day was when the team witnessed about 3,000 people living in a makeshift camp across from government buildings in Managua, their shelter nothing more than black plastic, cardboard and tree branches.

The people, victims of Nemagon, a toxic pesticide used on banana plantations in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, are protesting in the capital city, demanding a government response to their health needs.

More than 260 people stood in the hot sun, waiting to be seen by the medical team, which set up a clinic outside the home of Pastor Pedro Antonio Mairena. His home is directly across from “Nemagon City,” a park that covers four city blocks where the protesters live.

Mairena said the protest has been going on for about 15 years.

“Many are sick,” he said, with the Rev. Esteban Kim of New York translating Mairena’s Spanish into English. “The most they need is food. They are suffering from malnutrition. Also medical services … also clothing.”

Mairena gave a member of the Quincy team a recently published book, written by Jose Adan Silva with photographs by Manuel Esquivel, that tells the story of the protesters’ plight.

Silva, in an August 2007 article published online by globalinfo.org, a daily news service of the developing world, said that exposure to Nemagon is considered to be a risk factor for cancer, chronic kidney failure, acute respiratory disease, heart attacks, sterility, muscular atrophy, skin complaints and internal bleeding.

About 2,000 people already have died from illnesses linked to the pesticide, Silva said.

Silva said more than 12,000 former workers and residents in areas near the banana plantations are in litigation in courts in the United States, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Colombia, with U.S. companies accused of manufacturing, selling and spraying Nemagon, even though its perils were known since 1958. The product was banned in the United States in 1979.

The litigants are claiming a total of nearly $17 billion in reparations against food industry corporations such as Dole Food Co., Chiquita Brands and Del Monte, and against Shell Oil, Dow Chemical and Occidental Chemical, the petrochemical companies that manufacture the pesticide, Silva said.

According to CNNMoney.com, on Nov. 15 in Los Angeles, a jury in a lawsuit against Dole awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages to five workers who said they were made sterile by use of the pesticide. On Nov. 7, the Superior Court jury awarded $3.3 million in actual damages to six workers. The jury’s finding that Dole acted maliciously in harming five of the six allowed punitive damages to be considered for the five.

The case is the first of five lawsuits involving at least 5,000 agricultural workers from Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama who claim they were left sterile after being exposed to Nemagon.

Silva said that in Nicaragua, government leaders appear to be ignoring the plight of the protesters.

‘Best day of my life’

Members of the Quincy medical mission team were angered by what they saw in Nemagon City but also were inspired by the lives of those they served.

“I think that in a way, that was the best day of my life,” Scott said shortly after the clinic wrapped up.

The other mission team members had similar reactions.

“Being poor without much luxury, yet happy, the genuine smile shining on each person’s face reminds me of the unfathomable love, mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ, who came to the world to feed the people in hunger, quench the thirst with his living water and heal the sick with various illnesses,” Khil said.

Khil also was touched by the people’s desire for prayer.

After they were seen by a doctor and received medicine, each patient who desired it was prayed for — in three languages at once. Bakker prayed in English, while other pastors prayed in Spanish and Korean.

“It touched my heart deeply, and I felt goosebumps on my whole body,” said Khil, who was distributing medications just feet from where the pastors prayed. “The prayers resonated like the thunder from the heaven.”
‘He gives so selflessly’
First Presbyterian Church sends medical mission teams to Nicaragua and Costa Rica each year and has provided financial support for Park’s ministry. The trip this month was the fourth time a team from Quincy has traveled to Nicaragua.

Park has worked tirelessly to establish churches and to find ways to improve the lives of the poor in these locations. He brings in mission teams from throughout the U.S. on a regular basis.

The Quincy mission team was joined by missionaries from Arizona, California, Michigan and New York who also support Park’s ministry. Park brought all the teams together for the dedication of a seminary he has built.

He hopes to open the seminary next year.

Khil says Park is focused on educating and training future spiritual leaders. In addition to the seminary, Park also has established an arrangement with Martin Luther King Jr. University in Managua to support half of a student’s tuition, with the other half coming in the form of a scholarship from the university.

Adams, who says the mission trip was rewarding on a number of fronts, was grateful for the opportunity to meet Park.

“I am in awe of his dedication and faith, and the support, both physical and spiritual, he gives so selflessly to the poor and discarded,” Adams said. “It is just amazing.

“Would I go back? … In a heartbeat,” she said. “I would consider it an honor to be able to serve again.”

Contact Staff Writer Kelly Wilson at [email protected]
or (217) 221-3391
 
http://www.whig.com/314558922319510.php

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