Sunday, January 5, 2014

Visit to Cusmapa... and an Update!

Three and a half years have gone by all too fast, and returning to Cusmapa felt like just a long weekend away. As Father Ken would say about college, so must be true for life in general... long days and short years. I found myself yelling a quick "Adios!" to old friends I passed on the street feeling as though I had seen them yesterday, before realizing those short years meant catching up was in order. The only hint that so much time had gone by came from recounting what we had all been up to during those years, and of course seeing children who in my mind were still so young, but in reality are entering young adulthood. One thing, however, remains the same: Cusmapa still feels like home.

Before I get too sentimental, I have some updates on a few of the children who have been featured on this blog.

Let's start with Fatima Mendez, whose mother had died from a kidney illness that she inherited. Here she is in May 2009.

On the way to her house, we bumped into her and her younger sister, Arlen. They both seemed to be doing well. Fatima said she has not had any kidney issues recently and remains in school and in the Fabretto program. Her father was out of town at work, but her family's home just outside of Cusmapa seems to have come a long way since I was last there.

I also went down to Angel 1 to catch up with the Fatima pictured below, who had been severely malnourished.

Unfortunately she had wandered off, though my old partner in crime Bayardo and I did have a nice chat with her mother about the importance of education. Fatima's health has improved, but she has not been going to class. She is now fifteen and, according to her mother, entitled to her own life decisions. We hope she returns to school. Her family is pictured below in front of their house, which Canterbury should remember.

On that same trip to the communities, Bayardo and I made it to Carrizo to check on Martin, who was among the first children I worked with. You may remember the tumor in his spine that was essentially strangling and paralyzing him, and his courageous recovery that led him to walk again, thanks in large part to his dedicated parents. Sadly, he was also out of the house. In fact, he was out working with his dad, a good sign considering all he has overcome.

Martin returning home from the hospital in 2009

Luckily, I was able to call Martin, and he was happy to come up to Cusmapa the next morning before I headed out. Martin, now 15, has shown what determination and a supportive family can accomplish. He just graduated from primary school and is starting high school (through Fabretto's SAT rural education program) this year. He is a committed student, is active, and provided a nice example for Fatima's family. While Martin cannot do heavy work in the fields, he helps his father and family as best he can. Many people were excited to tell me how much he had grown. 

We are pictured below in Cusmapa with his father, who also made trek up the mountain for the visit.

Walking Dec 2009

Walking Dec 2013

And, of course, there is Gabriel. For those unfamiliar, Gabriel was severely malnourished from a very early age, basically clinging to life. His mother is mentally handicapped and a family in Cusmapa, Tona and Santos, adopted both him and his mother. They have both been staying at the home ever since. When I left, Gabriel was around five and doing much better than when I met him, but malnutrition had taken its toll on his cognitive development, and he still was not talking.

 Gabriel in 2010

While Gabriel's development is still delayed, he has made a great deal of progress. He is talking... actually, he is constantly talking. He has some go-to phrases, but it's marked improvement. He runs errands for the family. In fact, if his family takes their eyes off him for a second, he tends to go on an excursion. Luckily he finds his way home, though it does make Tona uneasy. They still find him entertaining and loveable, if a bit mischievous. Tona mentioned that he is passing his classes, not so much due to his mastering of the material as his enthusiasm. At around 8 years old, he has come a long way, and it is amazing to see how Tona and her family have taken him and his mother in. He is truly another success story.

 Gabriel and his adoptive sister Yadira

Gabriel and Tona


Though two days went fast, it was great to catch up with friends and see the kids in person. I am glad to see them doing so well. Thanks to all who helped along the way.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Adios from the field

Hello all,
First, I would like to thank everyone who has helped with the Special Cases Program. There have been many. Thanks to you, we have reached dozens of children and brought attention to a neglected problem.

Now the sad news. After three years working for Fabretto in Nicaragua, I am headed back to the US. I will be starting a program in the fall at the University of North Carolina (specifically an MPH in Health Behavior/Health Education). I love working in health, especially among disadvantaged populations, and hope that this will help me do a better job.

Fear not, however! The works goes on! In addition to the wonderful staff at Fabretto, which includes doctors, health promoters and health coordinators, we have a new volunteer who will take over many of the responsibilities of the Special Health Cases Program. Matt Wesley, a Fulbright scholar whose focus is water and health, has agreed to look after Gabriel, Fatima and others, as well as take on new cases. Hopefully he will be updating this blog too!

So, again, thank you all for you help and support. I know we've accomplished some great things, and I'm happy to see that this program has developed a level of sustainability hard to imagine a year ago.

Mike Zelek

Gabriel's Adoptive family receives freezer

Although Tona and Santos, who have taken in Gabriel and his mother, give generously to their home's newest residents, money is tight. Santos has been without a job for weeks after the store for which he worked selling ice cream stopped selling it. In order to help the family and give Santos a steady source of work, we purchased a freezer for Santos, graciously funded by Tin Roof Foundation ( Now, the ice cream business is in Santos' hands, offering bigger profits and responsibility. Another family in town has agreed to leave the freezer in their house, as the electricity in Santos' house is not adequate. We hope that, with the generated income, Santos will be able to provide for his household's many member.

Oh, and we chipped in for the first batch of ice cream too. Yum!

Final Faces

Shots from trip to the communities today while dropping off some goods.

Martin (left) in front of house; Anselmo (middle) plays with doctor toy; Fatima (right) has a new haircut

Anselmo with siblings (left); Fatima with family (right)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fabretto Cusmapa Volunteer: Margarita

Using the same funding that helped Justina and other volunteer mothers, Margarita now has running water in her house! She is very appreciative of Fabretto's work and donor's support, expressing gratitude for not having to walk daily to a well to get water. Margarita and the 4 other women who received help to improve their homes are all thankful for the help they received, and we are happy to have been able to better their living conditions.

Margarita at Fabretto center (left); New pipe connecting Margarita's house to the water line

Fabretto Cusmapa Volunteer: Justina

Justina Cadena, a mother in Cusmapa who volunteers daily at the center making tortillas, recently received 5 zinc sheets to build a roof for her new house. Justina is in the process of acquiring other materials for her house and this zinc, the most expensive part, will help her greatly.

This donation was made possible using the same funding that has helped the other volunteers improve their homes.

Justina at Fabretto Center, Cusmapa

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Midyear Report

To inform you of the children with which we've worked this year and all the work we've done so far, I've created a midyear report. In this, you will find a breakdown of most of the cases, what the funds have been used on and a couple profiles of individual children (probably very familiar to those who read the blog). Feel free to check it out at the link below!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Blankets and more!

A quick summary of recent events (pictures to come):
-6 blankets were handed out to expecting/new mothers in the maternity ward in Cusmapa
-5 mothers who volunteer in the Fabretto center in Cusmapa received funds to improve their homes thanks to a kind donation
-3 women received roofs
-1 woman now has running water in her house
-1 woman has a local store, a bed and will hopefully have a new house
-Gabriel bounced back from a bout with diarrhea and is back to his giddy ways
-A rainwater catchment system is being installed in the Fabretto center
-Students from St Matthew's School in New Jersey installed sinks in the Fabretto center. Now, students will have a place to wash their hands before lunch.

Thanks to all those who helped!

Friday, July 2, 2010


Sayra is responsible for making tortillas for 300 children and teachers in the Fabretto center. Because she is a young, single mother, she has trouble making ends meet at home. She lives with her parents, though her father often comes home drunk at night and kicks her and her son out of the house. Furthermore, her sister Janet is extremely sick, suffering from a lung infections for the past year. She recently was released from the hospital and returned to Cusmapa.

Sayra's sister's child is also anemic and so I've decided to include them all in the special health cases program.

Recently, we helped purchase fortified milk for Janet, who could not eat solid foods. We have also funded a shop (pictured below) to help them earn money to build their own house. Combining the money they earn from the store with the kind donation for volunteers, we will be close to having enough money to build Sayra, Janet and their children a house. We also gave Sayra a mattress for her and her son.

Sayra's bed in her parent's house (left); Sayra poses in front of store (right)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Alba Luz and Ermelinda

Alba helps out in the kitchen at the Fabretto center, assisting with food preparation and cleaning. Ermelinda is in charge of cleaning the entire center, including the office and bathrooms. Together, they are incredibly important to the daily operations of the center. However, since both live on very little and have multiple children, it is difficult for them to pay for home repairs.

Thanks to the donation mentioned below, both women received 5 zinc sheets for their roofs. These will be very useful this rainy season as both women complained of large amounts of water entering their homes. We are happy to serve these women and their families!

Alba Luz with 2 of her daughters (left); Ermelinda poses in her house (right)

Part of Alba Luz's roof was in need of repairs (left); The two women with daughters and new zinc