I remember arriving at the Acahualinca Women’s Center in June, meeting Silvia, the nurse, and being blown away by her openness and dedication to serve the people of Acahualinca. I remember meeting Maria Elena and being at a loss for words upon hearing her story; her fight to start the clinic and keep it running over the years. I arrived at the clinic, prepared to begin conducting research for my senior thesis and prepared to take on the work at the clinic. I was still unsure about the exact topic that I was planning on researching and specific work that I would be undertaking, but I was ready to face whatever challenges came down the road. In this small clinic situated in one of Managua’s rougher neighborhoods, there was an entire group of women dedicated to giving the stigmatized a voice, the forgotten a name, and everyone the human right of leading a healthy life. It made me question what my own country was doing in the way of giving the underprivileged a voice and caring for their health, and I was excited to begin whatever it was that I would be doing in the clinic.
As the first day progressed, I remember being introduced to more of the women in the clinic, especially Raquel and Janet, who were the two health education and outreach promoters who would be supervising my work. After introducing me to the women in the clinic, they took me down the street to the Acahualinca Women´s Center Library next to the neighborhood preschool where I played with the children a little bit and talked to the teachers. They opened the library up and explained that when I wasn’t conducting research, I would be supervising the library and assisting children with their homework in the afternoon. Although I did not know exactly what I would be doing before the job began, I hadn’t expected that I would be working in the library down the street from the clinic for the summer. I was still excited to begin working, but slightly disgruntled to be apart from the clinic, where such independent and strong women were saving their community particularly in such a machismo/male dominated culture. I wanted to participate in their superwoman mission of saving the world through education and respect and wondered how I could channel the work of the women from the center into this small library down the road where I was working.
That afternoon many children came into the library asking for books and help with their homework. The preschool had closed earlier in the day and many of the students’ older siblings who lived nearby came in to study and prepare projects that their teachers had assigned. I was surprised when one girl in particular came up and asked for a book of poems by Rubén Darío, a celebrated Nicaraguan poet and the “Prince of Spanish Literature.” I was a little startled at the request, judging Darío’s works to be slightly out of her age range and beyond her reading level. I found the book “Azul,” which Darío began writing when he was 19 years old and handed it over. She left the library with the book, which I was unsure about, especially since it was my first day at work and people weren’t supposed to take books without checking them out. I was caught in a dilemma, but stopped myself from chasing after the girl and demanding the book back, which I’m sure would have made an even more memorable first day. I was relieved about an hour later when the girl returned with the book and thanked me. I asked her what homework she had been working on and she responded “It’s not homework, I just like to read poetry.” She proceeded in reading to me her favorite poem that she had found, copied down carefully in her notebook.
After she had left in the afternoon I asked one of the preschool teachers about her, wondering about this young, aspiring Rubén Darío. Apparently the girl lived right around the corner from the library, which it seemed had changed her life since she had learned to read. She had left the preschool a few years ago, but had been a studious and motivated student the entire time she had been there. Apparently the teachers all missed her, but she still stopped by the library every day to read poetry or look up words in the dictionary. “This library has changed her life,” the teacher told me. It was a quiet place for her complete her homework, it was an archive of literature for her to explore, it provided her with an opportunity to grow and learn in ways that other students did not have, especially just around the corner from their houses. “She’s definitely going somewhere in life,” the professor said, and whether she was talking about just around the corner in Acahualinca or on the other side of the world, I knew that the professor was right.
After working at the Acahualinca Library for the summer I realized that the idea of health that the clinic supports is more than physical wellbeing. It’s even more than feeling respected and cared for, which I felt that the Acahualinca Women’s Center strives to deliver to all of its patients. I learned that opportunity and education are necessary for a healthy life as well, and the library provides the children in the community with just that. It gives them space to not only complete their homework with books for support, but also a space to read for pleasure, expand their interests, and grow. I sought to help the students who came into the library with homework or to find a book of poems to read, but I ended up growing and learning with them. As they learned about word structure, culture, biology, or whatever they were studying, I became aware about how drastically the smallest resources and opportunities can empower a community. While the women at the Acahulainca Women´s Center opened my eyes to the power of respect in maintaining the health of a community, working at the connected Acahualinca Library taught me the importance of opportunity and education in creating and supporting community health.