Since last week Nicaragua also has been living under the spell of the corona virus after the independent press rang the alarm bell. The Government responded by issuing regular updates on the virus. The Vice-President gives her daily talk about the situation.
The Government wants to control all news about the virus. Health workers cannot ‘just like that’ talk to patients about the virus for fear that this will fuel mass hysteria. We have got a Government that through their actions has made it abundantly clear that they know best what is good for the people, and they do not take the people seriously. Yes, the vice-president does announce rules and regulations, but it seems these are often a phase behind the reality. For example, when last week the first cases of the virus were recorded, the Government started a door-to-door information campaign about how to avoid catching the virus.
Private schools are now closed, but continue working online. The public schools continue as usual, except that some parents keep their children at home, much to the dismay of the school management, who warned that pupils would suffer negative consequences if they did not sit for their test-papers.
How many corona cases do we have in Nicaragua?
We know the official figures: 2 deaths; 3 cases, and possibly another 12. But few people believe these figures. Health personnel are duty-bound to keep silent. According to informal sources there are corona cases in Juigalpa. Everything is possible, we just don’t know.
Many Nicaraguans have relatives living abroad, especially in Spain, the USA and in Italy, and of course news from these countries filters through and is, according to me, the main reason why the streets in most towns in Nicaragua are very quiet and many shops are closed. But people who work for the State are supposed to keep going with their usual activities.
An embarrassing invitation
The Government likes to pretend that all is normal and they do not take measures to make people stay at home, in fact they encourage quite the opposite! Today we were visited by two employees of the Ministry of Small Enterprises to promote the Government’s initiative to have a street market on 4 April in the very centre of Juigalpa for products made by people with disabilities. The event would also be a competition with a prize for the person who could make the most beautiful product. In the past. members of Ruach’s Activities Centre joined similar events, selling piñatas.
I checked with the gentlemen of the Ministry of Small Enterprises whether, given the corona crisis, they would consider postponing the street market, but as the plan came from Managua the local Government has to implement the plan. I thanked them for the kind invitation and said I would discuss it with the president of the Ruach Foundation, although it was obvious to me what our answer was going to be. But in a non-democratic country like Nicaragua people (government employees and citizens alike) cannot openly oppose government policies.
Today I called Anielka to cancel our regular Wednesday outing for our residents to the swimming pool as we will keep our residents at home for the time being. Anielka has got a long-distance coach business, but also helps us with transport to the pool on Wednesdays. I asked her how her business was faring. She answered that she had not experienced a recession of this depth for many years; almost no one travels these days’.
Last week we also decided to close our Activities Centre till further notice. The Board also issued official guidelines on how to deal with the corona crisis which also affects how we live in the community home. One of our rules is that we no longer allow visitors to enter our Community Home, but have set up a terrace in front of our Home instead. We keep more distance from each other, especially at the dining room table. Tooth brushes are stored separately. Staff change shirts when they come in from outside. I no longer shake hands anymore, but wave my elbow which is a clear sign that we take prevention seriously. And I have reduced my activities outside the Home to a minimum.
A time of opportunity and creativity
But we do not want this crisis period to be a period of restrictions only. It is a chance to think creatively about how else we can celebrate our community life. We have turned our swimming pool morning into a dance morning at home. We still had some spare bottles of coca cola from our last visits to the pool, which now come in handy to be enjoyed after our dancing. I have got more time now to put the dots on the ‘i’s of activities to stimulate our residents and it’s great to see that based on our experience small changes can have big results for both the development of our residents and the training of our staff.
But the fact remains that these are challenging times. Nelson Mandela once said in reply to a question how he had been able to survive 27 years on Robben island: “I did not survive, I learned” Let us use this COVID-19 period to learn new things and to push our boundaries. Together we can make the world a more beautiful place!