(Contribution from Sallie Weissinger)
Meet Jenny – from Laguna de Perlas
We got to Laguna de Perlas, a first-time trip for PINCC, Saturday evening shortly after sundown. The last third of the 13-hour bus ride was on unpaved roads. At times the bus driver would come to a turn in the road, looking up to see which direction had more electrical wires going its way, and choose the route with the greater number of wires. We let out a sigh of relief when we arrived at 7 pm. It had been a long day, but we were here, gracias a Dios.
And why Laguna de Perlas, a place our coordinator Carol Cruickshank calls the most remote place PINCC has ever gone, including Africa? It's because Jenny Williams, PINCC's Leon connection with the Ministry of Health, was born and raised in Laguna. It has been her long-standing hope to bring more health resources to her region.
Jenny was one of ten children – five boys, five girls – born in "Pearl Lagoon" on the northern Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, where the Atlantic and the Caribbean merge. Laguna de Perlas was part of a British protectorate, and the people, of mixed indigenous and African heritage, speak English and Creole, as well as Spanish; the town seems more Jamaican than Nicaraguan, and we're in culture shock, trying to remember to say "good morning" and "thank you" in lieu of "buenos dias" and "gracias."
When asked why she became a nurse, Jenny offers two main reasons- her father and mother. When Jenny was 14, her father died at age 50 of pancreatic cancer without adequate medical care. Her mother had to raise the 10 children on her own; Jenny doesn't know how she managed it, although she recalls several aunts in Panama helping out. There was no family planning in those days, and her mother ended up raising many more children than she would have chosen to have. Jenny talked movingly of a miscarriage her mother had. Oarsmen rowed her mother, bleeding and wrapped in sheets, in a canoe to the clinic in Bluefields for 18 hours, hoping in vain to get help.
Jenny went to a school in her village run by Moravian evangelists, but for high school had to go to another town where she lived with family members. For three years she pursued nursing training in a town called Bilwaskarma, near the Honduran border. To complete her degree she went to Managua for mandatory public health and psychiatry courses, a move that ultimately led her to her work in Leon, where she has remained since 1975. Had employment opportunities been available in Laguna de Perlas, however, she would have chosen to go home to work. Following her nursing program, Jenny worked as an assistant surgical nurse and then as chief of nursing at a Leon health center. In 1991 she returned to nursing school for two additional years to become a licensed nurse, una enfermera licenciada. With that milestone under her nursing belt, she went the administrator route and is currently Leon's Coordinator of Women's Health for the Ministry of Health.
Jenny's interest in the medical field is matched by several of her family members: her older sister also became a nurse, and her nephew Dr. Wesley is a pediatrician here in Laguna and sub-director of the clinic where PINCC will spend the week working. (Dr. Wesley's father, Jenny's brother Wesley, is a trained high school teacher and runs the lodge where we are staying.) And Jenny's children? Her older daughter is a lawyer, and her younger daughter has just finished her medical training to be a gynecologist.
Busy, capable, big-hearted Jenny is married to a lawyer in Leon, who shares her with an expanding family of Nicaraguan women whose lives she can alter in a way that wasn't possible in her mother's time. Brava!