Miskito nursing grad brings healthcare to diverse population

By Mirna Robleto

August 9, 2019

WASPAM, Nicaragua – With a blue and red cape placed over her white nurse’s outfit, Eda Masantos steps on stage at her graduation ceremony to address her peers.

“This afternoon marks the end of a very important chapter in our lives,” she tells the audience. “But at the same time, it’s the start of an important chapter in our lives as professionals.”

Masantos, 29, graduated in June with honors from the Intercultural Nursing program at the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URACCAN).

As a woman from the Miskito indigenous minority group in Waspam, in the Northern Caribbean Coast, Masantos faced many obstacles to becoming an educated professional working to improve health in this remote area of Nicaragua.

But through the Aprendo y Emprendo project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International, she was able to earn a scholarship to pursue a technical education.  

Eda Masantos gives remarks at her graduation from URACCAN.

“If the Aprendo y Emprendo project had not come to my town, this dream would not have been possible,” she says. “It changed the lives of many young people, mine included.”

Masantos and 31 other classmates, 25 of them women, received their degrees and became nursing technicians, with a focus on addressing the needs of the region’s ethnically and linguistically diverse population.

Masantos is a health volunteer in her community and began hosting a radio program part time on Radio URACCAN, sharing tips on healthy living, disease prevention and good hygiene with her listeners. The job also allows her to provide for her two young sons.

For Masantos, a single mom, reaching graduation day was not easy. Mid-way through her studies, she became pregnant and gave birth to her second son, who has microcephaly, a birth defect that caused his head to be much smaller than expected and can cause a range of other health problems. But Masantos credits her parents for helping her provide the specialized care her son needed while continuing her schoolwork.

“These situations were not an obstacle. On the contrary, they gave me the strength to continue,” she says. “My son’s illness motivated me to finish my studies so that I could gain knowledge to better take care of him.”

Healthcare education for a diverse region

The Aprendo y Emprendo Project, with strategic partner URACCAN, developed the Intercultural Nursing degree to meet the unique needs of a region in which rural families often lack access to healthcare services and information. According to data from the National Institute of Information Development, 71 percent of households in the Northern Caribbean Coast are affected by extreme poverty.

Hermes Castellano, Coordinator of URACCAN in Waspam, explains that existing healthcare services can also be ill-suited to serve the region’s many ethnic minority groups.

“In recent years, there has been a growing concern about the inequity in health services that affects many sectors of the population, including the indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, due to insufficient health care strategies incompatible with distinct worldviews,” Castellano says.

In this context, the Intercultural Nursing program incorporated traditional, ancestral and alternative medicine approaches into its curriculum so that its graduates could provide the best care for the multiethnic population. Aprendo y Emprendo focuses on at-risk and often marginalized groups, so many of the students and scholarship recipients were ethnic minorities themselves.

“These professionals are very unique because they are multiethnic and multilingual, they have respect for Mother Earth and are very aware of interculturality,” Castellano says.

Castellano hopes that this class of students and future graduates will strengthen the Northern Caribbean Coast’s health system and make it more accessible to all. Masantos is already a part of that change through her radio program and is looking ahead to the next step in her education.

“Everything I learned I put into practice through the radio show,” she says. “My dream is to become part of the municipality’s health system, to continue studying and to help my family to forge ahead.”

With editing by Evelyn Rupert.

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