Nicaragua has a population of just under 6,000,000, 48% of which live below the poverty line. Eighty percent of the people live on less than $2 per day and 50% of Nicaragua’s population has little if any access to basic medical care. Twenty-seven percent of Nicaraguans suffer from undernourishment, the highest percentage in Central America. Suffering from political and governmental upheaval as well as natural calamities, Nicaragua is second only to Haiti in the ranks of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.
In November of 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated much of Nicaragua. Massive flooding left hundreds of thousands without shelter; many damaged buildings, streets, civic infrastructure, schools, and hospitals remain unrepaired to this day.
Piles of refuse are not uncommon sites in rural Latin America. Neither are the children that are sometimes attracted to them. That many children scrambled over a large mound of garbage in Chinandega, Nicaragua may not have alarmed Padre Marcos Dessy, at first. But when he realized the children were in search of food, something very good began to happen for the people of Chinandega. On the site of that trash heap, Padre Marcos built a school for the children of Chinandega, that he named Betania.
In 2000, Padre Marcos established San Martin de Porres Hospital on the Betania campus. This surgery center and outpatient clinic has hosted many international medical teams since opening its doors to those who cannot afford medical care. San Martin de Porres has received accreditation from the Nicaragua Ministry of Health.
From 2003 to 2006, VHI conducted six field programs in Chinandega and at San Martin de Porres Hospital, providing 2,087 eye examinations, dispensing 3,268 pairs of eyeglasses, and performing 642 sight-restoring and life-altering surgeries.
In October 2011, VHI returned to Chinandega and renewed its relationships with local ophthalmologist, Dr. Wilbur Ochoa, and our friends at Betania and San Martin de Porres Hospital, the Fundacion Chinandega 2001, and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health.