SOUTHBURY — Financial advisor Carl Bailey was the guest speaker at a recent meeting of the Tribury Rotary Club, sharing his story of volunteering in Nicaragua over the past 14 years. A member of the Danbury Rotary Club, Mr. Bailey told Tribury Rotarians about his experiences in Nicaragua, beginning in 2006 when he decided to leave the comforts of his Connecticut home to spend a month in the slums of one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Managua, the nation’s capital.
His mission was to understand, first-hand, why people from Central and South America would risk their lives to arrive illegally in the U.S. and then work minimum wage jobs, only to wire home half of their salary every Friday night.
What Mr. Bailey discovered changed his life forever, he said. It has inspired him to do all he can to help those unable to help themselves, both in Nicaragua and in Danbury, where he was born and raised.
Mr. Bailey told Rotarians that in Nicaragua, there are virtually no social programs, no Medicare, minimal retirement programs and no Medicaid. The average worker earns less than $4 per day, and more than 30 percent live in extreme poverty.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, yet on his first visit to a supermarket in Managua, Mr. Bailey discovered that most items like toothpaste, soap and shaving supplies cost more than they do in the U.S.
On $4 a day pay, he said, it’s no wonder Nicaraguans have poor dental care and few food or clothing choices.
On that first trip, Mr. Bailey was mugged twice and witnessed a machete fight. He quickly learned what life is like without running water and electricity, usually for more than 20 hours a day.
Adopting a personal mantra of “One Man Can,” he set out to learn all he could about NGOs and local organizations who were actually making a difference in the lives of Nicaraguans.
After three weeks, he adopted two schools, an orphanage and a free medical clinic, all run by the Sisters of Teresa, an order of Catholic nuns who have run these programs for more than 30 years.
He vowed to rebuild the schools with new buildings, new computers, air conditioning for classrooms, science labs and a free meal each day for the often-malnourished students.
Fourteen years later, he remains actively involved with these programs on a monthly basis and has helped educate and improve the lives of thousands of Nicaraguan children.
Despite having raised and invested more than $1,000,000 on these centers as a volunteer, Mr. Bailey said his greatest rewards have come from another path that found him after his third trip to Nicaragua.
Upon learning about his volunteer work in Managua, Dana Buffin, director of Healing the Children Northeast in New Milford, called and invited Mr. Bailey to lunch and asked him to organize a cleft palate surgical mission trip to Nicaragua in the fall.
Mr. Bailey told her that while he knew nothing about cleft palate, he would be willing to somehow make it happen.
A few weeks later, while in Managua, he asked a contact how he might plan such a mission trip, and was advised to attend a Rotary Club meeting the next evening.
He attended and found that the guest speaker that night was Nicaragua’s premier cleft palate surgeon, who was to announce his retirement, leaving a huge void for Nicaraguan children with cleft palate deformities.
Six weeks after that initial meeting, Mr. Bailey accompanied and sponsored the first cleft mission to Managua and has since revisited 12 times, putting into motion more than 800 free cleft reconstructive surgeries.
Sadly, Mr. Bailey reported, the past 18 months in Nicaragua have been filled with violence, murders and arrests by the Ortega government. President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have suppressed any free press, stolen elections and been involved in the murder and imprisonment of protesters, including hundreds of peaceful college students last spring.
The result has been a destruction of the Nicaraguan economy, which last year had been the fastest growing economy in all of the Americas. Tens of thousands of people are now living in exile, he said, and thousands of businesses have closed.
“The burn center APROQUEN, where we have performed our cleft palate operations, has lost most of its in-country funding, and now desperately needs to raise roughly $85,000 for burn and cleft palate surgical supplies and equipment,” Mr. Bailey said.
Since 1989, APROQUEN has provided free burn care to thousands of children in Nicaragua. Their needs include burn and cleft palate surgical equipment, meshers, dermatome blades and synthetic skin.
APROQUEN has no way to raise these funds, and after volunteering in Nicaragua for more than 13 years, Mr. Bailey feels an obligation to raise the money himself. He is personally donating as much as he can, in addition to funding $25,000 for each cleft palate mission trip.
“The needs are immense,” he said, “and the children and medical staff are in dire need of these supplies and equipment.”
Mr. Bailey works as a volunteer with Connecticut Quest For Peace, a Redding-based organization which has done volunteer work in Nicaragua for the past 30 years, and with the Rotary Club of Danbury.
Those wishing to help the children of Nicaragua may make a donation through the Tribury Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 956, Southbury 06844 with the notation “for APROQUEN.”