By Shermakaye Bass
Our work at Fara Foundation continues to humble and inspire us. When our staff reflect on some of those we’ve had the privilege of helping, we’re often reminded of stories that particularly moved us – and that continue to move us. These “stories,” these people, underscore our mission and reaffirm why we do what we do.
One such family is the Perez-Soto family, an elderly couple who live in the poorest part of Matagalpa. As is often the case, Jose Dolores Perez and his wife, Juana Maria Soto, did not seek us out for food assistance; a neighbor of theirs alerted us. Frequently, this is how we learn of families in the community who need the very basic materials for sustenance, and one of our foundation staff will go find them. With the Perezes, a recipient of our food program was concerned for them and pointed us toward the couple, saying “they need more help than we do.” We added them to our roster.
Jose is 79 years old with failing eyesight. Juana Maria is 70 and suffers from crippling arthritis. The two live on the edge of the Rio Grande de Matagalpa, where, despite her painful condition, Juana works as a laundress, washing clothes for other people using water from the river.
Her “laundry room” is a lean-to behind the couple’s house, thrown together from whatever materials could be found. As with their house and others in this neighborhood, there is no running water in Juana’s lavanderia, and she transports water up from the river to do the work. And like others in this desperately struggling area, the Perezes live completely at the mercy of the elements; the shacks all were built in the dry season and could be washed away at a moment’s notice if the region experiences a particularly harsh rainy season.
Each month, the Perezes and their grandson, whose parents abandoned him when he was seven, receive the basic Fara Foundation food basket, which includes 20 pounds of beans, 20 pounds of rice, four liters of cooking oil, five pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of cornmeal, and a portion of salt; the cost to us is approximately $40. For the Perez family, it is priceless and could easily mean the difference between starvation and survival. The grandson, now 17, attends night school and is only just now in the 7th grade; he performs odd jobs during the day.
At one time, Jose and Juana had six children, two of whom are now deceased and two of whom left the country, never to be heard from again. Their two remaining children, Francisco and Norma, each have growing families and are themselves fighting to survive. When they can, they bring eggs, fruit, or other foods to their parents and help them with chores. Still, as with so many of the most impoverished in Nicaragua, Jose and Juana struggle from day to day.