By Shermakaye Bass, Fara Foundation editor/writer
Matagalpa, Nicaragua — For someone who’s only five years old, Justin Esteven Mercado has big dreams and an even bigger personality. We’ve come to know him through his aunt, Lorena Mercado, who comes to Fara Clinic weekly for treatment of severe vascular ulceration. And we’ve come to adore him.
Justin (pronounced Yoosteen) and his family are from Guadalupe, a small village near San Ramon, Matagalpa. Because his aunt has limited mobility, Justin accompanies her on the trip into town. The two must walk 20 minutes to the bus station to make the 45-minute ride to the clinic. Along the way, they must cross a river with no bridge, and Justin assists her so that she doesn’t get her wounds saturated. We’re fortunate to be able to pay the bus fare for the two, but both of them need extensive medical attention. Lorena will need orthopedic surgery once her ulcer heals. That process will require weeks, even months.
As for Justin, he suffers from congenital cataracts. He has had one surgery, but needs two more — one, a laser procedure, and the other, a lens implant inside his eyes. But his vision problems are no match for his ebullience and optimism; he is highly intelligent, a great communicator, totally charismatic. When he arrives each week, he lights up the entire clinic. It’s clear that Justin has never met a stranger: Everyone he passes, he greets, and when he smiles, everyone of them (including us) simply melts. His manners are impeccable.
This young man is wise beyond his years, and it’s obvious he believes in himself, despite a difficult family situation. Justin has told us that he is the youngest of four children — Christian is 16, Dania, 15, and Darwin, 14 are his siblings — who live with their aunt. Their mother works in Managua, where she is the housekeeper for a family of doctors, and she can only come home once a month. What Justin knows of his father is that he drives a taxi in Masaya, but he’s never met his him.
Yet, strikingly, Justin doesn’t dwell on the negative. He has big plans for the future. He tells us that he wants to be a pianist when he grows up, and that he wants to own many buses. And that when he accrues his wealth, he will earn it “in American dollars to make sure I’m rich!” Our only concern is that Justin misses school frequently in order to help his aunt. But even with those absences, we sense his indomitable spirit will overcome any obstacles in his path.
Why are we so confident of his confidence? Consider what he said when we took a picture of him without his glasses. Justin had never seen himself without them,
and when we showed him the picture, a wondrous look came over his face, and he made a matter-of-fact observation: “I’m very good looking! I need to do something soon to get rid of the glasses!”