A Third Medical Clinic Nears Completion in Nicaragua; All three named after Roberto Clemente

People helping people. Isn’t that what drives Rotarians in our quest for ultimate world peace? As part of our ongoing efforts, the Pittsburgh Rotary Club has partnered with a number of people and organizations to help those in Nicaragua who desperately need medical care.


Pittsburgh Rotary, together with its on-the-ground partners (Help Them Help Themselves Foundation, Gran Pacifica Resort, and Travel To Do Good) broke ground on February 27, 2016 with their third clinic, the Roberto Clemente Memorial Clinic, which is located in Villa El Carmen, an hour west of Managua near the Pacific coast.


Gran Pacifica Resort donated the land, worth $20,000. An additional $80,680 has been raised by outside sources to cover construction costs and supplies.


Although the building is not yet complete, medical missions coordinated by Travel To Do Good are currently taking place in Villa El Carmen in anticipation of the opening of the clinic.


A local doctor has been hired to help out with the next Mobile Medical Mission, from September 3-10. The goal of the mission is for American doctors to come to Nicaragua to set up temporary clinics and treat people in the surrounding villages. The local doctor was hired so that he may be able to help the clinic long-term.


Talks are also being held with a pediatrician who is interested in becoming a director of Help Them Help Themselves. He would be involved in the long-term operations of the clinic as well.


Also, efforts have begun in gathering the various promised donations for equipment. There is a need to organize the shipment and delivery of these items over the next months. Various items, such as a sonogram, have been offered.  Patrick Heibert, the head of the Help Them Help Themselves Foundation, has been a major figure in this effort.


Planning for the actual functioning of the clinic is well underway.  Others are involved in making sure that the clinic is sanctioned by the Nicaraguan  medical department.


An effort has been started to raise an additional $15,000 – $20,000 for a separate project to put in solar paneling for the clinic.  It is felt that all the materials can be obtained at cost and installed internally.


A little background history


Anyone who has lived in Pittsburgh understands the sense of pride that is felt when there is mention of the late Pittsburgh Pirates baseball superstar, Roberto Clemente. Young Pittsburghers like myself did not have the opportunity to experience his greatness firsthand, but the impact that he had on baseball and humanity is seen at nearly every turn in the city. For Pittsburgh Rotary, it was only natural to honor Roberto Clemente’s memory in their Nicaraguan projects and pay it forward as he had always done.

Flashback to December 31, 1972: Roberto Clemente was en route to Nicaragua to personally deliver aid to earthquake victims. Sadly, the plane was overloaded, the maintenance was questionable, and it crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff, killing everyone onboard.

Life unfolds in funny ways. I doubt any member of the Rotary that witnessed Roberto Clemente play would have dreamed that they would carry on the work he had begun so many years ago.

Nicaragua sits in Central America, immediately north of Costa Rica and south of Honduras. Its capital, Managua, has been steadily growing and modernizing with the influx of tourists and international businesses like Walmart.

I recently stumbled upon a book titled, “Caring for the Vulnerable” by Mary de Chesnay. It was published in 2005 and dedicates a chapter not only to Nicaragua, but specifically to La Reforma, Jinotega, where Pittsburgh Rotary built its first medical clinic. Ms. Chesnay describes the health issues of the region as follows:

“The most important health problems in La Reforma are intestinal disease, respiratory disease, and subtle malnutrition. These account for 60% of health problems. If problems of childbirth and sexually transmitted diseases are included, then 80% of the health issues faced in the region can be accounted for. Other problems include bacterial infections of the skin due to poor cleanliness, accidental injuries, and burns. Men’s health issues in the rural community are hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, gastritis, prostatitis, and depression. Dental and eye health are poor and need to be addressed.”

Despite this backdrop in the countryside, real estate development can be a prosperous investment in Nicaragua, and members of the Pittsburgh Rotary (primarily Joel Nagel, former club president and district governor) were first drawn to the region in pursuit of such opportunities. However, once they witnessed the medical needs of the region, they took it upon themselves to tap into the network and resources of the Pittsburgh Rotary, roll up their sleeves, and get to work to bring medical care to a mountainous area called La Reforma.

In one fundraising event, a Monte Carlo night at The Pennsylvanian, they were able to raise $40,000. Together with support, supplies, and doctors and nurses from Duquesne University and Bayer Corporation, Pittsburgh Rotary funded and opened its first medical clinic in 1998 in La Reforma, the Roberto Clemente Medical Clinic.

The book, “Caring for the Vulnerable,” also dedicated a short segment to the Roberto Clemente Clinic of La Reforma. Regarding the clinic, the book says that the medical staff consisted of two nurses, or a nurse and a physician, who lived in the clinic as they fulfilled their service requirements following the completion of their medical education.

After several years of operating this successful medical clinic, the Rotary believed it to be in the best interest of the Nicaraguan people to relinquish control and management of the clinic to the local government. However, the government failed to maintain supplies and operations, and the clinic ceased seeing patients shortly thereafter.

In 2003-2004, Pittsburgh Rotary opened a second clinic in southwest Nicaragua, named the Roberto Clemente Medical Clinic II (RCMCII). This clinic was located in Rancho Santana, about 65 miles south of Managua.

The area is plagued with substantial poverty, poor infrastructure, an approximately 70% unemployment rate, poor education, and unclean water sources.

In their first year of operations, the RCMCII treated 670 patients. By 2015, the RCMCII saw over 12,000 patients and received a nonstop flow of students and medical professional volunteers from all over the world.

I have no doubt that Roberto would have been proud of his hometown, specifically the Pittsburgh Rotary, for carrying on charitable work in the country that he was headed to on his fateful flight. He would have been honored to have successful medical clinics bearing his name, organized by none other than the Pittsburgh Rotary.

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