Meet Yaro Choiseul-Praslin. He is the proprietor of Sabalos Lodge (click HERE for its website), a wonderful eco-lodge on the Rio San Juan, the free-flowing river that connects Lake Nicaragua with the Caribbean. The lodge consists of several buildings, some of them treehouse-like structures practically hanging over the river. Howler monkeys and croaking frogs will reminded us every night that we were in a jungle.
Yaro is the local face of Rio San Juan Relief, which attempts to provide basic health services to the people of this isolated corner of Nicaragua, the hemisphere's second-poorest country. For more information, click HERE to visit the organization's website.
Yaro and his son Rafael house visiting medical personnel at the lodge and transport them -- often by boat -- to villages where they examine and treat people with a wide variety of health problems. They also offer basic health information, such as how to brush one's teeth.
When Jane and I were at Sabalos Lodge in January 2012, we met Dr. Nicholas Halikis of Torrance, Calif., a hand and upper extremity surgeon. He and Janelle Freshman, a physical therapist who organized their mission (and her non-medical husband, Howard), had brought a bunch of coloring books and other things for children. They said they started to hand them out to desperately poor children at one stop and were told to wait -- save them for the even poorer children that they would be seeing soon elsewhere.
I know physicians who do this sort of volunteer work, but I had never before been near where it was being done. It's hard for Americans to imagine a place so remote that it's difficult to obtain any level of health care at all. You may have cellphone service, but if you break a leg, there's no one to call. In the villages of the Rio San Juan valley that aren't on the river, a trip to a river dock can take hours. Then there's the wait for a ferry. From Sabalos Lodge, for example, it's more than an hour upstream to the town of San Carlos, which itself has only a bare-bones infirmary. Managua is 45 minutes away by air or five hours or more by road.
So here's to Yaro, Rafael and all the U.S. and Nicaragua folk who do good work through Rio San Juan Relief.