A Flandreau-based organization has taken another step towards helping improve healthcare in the rural areas of northwest Nicaragua.
Helping Kids Round First sponsored a women’s health conference in April, after being asked by the Nicaraguan Lutheran Church to help finance the project.
The bishop felt like women didn’t have any avenue for getting information about their own bodies or any kind of testing.
The conference took place over the course of two days. Women from the area were encouraged to attend and brought to the location by the church.
Female doctors and specialists from Managua, the country’s capital, also attended. Craig Severtson, founder of HKRF, said they set up the conference this way to provide a certain level of comfort to the women attending.
“Because this is such a unique experience that women don’t get to see, there had to be an environment that made them feel as comfortable as possible in 108 degrees in a tent,” Severtson said. “They [got] tests and exams they wouldn’t get otherwise.”
Women attending the first day of the conference sat for seven hours in the heat to hear two OBGYNs talk about breast exams, types of cancer, pap smears and violence towards women.
The second day, anyone who wanted to have a physical examination from these doctors could, and some waited all day. Results would be conveyed through their local pastor.
One principle donor of the project was Sandy Jerstad of Sioux Falls, who was able to pay for most of the conference through her family’s Jerstad Family Foundation.
The foundation was funded by her late husband, who passed away in 1997 and used his early life insurance settlement to establish the foundation to help other people.
“I guess it makes me very happy if I can help other people at any time,” Jerstad said. “... I knew that if I was going to be helping this organization going forward, raising money and awareness and if I would have our organization help, I had to go to Nicaragua.”
She first met Severtson a few years ago when he was looking for someone with a softball background and connections to help with his organization, and Jerstad had coached softball at Augustana University in Sioux Falls for 27 years.
As time went on and HKRF began expanding from baseball and softball to farming assistance and medical equipment, the idea for this trip came up.
Jerstad said she was intrigued by Severtson’s passion and dedication. While in Arizona for six weeks after foot surgery and learning to walk again, she had a moment where she felt like God spoke to her that this was thing she should be doing.
“I’ve always been involved with the church and been a Lutheran and thought it would really be something that would honor my husband and his work,” Jerstad said.
The second primary sponsor of the conference was Pam Bohl, who grew up in Oklahoma but has lived in France for years with her husband and their 14-year-old son.
Her husband met Severtson while they both attended the University of South Dakota, and their family took a trip with him to Nicaragua in 2015 and has since stayed in touch.
Bohl said she was first interested in the farming program HKRF had started and decided to provide a small contribution towards the women’s health conference.
“We had a chance to talk to the women and tell them how important we thought it was for them to be there and follow up [with their tests],” Bohl said. “I lost my sister to uterine cancer in 2008. For me, I wanted them to understand too that they need to take of themselves and follow up.”
She said on her previous trip to Nicaragua she had spoken with the daughter of the assistant bishop, who was finishing up medical school and working with a lot of people who have AIDS.
This was quite a shock, Bohl said, and one of the reasons she decided to get involved.
“Quite a few women have husbands who go to Costa Rica for work and don’t know they’re infected when they come back,” Bohl said. “You realize how isolated they are and how they don’t have access to things we consider really basic.”
Jerstad said the people there captured her heart and often wanted to hug her or hold her hand during the conference.
She also danced with the women and girls at the conference, where they played lively music and had karaoke.
“The people that we met were just wonderful, lovely, kind and loving,” Jerstad said. “And a lot of them have so little. Especially when it comes to healthcare. I want to do all I can to help. They all made such an impression on me.”
Right now, she is focusing on trying to raise awareness among her friends and family, then help with raising more money.
She also plans to keep in touch with the church and the bishop in Nicaragua and see if her family foundation can help if they want another to organize another health conference for women.
Bohl said she is also hoping to find some other sources of funding for women’s healthcare in the country, and that she and her family definitely want to go back.
“It’s amazing and really uplifting to see what [Craig] has done there and how much of his heart and soul he pours into his work,” Bohl said. “It’s quite amazing that one person has grown this organization into what he has. I am truly heartened by his energy.”
Severtson said this conference was not a one-time thing. The project of expanding health care in these rural areas of Nicaragua is ongoing.
He said he’s sure another women’s health conference will happen, as his organization continue working with the South Dakota Lutheran Synod, the ELCA and Global Health Ministries.