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Save the Miskitos.

Few Americans know the plight of Miskito Indian refugees, who have been driven from their burned villages. These people are Indians who were introduced to Christianity in the 1800s by Moravian missionaries from present-day Czechoslovakia and they have, through the years, been helped by members of the Moravian Church in this country. Moravian physicians have volunteered their time to minister to their needs. But now, more help is needed.

Communists have seized farmlands, forced them to sell their crops to the government and made peasants Attend "re-education" training sessions. They have closed churches and imprisoned or murdered many people, but the Miskito and other Indian groups may have suffered the most. Whole Miskito Indian villages have been destroyed. Pastors and village leaders have been tortured and killed. One minister had his ears cut off and his jugular vein slit and was left to die in the jungle, but lived to tell the story.

More than 20,000 Miskito, Suma and Rama Indian refugees are now struggling to survive in hastily built camps located along the Coco river that divides Honduras from Nicaragua. Some have already endured incredible hardships. "We were paddling our dugout canoe across the river when the Sandinista soldiers took aim at us," said one Miskito mother describing her family's flight. "I let out a scream as my little girl was shot, then my husband. Two more of my children were cut down by the bullets." Their boat sank, and the mother, clutching her remaining child, swam to the bank and left the bodies of the others to float toward the sea.

Though fleeing is dangerous, staying in Nicaragua may be certain death. Miskito chief Steadman Fagoth reports that scores of his people have been buried alive by the Sandinistas. Pregnant women have been killed.

Despite all their tribulations, however, these Indians are surprisingly warm and friendly. They are wonderfully open, fearless, communicative people, unspoiled in their ability to trust. They are also industrious and cleanly. They shun laziness and keep their lean, bronze bodies clean by bathing in the clear river water.

Although those who have escaped to Honduras may be lucky to be alive, their fates are still in jeopardy. The swollen bellies, skinny legs and redish hair of their children testify to inadequate nutrition and its result-- deadly kwashiorkor disease. This malady can be readily cured with a proper diet, but Miskito children have almost no food at all--no meat, no fruit, no vegetables. Only occasionally do they receive beans. They go for days at a time with nothing to eat. Many die every month.

The adults are suffering, too. Besides malnutrition, they are plagued by tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia and heat stress. The crowded living conditions and poor sanitation in the camps contribute greatly to the poor health of the communities. Parasites are a ubiquitous problem for both children and adults. Most of the people wear rags and perhaps one-third of the children wear no clothing at all. None have shoes, an invaluable aid in fighting hookworm infestations, because hookworms enter through the bottoms of the feet.

When The Saturday Evening Post editor asked me to go with her to visit Honduras and i said yes, little did I know that a week later my wife and I would be coming back with little three-pound Filo. His mother begged us to take him with us so that he could live.

The Post society first learned of the great need of these refugees through an organization known as "Friends of the Americas," which has established contact with many of the refugee camps. When the Society then called MAP International, of Wheaton, Illinois, and explained the plight of these pitiful refugees, they responded by providing more than $100,000 worth of drugs to be flown down and carefully hand distributed by our emissaries.

Now, with the help of Dr. Edwin Mertz, who first developed high-lysine corn at Purdue University, the Society is sending Dr. Ricardo Bressani, an expert in high-lysine corn, to Honduras to aid in getting the life-saving corn in the hands, and stomachs, of the refugee children.

Friends of the Americas workers are attempting to provide better sanitation, disease immunizations and improved nutrition. They have also distributed clothing and shoes. As a result, several villages have seen significant improvement. Fewer parasites are now found in the blood and stools of these refugees, but many more refugees still need treatment.

One of Friends of the Americas' most popular activities is the Shoebox for Liberty project, which allows church groups and civic organizations to provide direct aid to Central America. The project draws its name from the shoeboxes that participants fill with food and other necessities to be shipped to Indian and other Nicaraguan refugees. These shoebox gifts may be the only aid some refugees will receive. The checklist of articles includes such items as high-lysine corn to prevent kwashiorkor,beans, rice, soap, candles, toothpaste, a toothbrush, underwear, socks, fishing line and hooks, vegetable seeds and small toys. Larger items of cash, clothing, tools, food and seeds may also be contributed.

Refugees are grateful for these packages. When Mr. Salvador, a refugee living in the city of Danli, read the personal letter enclosed in the first shoebox he opened, tears came to his eyes. "My people and I really appreciate this, and we plan to respond to each letter that has been sent to us," he said.

If you would like to help the Miskitos and other Nicaraguan refugees, write: Friends of the Americas, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, MAP International, Wheaton, Illinois or to The Saturday Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.
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Title Annotation:Nicaraguan refugees
Author:Niemeyer, Richard H.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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