A Letter from Jhan Dotel-Vellenga and Ian Vellenga, serving in Nicaragua
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Marcella was born at the end of the summer of 2020, so this was my first official year as a mother, and I have to tell you, it doesn’t matter what people say; having pets doesn’t really prepare you in any way for taking care of a tiny human being. My pet’s levels of self-sufficiency surpass those of my baby (Marcella is much cuter, though).
At first, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to talk about the challenges of my first time diving into the deep waters of motherhood. I could publicly express how I came to not only love coffee, but to live off of it, and complain about my lack of sleep, personal time, or space. But that is not where the spirit led me.
In fact, as I was writing, I could not stop thinking about all the women we often encounter working in Nicaragua and, of course, those that have had a significant impact on my life, like my mother, who was more of an influence in my ministry than I often like to admit. My mother’s kindness and care for others was something I could see from a young age, but I didn’t understand it or appreciate it. However, now it is a source of inspiration for many of the things I do in my life.
You see, my mom was a career nurse, now retired. My siblings and I were born and raised in the capital city of my country, the Dominican Republic, but both of my parents were from the countryside. My mom was from a small, impoverished town close to the border with Haiti. That is the dry side of the island; little vegetation, rustic roads, and no beach onsite to escape from the heat. Every other year during the summer school vacation, we would go and visit my grandma in this town. I loved my grandma very much, but I dreaded spending almost a week there. I was the typical city child; I wanted to stay and play with my friends, watch TV, and be in the comfort of my own home.
For my mom and my aunts these were trips they looked forward to. The day after we arrived, we would go from house to house visiting people and bringing medicine samples, vitamins, and basic medical supplies that they had spent months collecting.
I didn’t like it at all. I was not really familiar with most of the people we visited. We would have to sit at least 30 minutes in each house and listen to peoples’ stories and complaints about their health while my mom and aunts took their temperature and measured their blood pressure. We would have to help carry the things we brought, and carry back to my grandma’s house, things like eggs, fruits, and vegetables that people gave us along the way.
What I didn’t understand until I was older was that most of the people we visited could not travel to see a doctor regularly or even afford basic medicine. So even though my mom and aunts didn’t live in the community anymore, they still felt a sense of duty to help the people of the town they grew up in. My mom’s level of commitment and dedication is something I notice in many of the women we work with in Nicaragua.
In the communities where we work in Nicaragua, women are often in the background. They are the ones who receive us, prepare the food and make sure we are as comfortable as possible. Sometimes they don’t have time to participate in the workshops because they are busy cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their family members. These women, like many others around the world, fulfill numerous roles and wear many hats. They work outside and inside of the house; they are caregivers, educators, maids, peacemakers, nurses, counselors, and so much more.
Women’s legacy of hard work and engagement to their families and communities is not a new topic. What is very uncommon is for them to receive recognition for everything they do. Women contribute physically, emotionally, and economically to their households, and single mothers lead many homes.
As grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives, they fulfill necessary roles that not only help their nuclear family but contribute to the well-being and progress of the community as a whole. Regardless of all this, it has been difficult to raise awareness of the importance of women’s rights, as beneficiaries of socio-economic development and involvement informal leadership roles in many countries. According to some sociologists, women make many of the decisions that determine a household’s participation in the community like healthcare, education, and cultural decisions. However women’s rights are still a work in progress in many parts of the world.
The labor of my mother, my aunts, and many of the women we encounter is often not recognized. What they do is often done without the desire for recognition. Instead, it is a product of faith and love. They are the invisible figures that support the work of others.
Women help to shape nations, train future leaders, nurture artists, foster curiosity, instigate changes, promote equality and encourage all those around them. Their work and sacrifice make so many things possible, but they often remain in obscurity and nameless. It is my hope that we start to celebrate and recognize the labor of these women beyond the limited time frames of holidays and that we help and inspire them to continue to create a world in which our children, do not experience any limitation or disadvantage because of their gender or any other condition.
And as a new mother, I only wish to one day inspire in my daughter the same desire to care and uplift others that my mother and the amazing women I encounter and work with inspire in me every day.
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