In a high-school history class, our teacher asked us to raise our hands if we considered ourselves feminists.
My hand immediately shot up.
I looked around, and I was the only one.
Growing up, feminism was something that was intrinsically instilled in me, although I didn’t know why.
According to everything and everyone around me, it was wholly unnecessary. Women’s rights had already happened, I was told.
Women could vote now, women could work outside the home if they want, women could wear what they want. Any persistence in this movement was not only superfluous but annoying.
As an active, outspoken female with positive experiences from most of the men in my life, I couldn’t help but to reluctantly agree.
But then, here in Nicaragua, on my third experience with North Country Mission of Hope, I sat down with another volunteer, Heather Frenette.
Heather, an Ohio native and niece of longtime Mission of Hope member Sister Stephanie Frenette, had put aside some money for some special need she knew would turn up on this mission trip.
That purpose became clear when mission Executive Director Sister Debbie Blow took a call about Tomasa Flores, a woman who is dying of cancer and had no bed.
“We first paid a visit to verify the situation,” Heather told me. “When we got there, we found out that she has four kids. Her oldest daughter, who speaks English, said that she just found out that her mother has uterine cancer.
“It spread rapidly across her body. She can’t move. She can’t eat. She was completely skin and bones. It was clear that she didn’t have much longer to live.
“They wanted a bed for their mother to finally rest her head on.”
The house, Heather said, is little more than four cement walls, with almost no furniture.
“We bought her some fresh food and some Ensure, in hopes that she would be able to keep it down,” Heather said, “(and) we bought her what we could afford with the money — what we would call a cot in the United States — and a mattress to put on top.
“We brought it back to her home, and her two sons and two daughters came up to the truck, and, for the woman who brought them into this world, carried the bed down to her, so that she could be comfortably taken out of this world.”
Heather told me the woman’s oldest daughter began to cry as she talked about her.
The young woman had told her that her mother was going to see a doctor Monday, but without much hope. There had been talk of chemotherapy, but the cancer had spread too far.
“She told us that her mother knew she was dying, but she hadn’t quite accepted it yet and hadn’t said goodbye,” Heather said.
And the daughter had told her, “I can’t thank you enough for helping us. I’m just so happy to have something to make my mother’s last days comfortable.
“She’s had such a terrible, rough life.”
NEVER A BED
The lack of bed was not all, for Heather learned that the woman’s husband had beaten her severely throughout their marriage.
“To add insult to injury,” she told me, “he never allowed her to sleep in a bed. Her entire adult life, she slept in a chair.”
Here’s how Heather described what happened as the bed was brought into her home.
“... she couldn’t move, she couldn’t stand up, but she was very happy. Her face brightened up, and she smiled.
“She stretched her thin arm around me and gave me a hug.”
For the purpose of keeping records, the missioners asked to see her identification card.
“That’s when I found out she was born two years before me,” Heather said. “She was 47 years old, and she probably only had a month to live.”
STILL WITHOUT RIGHTS
So, my friends, why do we need feminism? Because, sadly enough, while female empowerment and equality and justice are human rights, in many parts of the world they are luxuries.
Because this woman, who raised and took care of four children, was pushed to the ground and called worthless over and over again.
Because when she was sick, she had nowhere to lay her head. Because she was about to be taken out of this world — to which she had given so much — still believing that it would give nothing back to her.
Because my mother, back home in the United States, is also 47 years old.
Sara LoTemplio is a student at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. This is her third trip to Nicaragua with Mission of Hope.