by Grace Walker
Hot coffee, delicious meals, a cozy atmosphere, and computers go together in the Ben Linder Cyber-Café. This is also where Walking Unidos, the Polus Center and WiRED International came together to support aid to the disabled while providing the people of Leon, Nicaragua with high speed Internet access. The Ben Linder Cybercafe was WiRED's first program in Nicaragua.
I studied at the Nicaragua Spanish Schools in León, Granada, and San Juan del Sur in the fall of 2004.
Wall mural at Ben Linder Café
In León, I had the good fortune to work with Santiago Castellón at Walking Unidos, a prosthetic outreach project affiliated with the Polus Center and WiRED International. At Walking Unidos, I worked for a week with Norvin, who lost a forearm and hand when a bomb exploded near him during the revolution in the mid-1980s. He was fun to work with and had a contagious upbeat and easy-going nature. He even joked about his handicap. Norvin is extremely dedicated, and remarkably agile. His handicap never even slowed him down, much less interfered with his work.
I met many more deshabilitados during my time at Walking Unidos. Some were missing a forearm, some a hand, others a leg, or even both legs. The majority of these injuries had been caused by land mines left over from the revolution, but others resulted from dangerous equipment and poor working conditions in factories. The capability and attitude of these people is remarkable. They can do most things an intact person could do. They were comfortable talking about their injuries and how they became handicapped, often joking in between stories. These Nicaragüenses have had their lives devastated, yet they remain some of the most outgoing and real people I have ever met.
At the end of my first week with Walking Unidos, I attended a conference on Nicaragua's new laws for the handicapped, and the effects the laws would have on the disabled community. While most of the attendees were persons with disabilities, many people there were not disabled, and they were there because they were genuinely interested in the welfare and equality of the disabled.
One major focus of the new laws is equality in the workforce. Workplace discrimination is one of the biggest problems disabled Nicaragüenses face, because many employers will not hire a disabled person, even when he or she is as capable as others of doing the job.
While working for Walking Unidos, I also volunteered at the Ben Linder Café sponsored by The Polus Center and WiRED International. The Ben Linder Café employs handicapped and disabled persons, assisting job development and fostering greater equality in the work place. More than a restaurant, the café serves also as an internet site. It is a bright and (sometimes) air-conditioned room, with plenty of computers and the low internet fee standard throughout the city of León. The restaurant food is good, the prices reasonable, and the colorful artwork makes for a stimulating place to hang out. The next time you're in León, let the determined and hospitable workers at the Ben Linder care for your internet and dining needs.
Next year Grace Walker plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University to study art. She hopes to return to Nicaragua soon.
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