- Katie Fitzgerald, Founder of Teatro Catalina
Who Tells Your Story: Ezequiel
No one deserves to be forgotten
No one deserves to fade away
No one should flicker out or have any doubt
That it matters that they are here
- Dear Evan Hansen
It's been over a year since I've written one of these blog posts and so much has changed here in Nicaragua that I'm not quite sure where to begin. In my previous posts, I have shared personal stories of people that live in a rural community, but when I look at this photo and think about what I want to share, I want to address Nicaragua as a whole. The truth is, there isn't a single Nicaraguan that hasn't been affected in some way by the recent sociopolitical crisis*, whether it has been losing a loved one, losing a job, being separated from family, or just simply living through the trauma of it all. To me, this photo captures a snapshot of what it was like for so many people from this country who watched the events of this past year unfold from behind the screens of their phones. As many of us know, there is a dichotomy to the internet and social media; it can connect to the whole world and yet at same time, can make us feel so isolated and alone.
I heard someone say the other day that it feels like Nicaragua is in a collective state of grief. To me, that statement alone is worrisome but coupled with some of research I've found over the past few weeks, it also makes me fear for the well being of the people of this country. It is estimated that less that 25 percent of the population of Nicaragua has access to mental health care services and only 1 percent of health care funding is allocated towards mental health. Nicaragua has some of the highest rates of suicide in the region and the rate of adolescent suicide is nearly double the Latin America average. While the reasons for these high numbers are not confirmed, it is believed that political and economical instability along with an array of natural disasters that have hit the country in recent history, all play a huge role.
While preparing for this blog, I went to visit a Nicaraguan psychiatrist for some more insight. He very quickly confirmed what I had read, explaining that accessibility to mental health care is scarce to none, especially in rural communities. "We need to be training more medical professionals but we also need to be training teachers, parents, pastors and community leaders to recognize and treat mental illness. I'm especially worried right now [because of recent events] that there are so many people walking around with symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety who don't know who or where to turn to." I also asked him if mental health was a taboo subject in Nicaragua. "Oh yes, very much so. If we don't start talking more about mental health, the problem will only get worse."
You are not alone.
So where do we go from here? That is a question I often ask myself as I think about what I want Teatro Catalina to accomplish here in Nicaragua. Sometimes I struggle with this because the truth is, as an outsider, I will never fully be able to comprehend the complexities of life here in Nicaragua or feel the entirety of the emotional weight that so many Nicaraguans carry simply from living in a place that has been through so much turmoil. But what I can do is listen, educate myself, create solutions, advocate for those around me and make sure our organization is doing the same.
In the midst of all that is happening in Nicaragua, our goal is to continue to be a light to our community. Theatre is our avenue that allows us to reach young people, give them a safe space to be themselves, teach them to dream and support them through their highs and lows. As an organization that places emphasis on caring for people, we have to be ready to enter into the dark places, to listen to the struggles of the people we work with, to offer resources and support whenever we can, and most importantly to point people towards hope.
When I saw Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, it impacted me in big way. I remember being in awe of how it addressed important topics such as depression and suicide in such powerful and authentic way. I immediately wanted to share its messages of hope with the young people I work with in Nicaragua. For the past two years, I've translated lyrics to Spanish, painted them on our office walls, shared them on our social media pages and now with this blog, I hope the messages from this musical will continue to reach more people. There are four words in particular from the show that have resonated in my mind and heart while writing this...you are not alone. That is the message I so deeply want to share with the people of Nicaragua. You are not alone.
So let the sun come streaming in 'cause you'll reach up and you'll rise again.
Lift your head and look around, you will be found.
People of Nicaragua, you matter. Your life, your stories and your dreams matter. The people around you need you, your country needs you and the world needs you. And remember, you are not alone. But if you are feeling alone or sad or anxious, don't be afraid to reach out. Find someone you trust, whether it is a parent, a friend, a teacher or a medical professional, and tell them how you feel. Below are some resources to help if you are struggling.
8327-8079 (Movistar, Whatsapp)
Call or message to talk to psychologists in Nicaragua
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (United States):
Calls are free and confidential, available 24 hours a day
How the Crisis in Nicaragua Affects Young People’s Mental Health
Suicide among Nicaraguan teens nearly double Latin American average
* If you are unaware of what has been happening here in Nicaragua over the past year, I urge you to do a quick Google search to learn more.
Behind the photo:
I want to thank our photographer, Edgard Buenas, for once again brilliantly capturing the balance between the elements of this photo that point viewers to Dear Evan Hansen but at the same time draw them into life in rural Nicaragua. Thank you to our model, Ezequiel, who is on our staff at Teatro Catalina and also lives in Villa Catalina where we shoot all of these photos. Ezequiel is an amazing actor and I knew that he would make the perfect Evan Hansen and be able to portray the emotion we needed for this photo.
Shooting this photo was extremely special because we had Laura Dreyfuss who played Zoe Murphy in the original Broadway cast of Dear Evan Hansen and her friend, Raquel Kahn, present with us behind-the-scenes. What an incredible experience it was for us to have them there to give us insight and ideas for this photo and to hear personal stories from Laura about her time working on the show. I want to thank Laura and Raquel for coming to Nicaragua, sharing their talents with us and for spending time getting to know the incredible young people we work with. By doing so, they reminded so many people here in Nicaragua how much they matter.
Go behind-the-scenes of our Dear Evan Hansen-inspired photo!
Music: "Waving Through a Window" from Dear Evan Hansen