“Los Pipitos,” which means “the small innocent ones” in Spanish, is a term of endearment for children and adults who need help. It is also the name of a national organization in Nicaragua founded in the mid-1980s by parents of children with disabilities. Established in the waning days of the US trade embargo in a country still shattered by the effects of war, Los Pipitos proceeded to provide education and services to meet the needs of families and communities heretofore unmet.

In 1990, a group of therapists from Boulder, Colorado formed their own nonprofit support group called Colorado Friends of Los Pipitos. They sponsored the Los Pipitos chapter in the village of La Trinidad, which at the time ran the only school in Central America that welcomed both disabled and non-disabled children. The school was a central part of the community, staffed by volunteer teachers and social workers who lived in La Trinidad. The school provided home services to children and young adults who could not attend because of distance or terrain. The school also provided basic health screening and some immunizations.

In February of 1993, Steve Leinau and Doolie Brown were invited to join the Colorado Friends of Los Pipitos in Nicaragua. Doolie photographed the trip and provided the group with slides for their fundraising efforts. The group included occupational therapists Lois Hickman, Wanda Rosario, and Chris Sebenik; Chris Carter (a speech therapist), Susan Ellisor (recreational therapist), Gary Handschumacher (community organizer), and our translator Jack Mundry.

The volunteers were asked to bring with them as many supplies as possible as the people they were visiting needed everything: paper and pencils, vitamins, toys, clothing, and other supplies. The parents especially requested for a school lunch program. Honoring that request the Friends of Los Pipitos raised money to begin that program.

The school served the milk in plastic bags since they did not have cups or glasses.

Earth Links was able to solicit therapy and medical supplies for the village school including much needed assistive devices.

Therapists adapted the equipment for each child.

Major donors included Mobility Services in Santa Cruz, and the Monterey County school system.

During the sixteen days they were in Nicaragua, the volunteers made forty-three home visits: in La Trinidad, in the remote community of Chaquita Blanco, in Pueblo Nuevo, and the mountainous areas of Tomabu and San Francisco. They saw first hand what happened when therapy and services were not provided to disabled children early in their lives. The effects of no intervention were striking: children with open clefts, children and adults with developmental disabilities because of a total lack of medical attention to fevers in infancy, children with night-blindness due to vitamin A deficiency, a child with cerebral palsy whose limbs were knotted like a pretzel as the result of no available treatment.

In 1993 the town of Pueblo Nuevo had eighty families, each with at least one disabled child. Until the parents and teachers were able to open their own chapter, the La Trinidad chapter of Los Pipitos shared resources whenever possible.

Today the nonprofit has grown to over 15,000 families in grassroots community organizations in 85 municipalities around Nicaragua.

You can visit Los Pipitos web site at: www.lospipitos.org

Photos by Doolie Brown