My relationship with the victims of CKDnT started around the same time Jason Glaser’s (co-founder of La Isla Foundation) did, but across the border in Costa Rica. In 2009, during my freshman year of high school, my family and I lived near San Jose, Costa Rica. While living there, I grew especially close to one mother in the community, Mirna. She is a native Nicaraguan and sole breadwinner for her family which includes her husband, Angel, and now 13-year-old daughter, Daniela. Angel used to work in the sugar cane fields of Chichigalpa until he was diagnosed with kidney disease, lost his job, and became too ill to work. At that point, Mirna was forced to move herself and her family to Costa Rica to find work. After seeing first-hand the damage that agricultural work and kidney disease can do to a family, I was determined to learn more about the disease that was killing Angel.

I learned of the La Isla Foundation via their website during my junior year of high school, and have tried to stay involved ever since. For my senior project during my final year of high school, I collaborated with La Isla Foundation, some of their partner organizations, and a grant and sponsored contract specialist from the University of Rhode Island. Together, we developed and composed a grant proposal for a public health study to be conducted in the La Isla community. This summer I finally was old enough (La Isla Foundation wisely doesn’t accept high school students as interns) to apply for an internship. Now that I am officially a member of the La Isla Foundation team, I work with the Community Development team as a kids’ arts and sports club coordinator, English teacher, and liaison between La Isla Foundation and the Granada-based Pulsera Project; with the Public Health team as a grant researcher and developer, and lately, with the Public Relations department as a videographer, photographer, and interviewer.

Although my limited experience with cameras and interviews made me wary of any additional PR responsibilities, the opportunity to interview La Isla community members as part of a PR-based project has been one of the most gratifying experiences so far at La Isla Foundation. Rather than learn about these individuals and their life stories from Youtube videos and past publications, I was able to ask the questions and experience the responses myself. The best part of each of the interviews took place once I had turned the cameras off. It was then that the community members truly expressed their frustrations with the Ingenio San Antonio, the injustices they have experienced, and their explanations for why the cycle of poverty, cane-cutting, and death is so hard to break. I hope that every volunteer and staff member working for and with La Isla Foundation has the opportunity to spend time with community members, whether it be at the Kids’ club, for public health interviews, or during legal interventions because, in my experience, that is when you truly begin to understand La Isla Foundation and feel connected to the cause.

Once it’s time to return to the U.S. for my sophomore year of college at Brown University, I plan to remain a part of the La Isla Foundation team. I will continue to collaborate with the public health team as a grant developer throughout their upcoming peritoneal dialysis project. I will be forming new relationships with faculty members and student researcher groups in the environmental sciences department at Brown to help meet the foundation’s need for qualitative environmental data from the community. I also plan to start a La Isla Foundation chapter at Brown and build a strong foundation of committed students so that the chapter continues once I have graduated.

Although I cannot claim that I have been an integral part of the conception, growth, or successes of the La Isla Foundation, I am proud to have built a relationship with this organization and to have a place in its future.

– Emily Wright