Carlos Sánchez and Marlon Marin are childhood friends who haven’t seen each other since they went off to join the Sandinista revolution three decades ago.
Sánchez lost his sight fighting the Contras in 1987, after his eyes absorbed hazardous exhaust from an RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher. Marin lost his sight – and a leg – a year later in a mine explosion.
But fate twisted upon itself to bring the two boyhood buddies back together to work side by side as masseuses at “Seeing Hands Massage” in Granada’s Euro Café, where they attend to tourists and other clients who stop in for the hot java and Wireless Internet.
Their initial reunion was in 1989, when they were both in rehabilitation in Managua’s MilitaryHospital. Sánchez said he didn’t recognize Marin’s voice at first.
“The casualness of life has brought us back together,” said Marin.
After unsuccessfully seeking work for years in a job market that is unfriendly to the blind and people with other physical impairments, both Sánchez and Marin finally found work with Seeing Hands, an organization that began in a corner of Euro Café’s open-air patio nearly two years ago with little more than a massage chair.
The business, started by a U.S. couple from Hawaii, has been a success. Seeing Hands has since grown to employ blind masseuses in León and the Laguna de Apoyo, and will soon open up a massage parlor in Managua and San Juan del Sur. In the future, the blind massage business hopes to expand across Central America.
Inspired by a similar program they came across while visiting Cambodia, Jack and Staci Morgan moved from Hawaii to Granada in 2006 with the goal of training blind Nicaraguans to find work using one of their greatest assets – their hands.
“Our participants, like many people in the third world, only need opportunity to become productive,”Morgan said in an e-mail.
Now, workers in Granada and Laguna de Apoyo are making more than most entry level doctors or lawyers in Nicaragua. Marin said he takes home nearly $200 a month, far better than the $60 monthly stipend the state pays him as a disabled war vet.
“We get to take money home to our families,” said Marin, a husband and father of two.
The non-profit organization, funded by donations to lastingchange.org, reinvests income in a reserve fund that is put away for the rainy season; extra income goes into a monthly bonus and individual savings accounts for employees, according to Morgan.
The group works out of the Crater’s Edge at Laguna de Apoyo, and has already expanded to The Ben Linder Café in Leon, thanks to funding from the non-profit PolusCenter.
Future masseuses are already being trained in Managua, where they’ll work out of the Hotel Intercontinental and the Hotel Hilton Princess Managua.
“We’re scouting for locations in San Juan del Sur and will begin work to start training in other Central American countries in the last quarter of 2008,” Morgan said. By then, Morgan expects to have a total of 20 trained masseuses, up from six now.
It all began here in Euro Café, on the corner of Granada’s Central Park with Sánchez and Marin working side by side. The staff here, which includes a third blind masseuse and a receptionist, recently expanded to the upstairs part of the cafe, investing in a massage table, a CD player, crèmes, oils and a storage cupboard.
For Marin, it’s more than just a paycheck.
“We’re here, working full time,” he said after giving a massage to a Swedish visitor. “I feel integrated into society because we are productive.”
Seeing Hands Massage
Prices range from 60 córdobas ($3) for a 15-minute back massage in the chair to 300 ($17) for an hour-long full body on the table.
To find out more or help, visit Lastingchange.org or e-mail Jack Morgan, firstname.lastname@example.org.