Dr. Laura Parajón, an American Baptist International Ministries (IM) medical missionary serving in Nicaragua and a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), has been named one of three 2015 “Rural Heroes” by the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA).
WONCA’s Working Party on Rural Practice created its Rural Heroes initiative to spotlight rural family physicians, public health physicians, or other health professionals working around the world whose efforts could inspire others. Rural Heroes are chosen based on their excellence as care providers, decision-makers, communicators, community leaders and team members.
Dr. Parajón’s passion for community health began as a student at Brown University in 1987, where she volunteered to help establish an English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) tutoring program with two other students. While teaching ESL, she discovered that most of her ESL students had medical problems, which prompted her to pursue medicine. She chose the medical degree program at the University of New Mexico because it focused on working with underserved populations in urban and rural settings.
In 2001, she and her husband, David (an internist and preventive medicine physician), became IM missionaries, having felt called to respond to the medical needs of the poor beyond the U.S.
In Nicaragua, they worked together with David´s father and former IM missionary, Dr. Gustavo Parajón, to learn from him and to continue the ministry he started in 1967, which trains and supports health promoters in remote areas of rural Nicaragua.
Health promoters are people who are selected by their own communities because they have a heart to serve the most vulnerable people, primarily women and children. Once trained, the promoters are able to provide basic health care using protocols for both acute and chronic illnesses, monitor immunizations, help with pregnancy care and identify patients who need to be transported to a government health center. They also provide ongoing health education programs for adults and the schools in their communities.
In 2006, the Parajóns started AMOS (A Ministry of Sharing) Health and Hope as a way to expand the health ministry initiated by Gustavo. The acronym spells the name of the Old Testament prophet Amos, who spoke on behalf of the poor. During the past 45 years of collective work, there have been significant reductions in the number of deaths among children and women in the communities where AMOS serves.
The nomination letter for Dr. Parajón, written by former AAFP President Warren Heffron, M.D., reads: “She is a tremendous role model and has created a rural program that has proven to be sustainable for 13 years. She stands, in my opinion, as a true innovator in health care for rural communities.”
“This award truly belongs to the communities and health promoters we work with in rural Nicaragua,” comments Dr. Parajón, “as well as our amazing staff and the incredible people, churches and mission volunteers who make this ministry possible. It´s a testimony to what we can all do together, and my husband and I are truly grateful for the privilege of serving here with AMOS Health and Hope.”
The Reverend Adalia Gutiérrez Lee, recently appointed IM Area Director of Iberoamerica and the Caribbean, states: “What a privilege to work with doctors like Laura and David Parajón, whose professionalism and humility have empowered ‘the least of these’ in rural Nicaragua. May God continue giving all God’s servants around the world the strength and joy to unconditionally serve others, even when their work might not always be recognized and celebrated, as we are able to do with Dr. Parajón today!”