Jason Glaser of La Isla Foundation was recently interviewed on WBEZ’s Worldview about his work surrounding the epidemic of kidney disease among sugarcane workers in Nicaragua. “La Isla Foundation was formed in 2008 after independent filmmaker Jason Glaser met Juan Salgado, a community organizer from Candelaria, Nicaragua. Jason was in Nicaragua making a film about banana workers when Juan informed him of an epidemic of kidney disease occurring in Candelaria and La Isla (“The Island”), neighboring villages in the municipality of Chichigalpa in western Nicaragua. The disease was ravaging agricultural laborers working on a local sugar-cane plantation. Juan, a former worker on the plantation who was fired when he showed the first signs of kidney disease, introduced Jason to the people of La Isla and Candelaria. Over the following months, Jason watched as, one by one, friends he had made died from kidney failure. He put his film aside and started La Isla Foundation. Jason Glaser joins us to give us an update on the work he’s been doing in Nicaragua.”
Each person yields anywhere from 3-8 tons of cut sugarcane every day. This job has become much more labor intensive than it historically started out. During the interview, Glaser states, “They’re paid by how much they cut. So they’re working extremely hard in extremely brutal conditions and with time the kidney degrades. The current theory is massive dehydration, muscle breakdown because of the workload, and then also most likely, we’re still studying this, some kind of toxin exposure in the mix.”
In addition to scientific research, La Isla Foundation has brought an artistic perspective to this important issue. Glaser states, “Artists like [Ed Kashi, Tom Laffay, and Aubrey Roemer]…the three of them are doing such incredibly impactful work that I think it connects with people on an emotional level. All the data and all the science…can be really intimidating and this kind of connects why we need to do this, and the reason we need to do it is because men in their earning years, and women, are losing not just their livelihood, but their lives in pursuit of supporting their families and that has huge secondary costs. It’s really important that people are able to connect on an emotional level to what’s going on.”
Over the past three years Ed Kashi (VII) has made multiple trips to Nicaragua and the most recent trip, expanding coverage to El Salvador, with La Isla Foundation to document this issue. Commissioned by Solidaridad, an exhibition of Ed Kashi’s images made while working with La Isla Foundation will be on view in Amsterdam this August at Melkweg. More info on the exhibition here.