Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Our First Week Together! And Hurricane Felix Update from Accion Medica Cristiana

Last week was my first week living in Nicaragua, and the first week that Christine and I have spent here together. The first few days, I was overwhelmed with all that we needed to get started on for the program and tried to balance that while still recovering from jet lag, and running around Managua with Antonio to buy necessary items for our house and other errands.

We had several meetings with Jennifer, the Coordinator of the Center, to discuss our plans, and outline what we need to be working on. I also had time to get caught up on what happened in the 2 weeks that Christine had been here. We have a lot to get done in terms of planning for the next few months and for the future of Friends of Batahola Volunteers, strategizing about fund raising, and coordinating with the Center.

The above photo is a picture from a meeting with two of the university scholarship students, Hazel and Ciro, where they were brainstorming ways that scholarship students can be more united as a group and collaborate together on different projects and activities of the Center (there were about 6 other scholarship students attending the meeting as well). Another one of their goals was to think of ways that scholarship students can continue to contribute to the Center after they have left and become professionals. All scholarship students at the Center currently also do social service hours, which may consist of working in the library, tutoring children from the local primary school, and other activities. This was one of the meetings that we attending during the week, and it was great for us to get to know some of the scholarship students a little better and hear about their experiences, and how the Center has positively impacted their lives. Later in the week, we also attended a meeting that was planning ways to raise awareness about environmental issues in Batahola. Some of the ideas included cleanup campaigns and educational programs at the local primary school. These meetings were helpful to learn about in greater depth what is going on at the Center and groups of students and others affiliated with it.

Despite feeling a bit disoriented my first week, it feels great to be here again. Christine and I are living in a house owned by the Center, and which is right next to it. We love sitting on our front porch and waving to our friends at the Center. Lots of young people our age have been stopping in to see us, to watch movies and play cards at night. It has been really nice to see people I met when I was here before, and to make new friends. Everyone has been very welcoming so far, and I look forward to forming strong relationships with people here, and learning a lot.

(the last photo is of our house, and the photo above is the view from our front porch of the Center, which is approximately 3 meters away).

Report from Casa Ben Linder: Accion Medica Cristiana

Each week, Christine and I will be meeting with other international volunteers at Casa Ben Linder, which hosts a weekly talk with Nicaragua non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work in such fields as: relief and development, sustainable development, trade justice, woman’s rights, environmental protection, HIV/AIDS, and other issues.

This week the speak was from Accion Medica Cristiana (AMC), one of the NGOs leading the effort on the Atlantic coast on relief after Hurricane Felix, which is one of the worst in recent history, hitting the coast as a level 5 hurricane on September 5th.

Some facts and statistics about the current situation in the hurricane-affected region:

- Lack of infrastructure: most people on the Atlantic coast get around by canoes, and less than 1% of households have land line telephones (compared to 12.6% nationally). The lack of existing infrastructure made communicating to communities about evacuation near impossible (and even more so because of how quickly the hurricane developed and hit), and poses serious problems to the relief effort.
- Migration: In the past 10 years, the population in the region has doubled, but the government continues to give the same amount of money for education and health care. Migration to the region is due in part to labor attracted by the mines. Before the storm, there was over 60% malnutrition in the mining regions (contradicting hypotheses that opening mines creates economic opportunities for local communities).
- Birthrate: while the national birthrate is close to 3 children per woman, on the Atlantic coast the average of children per woman is 5, and close to 7 in some regions.
- Maternal Mortality: while nationally the maternal mortality rate is 94 deaths per 1,000 women who give birth, on the Atlantic coast, the rate is 332 deaths.
- Deforestation: between 1983-2003, 23% of the forests disappeared in the region. More forests would have protected the region from the impact of the hurricane more, and would have prevented soil erosion.
- Unmapped communities: because many of the communities in the region were not identified before the relief effort, finding the effected communities was a challenge for aid organizations and the government.
- Food Insecurity: most of the current food aid is coming from the western part of the country, but recent flooding here has caused food insecurity on a national level.

It must also be noted that this region is among the poorest in Nicaragua, and a high percentage of the population is indigenous. One of the underlying causes of poverty in the region is the history of marginalization of the indigenous communities.

- Government: The government initially tried to centralize all aid coming to the country, but has since realized that that they cannot manage the aid alone. One criticism from AMC is that the government has not called a meeting of civil society and the NGOs despite the fact that NGOs handle over 24% of the aid. On the other side, the government has not posed any barriers to the work that NGOs are doing.
- AMC: the goals of AMC in the recovery period are:
o Safety of survivors
o Houses
o Food security: secure the next food production

For more information on AMC, and how you can help to support the relief effort, see: www.amc.org.ni

As I mentioned earlier, Nicaragua is about to enter a period of national food insecurity. It is not only the Hurricane-affected region that is in danger now, because of the flooding that has ruined the harvests in the western part of the country. Nicaragua, as the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was already in a vulnerable position before, but the situation now is becoming much worse. Please help the efforts here if you can.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Safe and Sound in Batahola Norte!

Laura and I arrived safe and sound in Managua, Nicaragua on September 26th. We were met with many warm hugs from the Centerś staff and a beautiful basket full of fruit and bread in our new home. Here will will be staying for the next two years, collaborating with the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte. Ironically, Laura had to leave as soon as she got to Nicaragua. She is taking part in a conference about globalization and community development in Sydney, Australia! So far she has told me she is learning a lot and making plenty of contacts all over the world... I'm sure we will be hearing from her soon! But for now, that means that I have two weeks by myself to begin familiarizing myself with Batahola Norte, the Center and the Centerś staff, scholarship students etc. I am living literally ten steps away from the Center, renting a house that the Center owns. We will be quite comfortable there as we have a living room-kitchen, bathroom and each have our own bedrooms.

In my first week, most of my time and energy has gone into meeting people from the Center, and finding out about what they do. The Center is run primarily by women, who seem to have an endless source of energy. It is apparent how much they, and so many people in the community, love the Center. Most of the administrators are prior students, many of them having been at the Center more than 20 years. I have also started meeting with a group of women who are interested in exploring the possibility of organizing themselves into a sewing cooperative. Many of these women have participated in the craft class (known as manualidades at the Center), and know how to knit, embroider, make objects out of plantain leaves, and sew. I will be accompanying them in their efforts to organize themselves, define their goals, and come up with possible solutions to the challenges they face.

All in all, my first week in Batahola Norte has been very fruitful. I'm still working hard to get peopleś names down, and am getting back into the swing of speaking Spanish all day. There is no doubt much work to be done in investigating all the possibilities for a volunteer program, as well as working on organizing the English program. But for the next week or so, Iĺl be concentrating on orienting myself to the community and neighborhood - learning as much as i can. More updates to come later!

Much love,