Monday, December 15, 2008

The Central American Youth Parliment and End of the Year Updates

At 5am I am walking up the corridors of the convent silently, looking out at the grove of orange trees that slope down the side of the mountain. There are twenty people already gathered in a circle when I arrive at the open clearing. Heidy, a young Mayan priest from Guatemala, is dressed in the purple woven fabrics of her village and standing in the center. She is placing candles that represent North, South, East and West in a circle, preparing to begin the ritual fire. We each hold a candle representing our prayers, and one by one we place them around the fire. Heidy leads the group of young people from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Honduras in the Mayan ritual of prayer to Mother Earth until we see the sun coming up and the birds began their chirping and we go back silently to our rooms to prepare for another day of talks on youth violence and strategies for social action.

Last week I participated in the Central American Youth Parliament held in San Salvador, El Salvador, whose focus was on addressing the issue of youth violence in the region. Central America is a
diverse region ecologically, containing 15% of the earth’s biodiversity in less than 1% of the earth’s surface. Its people are equally diverse, speaking hundreds of indigenous languages as well as Spanish and Creole English, and coming from indigenous, Spanish, English, African, and other backgrounds. The Youth Parliament was a testament to this great diversity and was an opportunity for youth to share their cultures as well as the ways they are responding to the threats of gangs, drugs, violence against women, HIV/AIDS, and other issues in their communities.

From Nicaragua we had 15 delegates from various organizations including the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte, Covenant House (which helps to rehabilitate street kids from abuse and drug addiction), Cantera (which runs a youth center with programs like painting, folkloric dance, and karate), and other organizations. The week focused on teaching young people how to strategically plan programs for violence prevention programs in the community as well as ways to be politically active in pushing for legislation to protect youth. Nicaragua, for example, invests less than 3% of its national budget on education. Since investing in education is one of the best ways to eradicate poverty, prevent gang and drug activity, and create a better future, pushing for the Nicaraguan government to spend more on education would be one area where youth could be effective.

The Youth Parliament was an incredible opportunity for me and I look forward in 2009 to building upon what I learned and the connections I made to continue working with youth
from Batahola Norte on important issues.

As we are finishing up the year at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte, Christine and I have been working hard to finish up projects, paint our house, and evaluate our experiences over the past year to be able to make bigger contributions in the coming year. This past Saturday was the graduation ceremony at the Center and we were proud to give diplomas to 11 of our adult students.

Teaching English this year has been a tremendous learning experience for Christine and me. Our students have been dedicated to learning English and using their skills to help others. Among our students are two of the Center’s staff members, Arlen who runs the library, and Ingrid, an administrative assistant. Another of our students, Mary Luz, is a doctor who works in public health who goes out of her way to help people in need no matter the hour of the day (she has come to the aid of Christine and I in various medical emergencies!). Martha is a hydrologist who helps bring clean water systems to rural areas, and Kathia is a university student studying International Relations who hopes one day to work as a translator. Our other students included a manager of a paint shop, university students and a psychologist.

It was a privilege for Christine and me to assist these extremely intelligent and socially aware people to learn a skill that will help them in their work. Learning English will help those without jobs to find employment, and for those with jobs to be able to work together with international counterparts in addressing issues of social justice and human rights. Martha will be able to work with English-speaking scientists in projects like predicting volcano activity and creating water systems in poor rural zones, and Mary Luz attended a conference in Washington, DC a few months ago on Public Health and was able to share ideas with her U.S. counterparts about ways to combat malaria, dengue, and other tropical diseases.

Christine and I are excited to teach English again to another group of students, as well as continuing our other work next year. Christine has been focusing on the women’s quilting collective and on promoting fair trade events where small businesses can promote their artwork, and I have been focusing on the continued development of the volunteer program and on youth organizing work.

I am excited about the next eight months in Nicaragua, and taking the opportunity to learn more from community-based organizations here about creative and holistic solutions to poverty reduction and social justice.

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and a Happy New Year,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Apply to Volunteer with Us!

Friends of Batahola Volunteers (FOBV) is searching for the next two volunteers to accompany the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte for two years beginning in the summer of 2009!

Who are we?

FOBV is a new volunteer program that works with the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte in Managua, Nicaragua. The program was started by Christine Ruppert and Laura Hopps, both graduates of Boston College in ’07, in collaboration with the Center.

Where do we Work?

The Centro Cultural Batahola Norte (CCBN) is a technical training and holistic education center focused on the empowerment of women and youth in the community for social transformation. It was founded in 1983 by Sister Margie Navarro, CSJ, and Fr. Ángel Torrellas, OP during the U.S.-backed Contra War in Nicaragua.

Over the past 24 years the CCBN has helped over 2,000 women and youth to defend their rights, find and develop new sources of income and improve their living standards. We currently offer a varied program of basic adult education and vocational training that is approved by the National Technological Institute (INATEC) and coordinated with the Ministry of Education (MECD). Approximately 500 students enroll in 25 different technical and domestic arts courses each year.

Courses include:
- Literacy (basic adult education through 6th grade)
- Basic Accounting
- Computer Science
- Typing
- Communicative English
- Cooking (including national and international cooking classes, pastry making, cake decorating, etc)
- Natural Medicine
- Handicrafts

Art programs include:
- Music lessons
- Choir
- Orchestra
- Painting and drawing
- Theatre
- Dance (Latin dance and folkloric)

The CCBN also provides a scholarship program to help young people to continue their formal education and a 5,000-volume library open to the public. We also seek to support the healthy development of young people through the arts, offering classes and performance opportunities in folkloric dance, music, painting and theatre. Since 1994 we have enabled over 100 young people from poor families to finish their studies (primary through university levels) and become trained professionals, including lawyers, doctors, translators, social workers, journalists, business administrators, physical therapists, engineers, and musicians.

Our Mission:

Friends of Batahola Volunteers is a 2-year program that brings young people from the U.S. to live and work in Nicaragua. Volunteers seek to accompany the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte in its mission of empowering women and youth for social transformation. Volunteers dedicate themselves to the development of their spirituality and social consciousness through their community life.

Our Values:
Accompaniment: Batahola Volunteers strive to live and work in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people through their commitment to simple living within the community of Batahola Norte. Volunteers open themselves to learning, listening, and sharing with community members.

Social Justice: Batahola Volunteers’ methodology is one of praxis, the cycle of action and reflection upon action for social change. A commitment to social justice is lived out through work focused on empowerment, especially of women. Volunteers contribute through a stewardship of their time, energy, experience, and talents to collaborate with the community. Batahola Volunteers also commit themselves to searching for nonviolent solutions to poverty and oppression in their work and community life.

Community of Faith: Batahola Volunteers live in a community of faith, in which volunteers share and explore spirituality together and with the larger community.

What do we do?

The work of FOBV volunteers depends on the interests, artistic, musical or other skills, and the needs of the Centro Cultural.

Some of the work Christine and Laura have done include:

- Creation of an English program for working adults
- Accompaniment of a women’s quilting collective
- Facilitation of a women’s reflection group to focus on self-esteem, intra-family violence, and
other issues
- Help in the creation of a micro-enterprise course
- Creation of a weblog to promote international awareness of the reality of Nicaragua and a
solidarity network to support the CCBN
- Participation in a Central American youth conference on gangs, drugs, and violence
- Youth organizing to create a group to focus on formation, education, and action in the
community around issues such as: environmental protection, HIV/AIDS awareness, gender
equality, and others
- Organization of a micro-enterprise fair to sell the goods of local collectives and cooperatives

Living in Nicaragua:
Friends of Batahola Volunteers is supported by the non-profit organization VMM, an ecumenical Christian organization that provides volunteers with:

- Medical and life insurance, including 3 months of medical insurance after completion of service
- Monthly stipend
- Pre-departure orientation
- Visa expenses
- Spanish language training
- Annual retreats with other volunteers throughout Central America
- $1,000 re-entry stipend upon completion of service

As part of the program, volunteers spend one month before their arrival in a Teaching English as a Foreign Language program.


Volunteers live in a simple but comfortable house that belongs to the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte, and is located adjacent to the Center. Each volunteer has her/his own room. Rent and electricity is included in the program, and volunteers pay for other utilities from their stipend.

Who We Are Looking For:

We are looking for 2 highly motivated young people over the age of 21 committed to learning about and participating in social change. Women and men are welcomed to apply. A high level of Spanish competency is required, and a college degree or equivalent. We welcome applicants of diverse races, faiths, nationalities, sexual orientations, and physical abilities to apply.

We have a preference for people who have spent time previously in Latin America for 3 months or longer and have knowledge of the cultural and historical context.

The Centro Cultural Batahola Norte is an exciting and dynamic work environment. We encourage applicants to apply who can work well independently as well as collaboratively, are flexible, and have a strong commitment to social justice and their own personal growth.

How to Apply:
If you are interested in applying to the program, please email us with your resume at and we will contact you with further instructions.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Laura & Christine

Speech from Julio Perez at the School of the Americas Protest Nov. 2008

Julio Speech
Get your own at Scribd or explore others:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sign Petition to Change US Foreign Policy in Latin America

Dear Friends,

Please see Witness for Peace's Petition to President Obama outlining changes in US foreign policy in Latin America.

We are all elated at the election of Obama--but we must organize to demand that he make the necessary changes on domestic and foreign policies!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sign Petition to President Obama to Close the SOA

Sign the Petition to call President Obama to close the School of the Americas. The military training school at Ft. Benning, Georgia has trained thousands of Latin American soldiers, many of whom have gone on to carry out scorched earth campaigns against civilian populations, political assassinations and other atrocities in the name of protecting U.S. economic interests.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Transforming Violence Through Art and Education

I am excited to share with you that this month I am starting to focus on youth organizing in the community to form a youth group at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte. I recently had a planning meeting.

We sit around the table in our living room in a “cool” (68 degrees F) Sunday night in Managua after Church. Ernesto sits in a rocking chair, his “Che” baseball hat cocked to one side, sipping hot chocolate. He is a senior anthropology student working on a thesis on Nicaraguan immigrants to Costa Rica. Clarisa, a graphic design student, in a black and white striped shirt sits in another chair opening a packet of cookies. Melvin, an engineering student and member of the Batahola Choir, leans back in his chair turning over the cover of a documentary on teen pregnancy. “There is so much misinformation out there,” he says. “And so many young girls who are dying.” “Next Friday,” says Ernesto, “we’ll have the first meeting, we can invite all the young people from the Center.” “We will need to organize games too,” added Clarisa, “We can talk about serious things, but we need to make it fun as well!”

The youth group will be a space for young people to come together and socialize in a safe environment, educate themselves on important issues like intrafamily violence, sexual health, and environmental protection, reflect on their reality, and organize events to reach out to others in the community. Ernesto, Melvin, Clarisa, and other scholarship students of the Center are excited to get the group going.

One of the central values of the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte is of solidarity, of encouraging students who benefit from the Center’s projects to pass along what they have learned to others. This is the focus of the youth group—to bring together the Center’s high school and university scholarship students to organize educational campaigns and activities in the community to reach out to other young people with the aim of preventing an increase in violence, delinquency, teen pregnancy, gang activity, and other social problems.

Some of the Center’s staff members are working on similar issues with youth in the Oscar Romero Center in then nearby neighborhood of Jorge Demitrov. Patricia, the dance teacher, Gerardo, the art teacher, Bayardo the theater teacher, and Karen, the psychologist have been working at the Romero Center since March on a violence-prevention program.

Every passing car creates a dust-storm on the narrow street. The children momentarily cover their faces, then return to hopping in potato sacks across the street while the Reggaeton music blasts. Neighbors are laughing to each other, crossing street to see the new mural at the Romero Center. Gerardo had to plaster over the bullet hole punctures before starting the mural, but now the wall is covered by images of children disarming a gun, a green tree bearing fruits of peace, tolerance, solidarity, and hope, and loving families. A teenage boy shows off his work to his mother and aunts, explaining the meaning of the different images.

Demitrov is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Managua, and the Oscar Romero Center is on the border between the two most powerful gangs in the community. Each month at least two people are killed. Most of the children who come to the Romero Center have family members who are in the gangs and have lost loved ones in the violence. The goal of the Romero Center is to give children and young people a space in the community where they can be involved in healthy activities.

On November 1, there was a celebration of the project between the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte and the Romero Center, which included dance, theater performances, and games. The streets, usually empty for fear of the gangs, were filled with children playing and dancing to music. The children were proud of the mural they helped to paint, and to take part in dance and theater performances. It was a rare moment in Demitrov when people came together to promote a culture of peace.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

25th Anniversary Celebrations!

Greetings family and friends!
Laura and I have been very busy this past month with preparations and festivities for the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte's 25th Anniversary celebration. We celebrated in March with a painting exhibition and theatrical event, and this month we were able to celebrate even more with various chorus and orchestra concerts and a "Revista Cultural" which included the Center's chorus, orchestra, theatre students, dancers, the National Orchestra and Philip Montelban... a famous Nicaraguan reggae singer. Our very own Laura Hopps even participated in the show through a folkloric dance! The event was a beautiful testament to the hard work and dedication of the Center's staff and students throughout the years. It was a unique experience for many of the students, since the event was held in the National Theatre. My favorite part was watching the younger girls (8-12) dancing on stage beaming with excitement. Everyone's hard work definitely paid off!!
We were lucky enough to have the company of three of the Friends of Batahola Board Members, Terri, Mary Anne and Sr. Helen Prejean, who were visiting for the events. They do a lot of fundraising and support work for the Center (and us!) in their U.S. networks, so it was nice to be able to share this time with them. We even got to take a little field trip to an overlook of a volcanic lake. We shared a beautiful lunch and then got soaked on our ride home in the back of a pickup truck thanks to the Nicaraguan rains that are in season. We had a great time.
Now that the 25th Anniversary celebrations are over, everything is a little more relaxed. English class is progressing well. The students have finished 3.5 levels... 1.5 to go until the end of the year! Laura and I are looking forward to a retreat with VMM at the end of September. We'll be heading to Lake Aticlan in Guatemala, which is supposed to be gorgeous and very relaxing. I'm looking forward to some time to relax, reflect and have some good chats with the other VMM volunteers who are placed in Guatemala and El Salvador. We'll post pictures!
Sending much love to all of you. Thanks for reading and for your support.
En paz,

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Preparations for the 25th Anniversary Celebration in the National Theatre!

Hi Everyone,

We are very excited this week to continue the 25th anniversary celebration of the Centro Cutural Batahola Norte with concerts by the Ángel Torrellas Chorus and Margarita Navarro Orchestra, along with the National Orchestra of Nicaragua. The biggest event of the year is tomorrow night, when we will be presenting in National Theater of Nicaragua, the Ruben Dario. The performance will include the chorus, orchestra, with and special guests, Philip Moltalbán (a famous Nicaraguan reggae artist), Salvador Cardenal (of Guardabarranco), and the National Orchestra of Nicaragua. There will be theater and folkloric dance performances, and I will have the privilege of participating with my adult dance class! Below is a short video of the chorus performing Monday night at the Center Bach's Coronation Mass.

We are excited to have with us this week several Amigos de Batahla from Spain, and Friends of Batahola from the U.S., including Sister Helen Prejean, who arrives tonight.

Be sure to check back soon for photos and videos from the event tomorrow!

La paz,

Chorus "Ángel Torrellas" with the National Orchestra of Nicaragua
Bach's Coronation Mass

Monday, September 1, 2008

Meet Batahola Teacher Nineth Larios!

Hi everyone,

It's been awhile since I have written. I was sick with various tropical illnesses, and more recently we have been busy here organizing for the 25th anniversary celebration events.

I am starting to work on a new project with the Center, to youth group to provide a safe space for young people to socialize and to focus on issues like violence, environmental protection, and HIV/AIDS prevention. I will also be traveling to El Salvador in December to a youth congress of young people from throughout Central America with a focus on gangs, drugs, and violence. Also attending the congress will be Abril and Ernesto, two university scholarship students of the Center, and Gretchen, the director of the scholarship program. I am looking forward to collaborating more on issues effecting young people in the community here. I will keep you all updated!

Besides sharing a brief update, I wanted to share with you the story of a member of the Batahola community and good friends of mine, Nineth Larios. Nineth, 30, has always had a passion for music and art. Because of her studies in the Center, she has been able to transform her passion into a lifelong vocation—a rare occurrence in an area where most make a living working in sweatshops or doing other labor-intensive work. By selling small paintings on canvas and pottery and giving music lessons, Nineth is able to provide a comfortable life for her husband, Joseph, and two children, Ludwig (7) and Brisa (5).

Nineth first came to the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte in 1983 to enroll in pre-school after her mother had heard about the good works of the Center’s founders, Margie Navarro and Angel Torrellas. Growing up at the Center, Nineth had the opportunity to sing in the chorus, take painting classes, and attend various activities offered, and fell in love with music and art.

When she was six, an international cooperative of artists came to the Center to paint the mural “Nuevo Amanecer” (New Dawn). Nineth learned mural design from the artists, and worked with the other children of the neighborhood to create some small murals on the walls of the Center. When she was older, she went on to paint other murals at the Center as well.

As a teenager, Nineth was able to learn the recorder, guitar, piano, French horn, and mandolin at the Center. With a scholarship from the Center, she was then able to continue her studies at the Music Conservatory, where she also learned flute, trombone, trumpet, clarinet, and oboe. Today she continues to be an active member of the Center’s community, teaching flute and marimba lessons to children to pass along her passion for music to the younger generation.

Nineth attributes much of her success and happiness to Angel Torrellas, the late Spanish priest and co-founder of the Center who developed the music program. “He is one of the biggest inspirations in my life,” she said, pointing to Angel’s portrait on the wall of her house. “He was our teacher, and he always said that we had to continue our studies. Angel taught us music that cultivated our spirituality, organized sports days, and always gave us books to read. He didn’t want us wasting our time.”

“As the director of the chorus,” she continued, “Angel was very strict. If we didn’t show up on time, he would come looking for us or call our house. That’s how I learned to be punctual—now I am always 10 minutes early for everything!

Angel was also very humble. When people would give the chorus food after a concert performance, for example, they would always want to give him the first plate with the best food. Angel would always say no, and wait until all of the kids had food to eat. He always taught us through his example to be at the service of others. Now, I try to give my children, Brisa (5), and Ludwig (7), the same examples he gave me.

I want my children to be professionals in the future—not so that they can make lots of money, but so that they can help others. They are naturally compassionate, and I want to develop that capacity within them. I don’t want to just teach them to be good to poor people in theory—I want them to experience working with the sick and homeless directly.

The other day, for example, I was with Ludwig in the market eating at a food stand. An old homeless man came up to us asking for money. I gave him my food, but the owner of the food stand came over yelling at the old man. How small are people’s hearts? Ludwig was horrified at how the woman could treat the old man and gave the man the rest of his food as well. When he gets older, I want Ludwig to work in a homeless shelter and never forget to be compassionate towards others.

We are the fruits of those who teach us. I am living my dream of being an artist and music teacher because of Angel, and I am excited about the future. I just started working with an artist cooperative that will help me to better support my family. My husband, Joseph, works at the central market selling furniture, but he is taking computer classes at the Center so he can get a better job. I owe so much of what I am to the Center, and I am passing on the values of solidarity, of sharing what we have and know with others, and of being at the service of others on to my children.”

In solidarity,
Laura Hopps

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Facts About Women in Central America

From the Central American Women's Fund/Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres
  • 73% of the population is under 30 years old in Nicaragua
  • In Guatemala, since 2001 more than 2200 women have been killed
  • 50% of all women in Nicaragua have had at least one pregnancy by the time they reach age nineteen
  • In El Salvador, of an estimated 21,500 young women, 95% of whom are between the ages of 14-19, work as domestic employees.
  • In 2007, 115 women died as a consequence of complications in pregnancy in Nicaragua.
  • In Belize, 44% of the population is under 18
  • In Honduras, data from the National Survery of Epidemiology and Family Health shows that 66% of women between the ages of 14-24 have never received sex education.
  • In Nicaragua, the average number of children per mother is 3.3
  • In a survey taken between 2000-2006 in Honduras, only 24% of women used a condom during their most recent sexual encounter.
  • In 2007, more than 200,000 Nicaraguans emigrated to Costa Rica.
  • During 2008, 16 women were murdered in the first three months in Nicaragua.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Update on Life and the Current Crises in Nicaragua

Dear Family and Friends,

While I have been active in updating the blog often with news from the community, I haven't taken the time recently to update you on what I have been doing and how things are going here!

March was a wonderful time, and we were excited for the visit of Friends of Batahola, the Boston College Arrupe group, George School, and others, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte.

My work most recently has focused on a research project looking at international volunteer programs. I have had the chance to interview various organizations in Nicaragua to learn about their experiences with international volunteers. This has helped tremendously in setting up Friends of Batahola Volunteers and creating a network of support. Results of the study, which will look at aspects of volunteer programs such as structure, finances, orientations, volunteer work, etc., will be distributed to participating organizations to aid them in improving their own programs.

I have been coordinating with St. Andrews Episcopal Church in my hometown of Yardley, PA about the possibility of a delegation coming to Nicaragua next winter, and I hope that it happens! I am very excited about the possibility of a group from my church coming to learn about Nicaragua and the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte.

Christine and I are also continuing work with the women's group, and will focus the next meeting on self-esteem in a workshop led by two of the Center's scholarship students, who are psychology majors at the university. We are excited to continue working with the group to provide a space for women to come together to have fun, learn, and reflect.

Plans After Nicaragua!
I recently found out that I was awarded a scholarship to attend the Harvard Divinity School to study Theologies of Liberation and will start in the Fall of 2009. I also plan to purse a joint degree possibly at Tufts in International Relations which I will apply to when I return to Boston.

As part of my studies I will enroll in HDS's Field Education program, and am looking into a a position with the American Friends Service Committe's "Project Voice" that is focused on immigrant rights.

I am also excited about reuniting with many friends who will be in the area studying programs such as social work, public policy, or theology, and working with non-profit organizations!

Hopefully my time in Boston will better prepare me to contribute in a meaningful way to addressing issues of poverty and injustice and build upon my experiences in Nicaragua.

The National Transportation Strike, the Food Crisis, and the pullout of Maquilas

We are now entering the second week of the national transportation strike in Nicaragua. Taxi and bus drivers are demanding a freeze on the price of gas and are in negotiations with the government. As a result, many schools, universities, workplaces have been shut down. As tensions mount in the negotiations, two trucks have been burned and one person killed. We hope a resolution will be reached as soon as possible to end the strike.

Rising prices of food and gas are putting a lot of pressure on the most vulnerable sectors of Nicaraguan society and making it harder for families to feed their children. For an interesting perspective on the global food crisis see:
"Capitalism, Agribusiness, and the Food Sovereignty Alternative"- Centre for Research on Globalization

"Making a Killing From the Food Crisis" - Real News Network

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that nine maquilas have announced their pullout of Nicaragua in the last three months, which will leave over 12,000 people jobless. Maquilas (factories where imported goods are assembled for exports, also commonly referred to as "sweat shops") are controversial for their human rights abuses and dumping of toxic wastes, etc. Nicaragua recently lost it's comparative advantage of attracting foreign direct investment when the government, against the advice of the International Monetary Fund, raised the minimum wage by 33.5% to $102 per month to help families cover the increasing cost of living.

For a single mother with two children, this salary would provide only $0.85 a day per person, barely enough to survive. To supplement family income, many children are put to work in the streets selling candies, prostituting themselves, or collecting tin cans and plastic.

Poor countries like Nicaragua are often locked in what is termed a "race to the bottom" with other countries who, desperate for jobs, will make great concessions in worker's wages and human rights, environmental standards, etc. as well as grant tax holidays and other benefits in order to attract foreign businesses. While such neoliberal strategies are theoretically supposed to help jump-start economies in poor countries, they actually allow for the exploitation of already vulnerable populations and leave economies further dilapidated when maquilas leave to find another poor country to operate in.

The Taiwanese-owned maquilas that are leaving Nicaragua will move to Vietnam, where there are no organized unions (as there are in Nicaragua), and the minimum wage is only $35/month as opposed to $102/month in Nicaragua. The Vietnamese government is awarding free land an other benefits to foreign companies as well.

With gas prices rising, all of Central America facing a food crisis, and Nicaragua still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Felix, the loss of 12,000 jobs in Managua is a devastating blow that will leave many more families hungry.

I hope that in the short-term, the Nicaraguan government will respond with measures to protect the most vulnerable sectors of society and develop a long-term plan for sustainable economic development that includes serious protections for the environment and human rights.

Especially in the context of this reality, I am grateful to be working at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte. The micro-enterprise course opened a few weeks ago, aimed at helping people in the community to start their own small businesses selling cakes and other foods, natural medicines, handicrafts, and other goods to supplement their income. There are 16 people in the course mostly women, who have opened bank accounts to start saving money to open their small business. At the end of the 6-month course, the Center will then match whatever the students have saved to aid them in starting their business. The course will also help students access micro-loans and manage their money.

The course is one example of a program at the Center that helps people to provide for their families in ways that are more sustainable than maquila jobs. I am proud to be working in a place that is, as one friend recently described, "a breath of fresh oxygen" in an environment polluted by the bleak realities of corruption, poverty, and continued exploitation.

La paz,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Updates on life, small business and the Luz Marina case

Dear family and friends,
I apologize that it's been so long since I've written, although I know Laura has been doing a great job sharing much of the community news from Batahola Norte. We certainly have been keeping busy! Our English class is well in to it's Second Level, and staying strong with 22 students. They are a wonderful group of dedicated learners. Its been fun to get to know each of them better. The class has started to take on a personality of its own now that the students know each other better and feel more comfortable playing games and sharing. I'm also settling comfortably into my role as a teacher, getting better at explaining vocabulary and grammar concepts in creative ways depending on the needs of the students. Thanks again to all of our donors who helped to fund the English class with books, cds, dictionaries, etc. We have definitely been taking advantage of your generosity!!
Aside from English, a lot of my time has been going towards the development of a course is small business start-up and administration. Many of the Center's classes, such as Cooking, Sewing, Craft Making and Natural Medicine, are geared towards helping men and women learn to produce products which they can sell. The next step is in providing information and support to those graduates who want to use their new skills as a source of income. I've spent the last months interviewing small business owners, researching various micro-enterprise curriculums, and organizing my findings in order to aid in the development of a unique curriculum the Center will use to help train many of their graduates in starting their own businesses. The course started this past Saturday, an accomplishment the Center is very proud of!
The women's quilting group I have been accompanying is currently in the process of investigating their potential markets in Nicaragua as well as in the U.S. Their products are getting more creative and more beautiful by the week. The women are enjoying making small quilts, quilted cosmetic bags, quilted backpacks, pillow cases, etc. Recently they have been teaching themselves, using donated books, to appliqué unique designs on their projects, which is a way they hope to incorporate Nicaraguan culture into their work. Soon we will be seeing bags and quilts covered in designs of flowers, volcanoes, fish, etc.!
For those who have been following the case of Luz Marina, the woman from Batahola who was brutally murdered by her husband, we wanted to share the latest news. As noted previously in the blog, Juan Bautista Silva, was found guilty for "frustrated homicide", which holds a sentence of 4 to 7 years. The family of Luz Marina was disappointed and angered by this sentence, given the premeditation that went into the murder, the brutality of the act, and the fact that Silvo's crime ended in the death of their loved one. Recently the court announced that Silva will be serving 6 years and 6 months in jail for his crime. On today's front page of one of the two main newspapers in Nicaragua, there was an article calling for justice for the many perpetrators of domestic violence and femicide in Nicaragua. The Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia held a press conference to discuss the increasing rates of violence against women in the country and the court system's tendency to let many male perpetrators off with lenient sentences. With violence against women increasing, it is necessary to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions and do something to stop the circle of violence and abuse. We will keep updating the blog with any new developments.
Thank you for reading! As always, we love hearing from you with any questions, reflections or comments.
En paz,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No More Femicides! The Community of Batahola Denounces the Murder of Luz Marina Ruiz Uriarte

Justice for Luz Marina?

Today the murder trial for Luz Marina finally came to an end after three weeks of proceedings. Juan Bautista Silva (in photo below) was convicted of "frustrated homicide" since Luz Marina didn't die until two weeks after the attack. The prosecutor had hoped for a "frustrated murder" conviction, where Silva would have faced up to 30 years in prison. The sentence of "frustrated homicide" means that Juan Bautista Silva will only serve between 4-7 years in prison.

Silva entered his house on Feb. 6th, locked the doors, dragged his wife into the back room of their house. He sprayed her eyes with pepper spray to disorient her before stabbing her multiple times. Luz Marina's brother, Fidel, had to break into the house and intervened as Silva took out a gun, intending to shoot Luz Marina to end her life. She died on February 19th in the hospital. The above photo is from the crime scene. The photos of Luz Marina are too graphic to post here.

The family of Luz Marina and members of the community are outraged at the ruling and plan to appeal. Fidel is going on a hunger strike tomorrow in protest. We hope that the sentence will be changed to reflect the gravity of this crime, and send a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated. If such an act had been committed against a stranger, Silva would have easily gotten the maximum sentence of 30 years. How can brutally murdering one's wife be considered a lesser offense?


Remembering Luz Marina
Killed by her Husband
Batahola Norte
February 19, 2008

On February 6, 2008, Luz Marina Ruiz Uriarte, resident of Batahola Norte, was brutally stabbed by her husband of 22 years, Juan Bautista Silva. Luz Marina died on February 19. On the night of February 6, Bautista entered the residence where he and Luz Marina lived, locking the doors behind him as he took her into the back patio of the house. After spraying Luz Marina's eyes with pepper spray, he attacked her with a knife. Neighbors called her family, and Fidel Ernesto Ruiz, her brother, arrived on the scene. He kicked in the front gate and was able to subdue Bautista, who also attacked Fidel. Because Fidel was wearing a jacket, he survived with minor wounds. Luz Marina escaped through the front of the house and collapsed when she got to her truck parked outside. She was taken to Hospital Lenin Fonseca where she was treated. Because of the severity of her frontal wounds, doctors did not notice the three stab wounds in her back until a week later. She died at 4:20am on February 19. She is survived by her 20-year-old daughter, who was attending dance class at the time of the incident. Juan Bautista Silva is an ex State Security official who was trained in intelligence in the USSR in the 80s and is a Sandanista community leader. In December, 2007, he attempted to kill his wife, who called the police, but they failed to arrest Bautista. After the February 6th attack, he was declared mentally unstable and sent to the psychiatric hospital.

No More Femicides

Luz Marina's death was not a result of her husband's psychotic break, it was a femicide. According to Ruth Matamoros, director of the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, Bautista's behavior was consistent with the profile of an abuser. It is a common pattern, she noted, in cases of violence against women, that when the man feels he has lost control over his victim, he resorts to the ultimate form of control by taking her life.
Violence against women is endemic in many parts of the world, including the United States. A woman was killed by her husband in my suburban hometown of Yardley, Pennsylvania last year. As a member of the Sexual Assault Network of Boston College, I saw that rape and other forms of violence against women, even at a top U.S. university, is not uncommon. My freshman year roomate was punched in the face by her ex-boyfriend in the middle of campus one day. I note these examples only the emphasize that while case of Luz Marina can seem foreign to the realities some of you may be living in the U.S. or other places, even quiet suburban and rural communities in the U.S. can be saturated with violence against women. Abuse rarely comes to light except in the case of extreme violence, such as this one. Women who live with abusive partners often struggle for years in silence, not knowing how to escape the cycle of violence. Many women who are raped are too scared to come forward because of fear they will not be supported or that they will be told that they were responsible for what happened to them. Even at the funeral of Luz Marina, some in the crowd commented that "she got what was coming to her" because of rumors that she had had an extramarital affair. In Nicaragua, certain factors exacerbate violence against women, such as the fact that sexism is more evident here. It is more difficult for women to get an education and job, and they are paid less than men even when they hold the same position (this is true in the U.S. as well, but by a smaller margin). As in the U.S., police often do not respond to cases of interfamily violence, and they often revictimize the woman by making her retell her traumatic story over and over again or humiliate her by forcing her to recount the details of a rape, for example. Nicaragua has the advantage of having the Comisaría de la Mujer, a section of the National Police dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. While the Comisarías de la Mujer have been instrumental in investigating cases of interfamily violence, most women don't know about this resource, and the Comisarías face many challenges due to inadequate funding.

Community Response

Hundreds of people came to the funeral of Luz Marina to show their support of the family and grieve the loss of an incredible woman, who in addition to running an ice cream shop, collaborated with Operation Miracle, which brings brigades of Cuban doctors to perform eye operations on residents of Cuidad Sandino. Christine and I help facilitate a women's, group twice a month, and this past Saturday, we focused on the issue of interfamily violence, screening "Ya No Más," a Nicaraguan documentary on the subject. Several women from the community organized to create a petition to demand justice in the case of Luz Marina, and have been working hard this week to collect signatures. At the Mass at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte on Sunday, Fr. Rafael denounced the killed and offered space for Fidel and other members of Luz Marina's family to share reflections. At the end of the Mass, the assembled lit candles for Luz Marina and prayed for an end to violence against women. Fidel, along with other family members and women from the community, have been meeting with Mujeres Contra la Violencia, who have pledged their support of the case. This Friday at 8pm marks 9 days after her death, and the community will gather at Luz Marina's house to remember her. On Monday at 10:00am, at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte, there will be a press conference with the family, members from the community, and a representative from Mujeres Contra la Violencia. We are hopeful that the community will come together to demand justice in this case to send a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated, and to give hope to women currently suffering from interfamily violence.

~Laura To read the Nuevo Diario article in Spanish click: "Líder político a juicio por asesinato y homocidio" * Information based on Nuevo Diario article, and conversations with Fidel Ruiz and Ruth Matamoros

Update 3.4.08: Batahola in Solidarity

Yesterday, March 4, a press conference was held at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte to demand justice in the case of Luz Marina. Present were Ruth Matamoros, director of the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, Sandra, also of the Red, Fidel Ruiz, Jennifer Marshall, and Fatima Urbina Barrios, CPC women's representative. The group presented the community's petition signed by people in the neighborhood to demand justice and call for an end to violence against women.

Due in part to pressure by the community, Silva last week was transfered rom the psychiatric hospital to prison after being re-evaluated by medical staff and declared sa
ne. This marked hopeful progress in the case.

Maria Elena from the Centro de Mujeres de Acahualinca has volunteered to accompany the women's group of Batahola to run workshops on gender and interfamily violence.

On Friday at our weekly staff reflection a the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte, we watched "Ya No Mas," the Nicaraguan documentary on interfamily violence, and began planning for more ways to discuss the problem of violence with groups of youth and men from the Center as well.

The tragic murder of Luz Marina has shocked many in the community. It is also an example of of the police's failing to respond to reports of interfamily violence. Of the 23 women killed by their partners in 2007, every single one had previously reported violence to the police, who failed to respond. By seeking justice in the case of Luz Marina, the family, Batahola community, and Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia seek to send a message to perpetrators of violence that they will be held accountable for their acts. Justice in this case will also send the message to women suffering abuse that if they report their partners, they will be taken seriously by the police and be protected.

Please check back for future updates on this case and what the Batahola community is doing to help people break the cycle of violence.


Monday, April 14, 2008

April Update for St. Andrews Episcopal Church Chronicle

Read this doc on Scribd: St Andrews Chronicle

Friday, April 4, 2008

Remembering Martin Luther King

This speech was given on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination

Monday, March 24, 2008

Who's Defending Monsignor Romero?

Read this doc on Scribd: Who's Defending Monsignor Romero?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Questioning the New Ambassador to Nicaragua: Coordinator of the Contra War?- Witness for Peace Nicaragua

Read this doc on Scribd: Questioning the New Ambassador to Nicaragua: A Coordinator of the Contra War?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Story of Stuff

Want to learn more about the environmental impacts of consumerism?

Watch online:
The Story of Stuff

"From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world."

This video was recently emailed out to the Ben Linder list serv. I found it very interesting, and wanted to share it with you all. Every country in the world faces environmental problems related to the extraction, production, and disposal of goods. Managua has many factories where workers endure brutal conditions, and the trash dump of Managua, La Chureca, is an open space on the banks of Lake Managua where trash is dumped and toxic runoff flows directly into the lake. There are many more examples of environmental problems and human rights abuses in Nicaragua, as in your own communities.

I hope you enjoy the video and use the links to discover ways you can be involved in protecting the environment.

- Laura

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Father Roy Bourgeois Urges Nicaragua to Withdraw Troops from the School of the Americas

"Our God does not bless war, does not bless killing, does not bless violence"

On February 14, we heard from Fr. Roy Bourgeois at Casa Ben Linder. Nearly a hundred people gathered to hear the leader of the School of the Americas Watch organization to recount the history of the movement to close the U.S. military school that trains Latin American soldiers. The purpose of his current visit to Nicaragua is to meet with President Daniel Ortega to urge him to withdraw all Nicaraguan troops from the SOA.

What is the School of the Americas?

The School of the Americas (SOA), in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Initially established in Panama in 1946, the SOA was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.

Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins (History of the SOA).

Origins of the Movement

Fr. Roy remembered Benjamin Linder, a young engineer from the U.S. who came to Nicaragua in 1983 to accompany the poor and to work on creating hydroplants to provide villages with electricity. On April 28, 1987, Ben was ambushed along with his colleagues by the U.S.-backed Contra forces and shot at point-blank range. "Ben reminded us what it is to be in solidarity with the poor," said Fr. Roy. The Ben Linder group was created in remembrance of Ben and as a way that foreigners working in solidarity with Nicaraguans could create a network and denounce U.S. support of the Contras. Around the time that Ben was killed, Fr. Roy and others were being jailed for their peaceful protests against the training of the Contras in Florida.

As a young man, Fr. Roy believed the rhetoric surrounding the Vietnam war. After graduating from college, he enlisted in the Navy. He spent four years in Vietnam before being discharged . He had been wounded in a bombing raid which killed several of his friends and was awarded a Purple Heart. "We thought that we were liberators," he said, "but something happened to us--we are not made for war." His experiences in war forced him to examine his faith. "Our God does not bless war, does not bless killing, does not bless violence," he said. After leaving the Navy, Fr. Roy entered the Maryknoll community. He became a Catholic priest and was sent to live in Bolivia. "I came home [from Vietnam]," he said, "wanting to be a peacemaker."

"For the next five years, the poor became my teachers," Fr. Roy said. He was shocked by the U.S.'s role in the Bolivian dictatorship and was eventually exiled for speaking out against the repression. "It saddened me," he said, "to see my government in Bolivia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and so many other countries, on the wrong side. I saw so many crimes against humanity."

Returning to the U.S. gave Fr. Roy the opportunity to speak his fellow citizens about the effective of U.S. military intervention in Latin America, and he realized how little people in the U.S. knew about the situation. He became increasingly aware of the situation in El Salvador after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the rape and massacre of four American churchwomen (two of whom were Fr. Roy's friends and fellow Maryknoll missionaries).

Protesting at the SOA

When 500 Salvadoran soldiers arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia to train, Fr. Roy rented a house nearby with several friends. He and two others disguised themselves as high-ranking military officers, and entered the School of the Americas for the first time. They made their way to the barracks of the Salvadoran troops, climbed a tree with a boombox, and waited until the lights went out to blast Oscar Romero's last sermon. Near the end of the sermon on March 14, 1980, Romero made an appeal to the armed forces:

"I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, "Thou shalt not kill." No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression."

Soldiers threatened to shoot Fr. Roy and his two friends. They were brought to the country jail, and were later sentenced to 1.5 years in jail. During the trial, while they tried to put the U.S.'s foreign policy on trial, they were silenced by the judge repeatedly.

After getting out of prison, Fr. Roy and his friends joined the growing movement of people protesting U.S. aid to El Salvador. Following the massacre of the 6 Jesuits and two women at the University of Central America in San Salvador, a U.S. Congregational task force was sent to El Salvador to investigate how U.S. military aid was being spent. The task force reported that 19 of the 22 soldiers responsible for carrying out the UCA massacre were trained at the SOA.

The first protest at the SOA carried out by Fr. Roy and his friends was a 35-day water-only fast. Each following year, on the anniversary of the UCA massacre, they gathered to protest, and the small group of protesters grew, from a few, to several dozens, hundreds, and thousands. In November, 2007, 25,000 people came to protest. They gathered to demand the closure of the SOA and to keep alive the memory of people who risked their lives to speak out against injustice, and for the many nameless who have been killed, raped, and tortured by U.S.-backed armed forces in Latin America.

In the early years of the movement, SOA Watch was able to obtain the names and countries of SOA graduates, as well as SOA training manuals (which contained torture techniques), and other materials under the Freedom of Information Act. In this way, SOA Watch was able to track graduates and expose human rights abuses attributed to them. Since 9/11, however, information from the SOA is much more difficult to obtain, and the names of graduates are no longer released.

The ILEA- International Law Enforcement Agency

I wrote in my November blog about the ILEA, the police training force in El Salvador to train Latin American troops in "counter-terrorism" tactics. As efforts to close the U.S.-based School of the Americas mounts, the treat of training schools in Latin America and other regions increases. For more information about the ILEA, see: The ILEA: Exporting "Criminal Justice" to Latin America from a Base in El Salvador.

Action in Nicaragua
On February 15, Fr. Roy and his team from SOA Watch and local activists met with President Daniel Ortega to share with him the history of the SOA and encourage him to withdraw Nicaraguan troops. While Ortega pledged his support to SOA Watch's cause, he did not commit to withdrawing his troops from the school.

We are hopeful that Ortega will decide to withdraw troops from the SOA to prevent future U.S.-supported violence in Nicaragua.

- Laura

Monday, February 11, 2008

Say No To Violence Against Women

UNIFEM, the United Nations Fund for Women, is looking for signatures on a Petition to Say NO to Violence Against Women. If they can get 100,000 signatures then the United Nations Foundation has committed that for each of the first 100,000 signatures to the campaign, the UN Foundation will donate $1 to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. We need everyone's help to get 100,000 people to sign on to the UNIFEM campaign so that $100,000 will be contributed to the Trust Fund for local initiatives working to prevent human trafficking, assisting survivors of domestic violence or helping implement laws against rape.

Please sign the petition at:

Also, check out one organization that works throughout Nicaragua to end violence against women, the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia.

Thank you for your solidarity,

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

VMM Newsletter Jan. 2008

VMM is the U.S.-based organization that supports Friends of Batahola Volunteers, as well as volunteers all over the world, including Guatemala and El Salvador in Central America. View or download VMM's Jan. 2008 newsletter, and check out our update on page 4!

Thank you to all of our friends at VMM. We look forward to Betsy's visit this month!


Monday, January 21, 2008

"Angel of the Poor:" Celebrating the life of Ángel Torrellas, one of the CCBN's Founders

At the Mass on Sunday, the community of Batahola Norte celebrated the life of one of the Center's founders, Fr. Ángel Torrellas, who passed on January 21, 2002.

The following are excerpts translated from the writing of Fr. José Luis Burguet, op:

Ángel Torrellas was born in the city of Gijón, Spain in 1930. He entered seminary at age 11, and eventually completed high school and theological studies. During his time in Spain, Ángel fell in love with music, going on to teach music and form a chorus in León.

Not feeling satisfied with his life, Ángel was convinced by his sister to take a course at the Instituto Superior de Pastoral de Madrid, and there discovered a distinct way of being Christian that responded to the poor. After finishing his studies, he requested from his Dominican superiors to be sent to Latin America, which lacked priests. He was sent to Netzahualcóyolt, Mexico, where he lived for six years.

In Mexico, Ángel met and began to work with the American Sister Margarita Navarro from the Congregation of Saint Joseph de Medaillle. She helped him in his human and spiritual development, and above all, to value and struggle for the liberation of women from exploitation and violence.

Ángel applied and was granted for permission from the Dominicans to move to Managua, and he and Margarita arrived on March 2, 1983, two days before the arrival of the Pope. The Dominicans assigned Ángel to the community of Batahola Norte, and he and Margarita immediately began working there, going door to door to meet people in the newly-constructed neighborhood. They visited over 800 homes, and soon began teaching in the community, with Ángel giving classes of flute and guitar, and Margarita classes of sewing and handicrafts. Ángel also celebrated Mass every Sunday.

Such great excitement on the part of Ángel and Margie, and the community arose that soon they were organizing to find the land to build an educational and cultural center, and people (and especially women) to share their talents in art, music, dance, typing, computing, natural medicine, and adult literacy. A women's group soon formed to reflect on their struggles, and to promote self-esteem and support.

The Ángel Torrellas Chorus began to grow and become famous in the country, giving hundreds of concerts throughout Nicaragua--in temples, markets, factories, streets, non-profit organizations, theaters, hotels, churches, and other places. The chorus was formed with the idea that music should be accessible to all, and with the knowledge that music is linked to spiritual formation. The chorus has given concerts on TV, created tapes and CDs, and given concerts in El Salvador, Guatemala, the U.S., and Canada. It has taught many youths the art of music directing, including the current director, Juan Guido, who was a student of Ángel's for many years. At weekly Mass, the Chorus performs the "Misa Campesina," which focuses on Jesus as being in solidarity with the poor of Latin America.

As the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte grew, it began to be filled with paintings and murals. A library, that attended to hundreds of children daily. Various groups of foreigners to the country began to visit to learn from the CCBN's work and what members of the community thought about the reality of Nicaragua. Hundreds of scholarships were given to youths in the community, many of whom now are professionals in various fields.

The greatest accomplishment of the CCBN has to been to foster a community that cares for others, that is infused with values of solidarity and living out a preferential option for the poor.

On January, 21, 2002, the community of Dominicans was preparing to pray in the morning. Ángel began to complain of terrible pain in his back and stomach, which appeared to be symptoms of appendicitis. He entered the Military Hospital at 8am, and the doctors reported serious problems with his aorta that required immediate operation. At 1:30pm, doctors began the operation, and quickly realized that the aorta was damaged in several places and it was impossible to repair. Ángel passed away that day in the hospital.

Six years later, Ángel's memory is kept alive by all who remember him at the CCBN, who were inspired by his example of solidarity and who continue to work, in the words of the CCBN's mission statement, to "transform this society to the Reign of God."

- Laura Hopps

Below is a video clip of the The Ángel Torrellas Chorus and Orchestra from the Mass, directed by Juan Guido, performing "Angel of Batahola," written by Nicaragua's most beloved singer, Carlos Mejía Godoy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Happy New Year family and friends! Laura and I both enjoyed a wonderful Christmas season with our families, and are now back in Batahola Norte working on preparations for the English program, researching small business start-up, and putting together proposals for the volunteer program. Our time spent at home was full of family, friends, and a good deal of fund raising and flashcard making for the English program. My Christmas was especially exciting seeing as I got to meet my new nephew - Patrick! I spent lots of time playing train with my other nephew Elijah, going to the park, and avoiding dirty diapers. All in all, my vacation was a time of relaxation and rejuvenation, enjoying the company of many of the people I love.

In the beginning of January I made a trip up to Pennsgrove, NJ to give a presentation to the Pennsgrove Rotary Club about the Centro Cultural and the new English program. We shared a great lunch, good conversation, and I think we are all excited to have met each other and formed a connection. Thank you Pennsgrove for your support and hospitality!!

The Centro Cultural is currently in the middle of matriculas, or class registration. New and returned students are coming everyday to learn about the classes being offered. We've already had a lot of people come asking about the English program. Laura and I will be co-teaching a class of 20-25 students for two hours every Monday-Thursday evening. We're in the process of working on our lesson plans and visuals, and are excited to meet our students in a few weeks! The class is open to anyone 15 years and up, and will be catered to people interested in learning English for professional purposes. Unemployment and underemployment are high in Managua, and good jobs can be difficult to find. English is a huge asset to being able to find a good job, with many businesses now requiring basic knowledge. Unfortunately most language schools are very expensive, so many of the people who would benefit from learning English, can't. The Centro Cultural is excited to be offering our class at a low rate, giving many people who wouldn't normally be able to learn English the chance to do so. They're able to offer the class inexpensively due to the fact that Laura and I are volunteer teachers and due to the generosity of our donors who are helping us buy books, dictionaries, etc. Laura and I are excited to finally be able to put our TEFL Certification to good use!

Aside from the English program preparations, I'm also working on a series of interviews concerning small business start-up. The Centro Cultural offered a class last year to 34 people (33 were women) interested in starting their own business. We're in the process of interviewing these participants to see how their projects/plans are coming and any problems they have run into along the way. After compiling all their answers, the hope is that we'll be able to find ways we can improve the course for the next group. It has been an interesting and valuable process for me to be able to meet so many new and motivated people and learn about the struggles small businesses face. Not surprisingly, money and being able to take out loans is a big hurdle for many.

I'm excited to meet with the women's quilting group this coming Monday. They've been working on lots of projects over break, so be expecting pictures in my next update! Thanks so much for reading, and for your support! Sending much love to all,