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