Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All You Need is Love

Check out the CCBN Choir (including me!) singing the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" on www.starbucksloveproject.com.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Purísima

“Tu gloria, tu gloria, gozoso este día, O dulce María, publica mi voz, O dulce María, publica mi voz…” These are the words to a popular chorus dedicated to Mary that is heard all over Nicaragua during the days leading up to December 8th. The flutes at the CCBN, the choir, the recordings at the mall, people humming on the street – pretty much everyone has the catchy tunes stuck in their heads. And not an hour goes by (not even the early morning hours) when you don’t hear a loud boom coming from a firecracker. All this bulla (or joyful racket) is setting up for what is known in the Catholic world as the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (her conception, not Jesus’), or Purísima as it is known here. To celebrate, many people construct altars in their houses to honor Mary. Then, on the evening of December 7th, old and young alike go out for the Gritería (basically, this translates to “Yelling Fest”). Groups of friends and family go door-to-door and sing one (or sometimes several) of the traditional Marian tunes after beginning with the greeting “¿Quien causa tanta alegría?” (“Who causes such joy?”) and response “¡La concepción de María!” (“Mary’s conception!”) Then, the members of the household give out sweets, fruit, or other goodies to the singers. It’s a lot like Halloween in the U.S. with a few tweaks.

For many, the celebration is an excuse to go out and make merry, but for others this celebration is deeply spiritual. Many are giving thanks to Mary for answered prayer. For example, the Arts Coordinator at the CCBN told me about some of the blessings he has received from the Virgin. Suffering from cancer and struggling through chemo a few years ago, he woke up one night crying out to the Virgin, asking her to end his pain. Soon after, his doctors told him he could stop chemo, and today he is cancer-free. He gives thanks to the Virgin every year with his family, usually waiting until the popular celebrations have subsided to honor her in a more personal way. I, too, joined in the festivities Monday evening, finally able to sing along after having learned the songs with the choir. I was struck by the joy and diversity that marks this yearly celebration as one of the most important on the Nicaraguan calendar.

FOBV Retreat

Last week Greta and I had the opportunity to take a two-day retreat to Granada for some relaxation, planning, and reflection. We had an incredibly rich experience, getting away from the bustle and noise of Managua and finding a peaceful space to do some long-term thinking for FOBV. We talked about our role as accompaniment at the Center, discussed ways to strengthen our relationships with VMM, FOB, and the CCBN, reflected the challenges we’ve experienced in the first five months of our program, and planned for our spiritual life, the blog, and next year’s English class. In the midst of all that we made time for some sweet chocolate pancakes and walked around picturesque Granada, enjoying the colonial architecture and people-watching.


One of the most interesting conversations we had was about how we see our task of “accompaniment.” While a lot of different definitions may exist, we envision accompaniment as a role that involves asking key questions (especially “why?”), working on collaboration by connecting key project members, keeping the project moving, and encouraging a group to focus on their reality. I’m not sure what I thought accompaniment would look like when I first got here, but now I feel strongly about how important it is to keep our role sustainable by being “accompaniers” instead of “leaders” or “organizers.” If Greta and I left tomorrow, the projects we are involved in would continue just fine without us. While our role in them is important, the projects do not revolve around our ideas and actions; rather, we support and encourage the projects as they grow out of the initiatives of CCBN staff.


In terms of the blog, we discussed our goals and what kind of a voice we want it to have. We feel that as two volunteers living and working in a Nicaraguan context, we can share our personal experience on the blog as a way to give our friends and family in the U.S. insight into Nicaraguan life without presuming to represent the entire country and people. Our major goal is to cause our readers to think “Oh, I didn’t realize that...I wonder why that is?” So please, let us know if you react like this!


After all the reflection on our first five months at CCBN, we returned to Managua Wednesday afternoon feeling refreshed and excited about the next stage of our term here. We really are part of an exciting and dynamic program and are learning tons. In fact, one of our main problems is that time is flying too fast to enjoy it all!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nicaraguan Migration

This morning I attended a presentation at the Casa Ben Linder on the reconfiguration of Nicaraguan transnational families. The speakers were Cándida Rosa Gomez, a researcher with Jesuit Migrant Services, and Kristin Elizabeth Yarris, a doctoral candidate at the UCLA Department of Anthropology and a Fulbright Scholar. Their presentation focused on the social, cultural, and economic consequences of migration for the sending families and communities. Immigration is a multi-faceted and ever-present issue for the United States, and hearing about it from the perspective of those left behind brings to light several factors that are often overlooked in the debate.

First of all, it is important to note that the Nicaraguan immigration phenomenon includes immigrants in the United States, Costa Rica, Mexico, and other Central American countries. In fact, 50% of Nicaraguan migrants go to Costa Rica. This phenomenon can be studied from the perspective of those leaving because they cannot find living wage jobs in Nicaragua, the perspective of youth leaving to find better opportunities, or the perspective of a gendered lens looking at the increasing numbers of women leaving their children behind, just to name a few. The feminine perspective is currently one of the most neglected viewpoints in the academic world, which is why Gomez and Yarris chose to make it the focus of their presentation. Additionally, gender is what makes Nicaraguan immigration different from other Latin American immigration, with single mothers looking for a way to support their children making up a majority of Nicaraguan immigrants.

Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica face many of the same dangers and documentation struggles that Latin American immigrants in the U.S. encounter. Crossing the border itself is dangerous, and once in Costa Rica, immigrants can’t return to Nicaragua and are always facing the threat of deportation. One frequently overlooked aspect of the struggle is that while Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica are paying into the tax system, they have no guarantee of receiving the benefits, such as healthcare in their old age. At the same time, though, the families they have left behind often don’t have someone in the workforce in Nicaragua, so they are missing out on benefits as well. Immigrants to the U.S. also slip through this crack.

Another major issue in the immigration debate are the remittances that immigrants send back to their home countries. The families in Yarris’ study receive an average of $100 a month from their migrated member, and most of these families state that this money is still not enough to live off of. In Nicaragua, remittances make up 7% of the GNP, and 8.1% of households receive them. Of these households, 73.7% are receiving remittances from family in the U.S., while 23.5% are receiving remittances from family in Costa Rica. But who else is “benefitting” economically from this phenomenon? Gomez and Yarris mentioned both Western Union, who charges quite a bit for money transfers, and cell phone companies (such as Claro and Movistar in Nicaragua, both part of larger multinational telecommunications networks), who allow families to keep in touch.

Yarris’ research focuses on the children left behind by migrant mothers and the grandmothers who often assume responsibility for them. She is looking at how families shift to care for these children and how these changes affect gender relations within the families. Often, children left behind do not show their mothers affection, despite the fact that they are well-aware of who their mothers are. Communities also look down on these women as having become too “liberal” or “loose” because of their immigration experience. These circumstances create a situation of double-denial or double-discrimination for the women. Additionally, an interesting factor to keep in mind when thinking about the grandmothers-turned-mothers is that they are often quite young - perhaps only 40 years old. Young enough to have the energy to care for children, but old enough that it is difficult to find work in Nicaragua. They are left behind, too, and their grandchildren fill the void left by their own daughters.

For more information, check out some of Jose Luis Rocha's work. Rocha is a leading researcher on immigration with Jesuit Migrant Services, and some of his articles can be found here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Staff Retreat at the CCBN

A few weeks ago Greta and I participated in the CCBN's annual staff retreat, which consists of 2 1/2 days of evaluation, reflection, planning, and relaxation for the entire team. We started out the retreat with a presentation by the Center’s General Coordinator on the state of the impact of the Center’s work. We learned that the Center’s work has directly benefited almost 2500 people over the last year, including over 1000 students enrolled in courses, 113 scholarship students, and over 50 participants in the arts groups.

Beginning with last year's retreat, the CCBN has organized activities into strategic projects, including “Tools for Work with Dignity,” “Strengthening Adult Education,” “Breaking Down Barriers to Education and Enriching Children’s Learning,” “Promoting the Right to Arts and Culture,” “Promoting the Right to Live Free of Violence,” and “Institutional Strengthening.” For most of the weekend, we worked in these teams to evaluate the progress made on each project and to plan for the upcoming year. We also did a lot of work on the conceptualization of the values and ideals behind the projects, working to come to a consensus on exactly what our goals are and how we envision living out our mission.

I worked with both the “Tools for Work with Dignity” group and the “Promoting the Right to Live Free of Violence” group. As English teachers, Greta and I are part of the “Tools for Work with Dignity” project because several of our students want to strengthen their resumes and get jobs or get better jobs. Our group debated what we believe “work with dignity” actually is, whether it’s about the kind of job one has or the way in which one carries out one’s work. We also wrestled with the degree of responsibility the Center should feel in getting students jobs as they finish their courses, or if it’s more about giving students the tools to find jobs and empowering them to initiate the search. Perhaps we didn’t come to a clearly-defined consensus on these issues, but our discussions helped us create a vision for the project and helped me understand more about the philosophy behind the Center’s work. It isn’t about everyone thinking and believing the same thing, but rather about sharing our diverse perspectives and using that diversity to create a larger vision.

Greta and I, along with the CCBN’s Mennonite Central Committee volunteer Melissa, planned the evening activities for the weekend, with the goal of relaxing and having fun with our co-workers. The first night we walked a labyrinth and painted stones to represent the transformation we underwent on our walk, and the second night we washed each other’s feet as a way to remind ourselves of the service we are all so committed to at the Center. Having an artistic and reflective outlet helped break up the hard work we were doing and gave us a chance to goof off a little.

Monday, October 5, 2009

More Information on Honduras

Here are two more reports on Honduras. The first is from a forum in Brazil organized by the Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado, a university in Sao Paolo. The second is from the most recent Witness for Peace delegation in Honduras, led by a long-term volunteer in Nicaragua.

Political Situation in Honduras v3
WFP Honduras Report

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reports on Honduras

Here is an excellent article on the Latin American-U.S. connections behind the coup in Honduras.

And below is Amnesty International's Honduras report.

-Amanda

Amnesty International Report on Honduras

The Situation in Honduras

A few weeks ago I attended a talk at the Casa Ben Linder on the current situation in Honduras. Patty Adams and Sydney Frey, members of the Ecumenical Committee in Nicaragua, recently returned from a week-long delegation to Honduras to accompany the Honduran people, be in solidarity with them, and act as international observers during this time of repression and instability.  Now, Patty and Syd have returned to Honduras to act as delegation coordinators for an indefinite amount of time. This is a summary of their talk from a few weeks ago, which includes their observations of and perspective on the current situation and its significance.

_________________________________________________________________________________________


Syd and Patty began their talk by stressing the importance of knowing the facts in order to be able to counter the misinformation and misrepresentations of the coup in the media.  On June 25, a bill was introduced and approved in Honduran Congress which states that the Congress “disapproves” of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya’s conduct.  However, this bill gives no recourse for removal of the president, it simply states the Congress’ disapproval.  Later that night, the military informed President Zelaya that they would not give him the support he needed to complete the survey he had planned for June 28.  This survey, permitted under a citizen participation law that allows the president to conduct a non-binding survey to acquire information, seems to be at the heart of the matter.  The survey was set to inquire if the Honduran people want a fourth ballot box in the upcoming November election.  If so, these results would be brought to Congress for approval.  This fourth ballot box would be a referendum asking if the public wants to go forward with a constituent assembly to review the Honduran constitution (just a Wikipedia link, but a good place to start, the constitution has a controversial history) and contemplate a new one.  There was and is no chance of President Zelaya continuing his presidency after the next election because it would take until at least mid-2010 to convene the constituent assembly. So, as opposed to what the media has reported, this survey does not establish a new constitution, nor does it seek to keep President Zelaya in power.  Patty and Syd speculate that not only was the military ensuring that the survey did not take place, but they wanted to remind Hondurans and others who chooses the president - those with power, not the people as a whole.    


The people’s movement, the birthplace of the idea for a new constitution, is made up of several civil society organizations, including the Committee of Family Members of Those Disappeared and Detained (COFADEH), unions, especially the teachers’ union, and indigenous organizations, led by the Civic Council for Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPIHN).  Together, they founded the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Contra el Golpe (National Resistance to the Coup), known as the Frente, in response to June’s coup.  They are committed to non-violence and hold national weekly meetings dedicated to ending the repression and bringing President Zelaya back.  Despite the fact that they are non-violent, they have faced significant repression, including having their marches attacked by both the police and military.  These attacks have included baton beatings, sexual assault by baton, illegal pepper spray, and tear gas.  Some people have been killed and many are disappearing.  The U.S. media is reporting that no one has died, however, this is simply not the case.  This is the main reason the Honduran people’s movement has asked for international observers.  A major aspect of the international observers’ work is to listen to testimony from victims of repression.  One of the main reasons that the U.S. media is misrepresenting the situation is that journalists are being targeted in the repression.  Patty and Syd spoke with one journalist who has been beaten twice while attempting to report on the marches happening every day in Honduras.  They also heard testimony from teachers who suspect that the death lists are back.  Evidence for this includes the fact that coup-instated president Roberto Micheletti has appointed Billy Joya Améndola, previous head of the infamous 316 death squad during the 1980’s, as special security advisor.

_________________________________________________________________________________________


With Zelaya now back in the country, the repression has only escalated.  To follow what is happening and do some of your own research, here are some helpful links:

  • The Quixote Center is a social justice organization working closely with the people of Honduras. Today's update "Tension in Tegucigalpa" was written by Patty, and it contains links to more information on the human rights violations occurring in the country. 
  • Another good source of information is Amnesty International's reporting.  
  • Here too is TeleSur, the local Honduran TV station that has audio and video feeds available online.  
  • And finally, a link to the School of the Americas Watch video of Zelaya's return to Honduras. 
All of these links have suggestions for how U.S. citizens can stay informed on what is happening and what they can do help stop the repression.  Many are of the opinion that the U.S. should just stay out of other people's business, and I admit I often get frustrated with the way my government interacts with other countries.  However, I think the important question to ask when it comes to the coup in Honduras is at what point did the U.S. start meddling? With a little research, I think we'll find that the U.S.'s involvement in Honduras extends much further back than a few months ago.  Perhaps the more interesting question is what has the U.S. done in the past to contribute to the creation of a situation where human rights violations are occurring? 

Just this morning one of the teachers here at the Center told me how important she thinks it is to stop the repression in Honduras because that is exactly how the war here in Nicaragua began. Many Nicaraguans are concerned that if it can happen in Honduras, it can happen here, and really anywhere in Latin America.  The conclusion for Patty and Syd has been that this is a testing ground, and if these undemocratic and repressive practices are allowed here, there’s no telling where they might happen next.              

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dance Group Travels to Costa Rica

Last weekend I accompanied the CCBN’s dance group to Costa Rica for five days of travel, performance, and group bonding. This is the group’s second year visiting Ciudad Quesada and working with the Catholic archdiocese’s pastoral social (much like U.S. archdiocese’s social justice offices and ministries). The purpose of the trip is to present traditional Nicaraguan dances to Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica, as well as to educate the general public about Nicaraguan culture. We had a wonderful time and learned something about the realities faced by Nicaraguans in Costa Rica.


The trip was fast-paced, with two full days of travel to get to and from Ciudad Quesada and a handful of dance performances in three days. The group performed at two elementary schools, an immigration event sponsored by Alianza Migrante (complete with a rally and march calling for immigrants’ rights) called “Dia del Migrante,” and a church. At each stop 14 dancers and two musicians performed six to eight dances, including La Negrita, La Húngara, La Madrugada, El Solar de Monimbo, and the famous Palo de Mayo from the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. This year the group had a marimba and a marimba player along, which added a lot to the traditional flavor of the performances. Performances were packed, and audiences were enthralled by the dancers and the music. During the school performances, Patricia Ruiz, the group’s director, would bring children onstage to learn the basic pasos (steps). And after the performances at the “Dia del Migrante,” several immigrants chatted with me about how the dances carried them back to their childhoods. They also shared some of the struggles faced by Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica. I was struck by the similarities between these stories and those that I’ve heard in my work with immigrants in the U.S. The struggle for the right to work, the right to an education, and the right to live free from discrimination were all mentioned at the “Dia del Migrante.”


From small children to grandparents, people were delighted with the performances, and their smiles made the group’s impact obvious. And watching the young people dance, I could see their passion for this art form and for their culture in their smiles and the way they moved their hips. It was a powerful experience for me as a foreigner in Nicaragua to observe how a group Nicaraguan young people experience being foreigners. One young dancer, Jorge, told me that last year he was moved to tears by the joy he felt at having the opportunity to travel outside his country and the pride he felt in representing the core of his identity as a Nicaraguan and as a young man through dance. When I’m in Nicaragua, I don’t think much about taking pride in being from the U.S. and sharing my culture with others, so these young people gave me much new insight into my role as a foreign volunteer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Friend's Blog

Check out our new friend Melissa's blog at http://www.maengle.blogspot.com.  We are excited to get to know Melissa, who just arrived in Managua to begin work with the CCBN through the one-year Mennonite SALT Program.  Her latest blog entry depicts the steps most people in the Batahola community take to do their laundry. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Current Events in El Salvador

Here's an article written by Danny Burridge, VMM's Central American coordinator.  It offers an interesting perspective on Funes' position in El Salvador.



Play Empowers Communities to Confront Issues of Sex Trafficking













Vidas que se extinguen, or Extinguished Lives, a play written by the Center’s own Abril Georgina García Andrade, has been performed ten times in the last two months for 1500 students, teachers, and community members.  Born out of Nicaragua’s United National Development Programme funding designated for human rights education through theater, and further supported by funding from the Nicaraguan delegation of the European Union, the play presents the harsh realities of child sex trafficking poignantly.  The story of Erlinda and those who surround her throughout her journey into prostitution and her eventual death at the hands of a client leaves audiences speechless and tearful.  With child prostitution on the rise in Nicaragua, Jairo Denis Silva, Artistic Coordinator of the Center, says that “this work confronts reality directly.”  Instead of ending on a painful note, the play’s forum-debate format creates a space for participants and audience members alike to transform what they’ve witnessed into a vehicle for action through reflection, analysis, and discussion.  Abril says that she wants her play to be a wake-up call for those who see it, an event that says to them “look, open your eyes, this is what is happening, and you have a responsibility to do something about it.”  Indeed, she states that “what most gratifies me about this work is that it imparts responsibility to its audience.”  And this goal is being reached.  As one audience member stated after the July 16 performance of the play at the Center, “it’s important that we leave here and take responsibility, women as well as men.  Because sometimes we see things at home and we laugh, we don’t say anything.”  According to actress Daniella Miranda Rodriguez, her role as Doña Chica Maldonado, the owner of the brothel, has had a tremendous impact on her because “I don’t stay quiet anymore when I see situations of injustice.”  The play’s run has been extended thanks to further funding from the Dutch Embassy, strengthening the movement of conscientization against child sex trafficking and other forms of violence.      

Monday, July 27, 2009

Video from Youth Movement in Cuidad Sandino: Protecting Water Resources

Check out this video created by the Youth Movement of Cuidad Sandino to raise awareness in their community about the problems of trash dumping and the need to conserve water resources. The video will be used as a part of an educational campaign in local schools and community organizations.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lender Fair, IHM Visit and Theater at the CCBN!

Dear Family and Friends,
Our time in Nicaragua is winding down, but there is still a lot going on at the CCBN! We are in the midst of making all the preparations for Greta and Amanda (they are arriving in 2 weeks!) and getting their orientation ready. We’re also busy wrapping up loose ends on our different projects. Here are a few highlights from the past weeks:

Micro-Lender Fair at the CCBN:
As one of my last projects in the area of Micro-business Development, I recently organized the first ever Lender Fair at the CCBN. On May 23 seven different micro-finance organizations came to the CCBN to give presentations about their financial products to CCBN students and graduates. Many students who participate in the Center’s Cooking, Beauty, Styling, Natural Medicine, Small Business Administration, Sewing and Handicrafts classes either have small, in-house, businesses or are interested in starting one. The Fair gave our students an opportunity to learn about their different financial options and a chance to compare and contrast different organizations. The Fair was very successful! About 100 students attended… passing from table to table picking up information on the different financers and talking to bank representatives. The Center hopes to host a similar event next year!

Visit from Immaculate Heart of Mary parish:
This past weekend, high school students and parents from Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Cincinnati, Ohio arrived at the CCBN to meet our students, and experience first hand the work of the Center. Immaculate Heart of Mary has been a long-time supporter of the CCBN, funding the majority of the Center’s scholarship program. Each year, a group of IHM parishioners led by Friends of Batahola member Sue Keefe, come to visit the Center. This year, the group enjoyed and participated in many activities, including a Folkloric Dance class, hair-dos from the Beauty class, tours of the Center’s murals and classes, a dinner with all the CCBN’s staff, a puppet show (see picture!), a Field Day for all the Center’s scholarship students and a Mass where the Batahola chorus sung the “misa campesina”. The weekend was enjoyed by all as a time to form relationships - sharing our different cultures, histories, and reflections. Laura and I enjoyed working as translators and accompanying the group in their time with the Center.
One of the highlights for me occurred at the end of Mass on Sunday night. In May, when two of the CCBN’s staff visited IHM in Cincinnati, they were presented by a quilted wall hanging by IHM’s Elementary School, representing the work and people of their school and parish. Jennifer and Daisy brought the wall hanging back to Batahola, where it will be hung as a testament to the friendship between IHM and the CCBN. Here in Batahola, the women’s quilting group (which I’ve been accompanying for the past 2 years) and various painting students also worked on a wall hanging to present to the IHM delegation upon their arrival. After months of work on the project, the wall hanging was completed and the women’s quilting group was able to present it to IHM after the Mass. The wall hanging portrays the history and current work of the CCBN, as well as all CCBN staff. CCBN painting students painted 12 images representing the Center: Sr. Margarita (CCBN founder) with the first sewing class, Fr. Angel (CCBN founder) celebrating mass, books for the Basic Education class, folkloric dancers, the Batahola chorus, and more. As a border, each CCBN staff member personally embroidered their name making the wall hanging a truly communal effort. The members of the women’s quilting group and the painting students all did a wonderful job. The wall hangings give an excellent testament to the solidarity and friendship between the CCBN and IHM.

Batahola Playwright:
Recently the CCBN has had many reasons to be proud. One of the CCBN’s scholarship recipients, a 22 year-old university psychology student Abril García, has written a powerful play entitled “Extinguished Lives” or “Vidas que se Extinguen”. The play, extremely serious yet at times witty and humorous, tells the story of a poor Nicaraguan candy vendor, Erlinda. who is convinced to enter a prostitution house in order to help her family. Abril weaves the story of Erlinda, her neighbors who convince her to enter the house, her friend Sofia who accompanies her, the woman who operates the house, and Erlinda’s mother. The play ends tragically as Erlinda is murdered by one of her customers, leaving the audience with the harsh reality of the toll prostitution takes on individuals, families and society. The play has been shown numerous times at the CCBN to different groups of high school students from Managua. Verónica GuidoTraña, who taught theatre in the CCBN in years past, directs the play and leads discussion questions after the performance. The audience is given a chance to respond to the play, identify the themes presented, and discuss how the play speaks to their reality. The performers, many of them students of the CCBN, are also involved in the discussion sharing their feelings about performing their different roles and providing their own reflections on violence, especially sexual violence. Abril has aided the CCBN’s psychologist with many workshops for youth concerning self-esteem and violence prevention, and felt in writing the play that the topic of prostitution and the need for humane work is a very pertinent topic for today’s Nicaraguan youth. Congratulations to Abril and all the actors who have participated in the performances of “Extinguished Lives.”

In the coming weeks Laura and I will continue making preparations for the arrival of Amanda and Greta. In July we will be giving them trainings on Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Small Business Development, group formation techniques to use with the Youth Movement and Quilting Group, control of FOBV finances, and blogging… amongst many other things! Throughout the process, we’ll keep you updated!

Much love,

Christine

Monday, June 1, 2009

An Intro to Zen Meditation Techniques

The following is a guide to Zen sitting meditation. I hope you find it useful!

~Laura

zazeninst zazeninst bataholavolunteers

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Spirituality Guide from St. Andrews Church, Yardley, PA

This resource book of prayers, poems, and reflections from different faith traditions was created by Bob Sherwood of St. Andrews Church in Yardley, PA. It has provided useful reflection materials for Christine and I over the past year and a half and we hope you all also enjoy it!

Peace,
Laura

PS
Click "more" and then "save document" to download it in PDF format on your computer.
_____
Peace Booklet-AYH Edits2007!05!13

Monday, May 11, 2009

Girls on Our Streets

Check out this article by New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof about the prostitution of teenage girls in the United States. Sex trafficking and sexual exploitation is a global problem affecting women and children from around the world, including Nicaragua. It is not uncommon to see young prostitutes on the streets of Managua or hear of girls abducted from rural areas into global prostitution rings.

On a global level, we know that today there are more slaves than at any other point in history, and a large portion of those are women, girls and boys sold into prostitution. The sex trade in the US alone is a multi-billion dollar industry, and little is being done to curb it.

Kristoff's column highlights an essential issue--that when middle class or wealthy girls go missing, it's national news, yet Black and Latina girls from the U.S. are routinely prostituted and the authorities turn a blind eye, or worse, abuse them.

Why it is that governments internationally are not doing more to stop human trade, slavery, and sexual exploitation? And why is it that we value the lives of white middle and upper class girls, but not the poor Black and Latina girls in our own countries, and not girls from "third world" countries?

Girls on Our Streets

P.S.
One book I recommend that talks about human trafficking, the drug trade, organized crime, etc. and globalization: Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy by Moisis Naim

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!


Centro Cultural Batahola Norte Mother's Day 2009
Voices of Mothers


Jeanette del Carmen Lezcano

“I encouraged my son, 22, to go to the Center to take Computer class, and then he came home bugging me to join the Basic Adult Education class. I was embarrassed because I never learned how to read and write. None of the children in my family studied growing up, and when my mom died when I was 14, I started working and taking care of my siblings. Now I have five children and I’m a single mom. When my son wouldn’t leave me alone, I finally joined the Basic Adult Education class, and it has helped me in many ways! Before I would stay at home, and the only work I had was washing clothes and ironing for other people. Being at the Center has helped me to have new hopes and aspirations, especially since my husband left me. It has also helped me to recuperate after that shock, and to be in a caring environment.

“I feel more relaxed when I am at the Center, happier, and with higher self-esteem.”

I want to study computer classes next year so I can become a receptionist. My daughter Emily wants to study folkloric dance and English when she’s older. I encourage all my kids to continue studying.”



Paula Elena Gonzalez Larios

“I work during the week at a snack shop at a school, and on Saturdays I have a scholarship to take the Handicrafts class at the Center. Last year I took the Beauty class, and this year I wanted to take the Handicrafts class because I like making things and thought I could sell some crafts at the school where I work. Someday, I want to have a small shop in my home. My husband, Candido, works at the Center, and all three of our children take classes here.

“I told my children ‘Everyone is going to take a class at the Center’ because its good for them to be in a positive environment.”

Our daughters take folkloric dance, and my son is in the painting and drawing class. He has had a hard time dealing with the recent death of his grandfather, so we thought the art class would help him deal with the trauma of that loss. I have hope for my kids because they are learning good things. I love the Center because I feel at home in my classes here. We are all sisters and brothers here, and I am learning skills that can help me to support myself and my kids. For me, being a mom is something wonderful. My parents gave me lots of advice when I was young, and now I can give advice to my children. I’m also learning from them. to listen and to be their friend.”

Patricia Carolina Periera Circia

“My two daughters, Stephanie (12) and Faviola (16) have been scholarship students at the Center for five years. I’m a stay-at-home mom and was only able to study up to 10th grade. I earn money by washing and ironing clothes for other people. I’m grateful for the help the Center provides for my family, and I participate in workshops for parents and other activities. I love the Parenting School because we play games and have fun together, and the psychologist talks with us about topics like how to raise your children without violence. Before I used to spank my daughters and yell at them when they misbehaved, but I have learned to have patience, and that yelling at children only makes them more rebellious. Using physical or verbal with children affects them profoundly.

“Now we have more harmony in our family, we have better communication because together we have learned how to express ourselves and deal with conflict peacefully,”

I’m so grateful for the Center and I think all of us parents must help out. I volunteer with a group of mothers to make soy milk and sandwiches for the primary school scholarship students every week, because many children come to the Center without having eaten in the morning. It’s a small thing we can do to give back and help each other out as parents.”

Fara Lisbeth Sotomayor Ortega
“The Center helps me to learn more every day, and the Center’s staff has always been there for me for emotional support. I am 27, and I have two daughters, Amy, who is 7 and Brissia, who is 18 months. Especially now that I have children, I want improve myself and to find a different job. I work in sales, and I work really hard. I had to work during both of my pregnancies, which was very difficult. My husband is a carpenter, and I’d like to get a new job, perhaps in marketing. That’s why I took the Typing class, and why I’m currently in Computer Operations. I love that at the Center, it’s not just about getting new skills, its also about promoting values like sharing and improving communication. Whenever the teachers see someone who is upset, they reach out to them. That encourages me to also reach out to others who are having a hard time. Being a parent is an enormous responsibility, and I try to teach my daughters good values, like if you have two pencils and you see another child who doesn’t have one, to share. I also tell my older daughter Amy that she has to study, to always ask lots of questions, and to aspire to be a professional. I gave her the option of studying Folkloric Dance or participating in Story-time on Saturdays at the Center, and she choose Story-time because she loves learning. I teach her that she can overcome any obstacle.”

“Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the obstacles, but you must do everything you can to follow your dreams”





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To see the original brochure click: Mother's Day Brochure

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oxfam Interview Online

Check out an interview from way back in October, 2007, just posted on the Oxfam International Youth Partnership Program website:

http://oiyp.oxfam.org/oiyp/template_04_individual.aspx?id=1898

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Waslala Slideshow

Movimiento de Jovenes- Trip to Waslala

Over the Holy Week vacation, I went with ten members of the newly-formed Movimiento Juvenil "Nuevo Amanecer" (Youth Movement "A New Dawn") from Managua along with friend and public health specialist Dr. Mary Luz Dussan, to the rural area of Waslala. Mary Luz worked in the area for three years facilitating leadership workshops for community members focused on empowering them to be able to organize to carry out health and education projects. Since that time, they have succeeded in organizing several sanitation and water programs, and training local people to be teachers to be able to open primary schools, in addition to other accomplishments.

Waslala, located in the northern Atlantic coast region of Nicaragua, was hard-hit by the Contra War of the 80s. Even as peace was declared in 1990, fighting persisted in Waslala until 1996. Because the zone is in a remote area in the center. While during the revolution of the 80s, poor farmers were organized by the government into cooperatives, in the 90s most cooperatives dissolved, each family taking a small parcel of land. As families faced economic problems, they increasingly sold their land to wealthy landowners and fell deeper into poverty. Coffee has been an important crop in Waslala for many years, but there has been an increasing shift towards cacoa in recent year because of the fall of the price of coffee. While cacao yields better profits in the short-term, some local organizations are warning of the risks of relying on monoculture.

The goal of the Youth Movement in visiting Waslala was to learn about the reality of life and poverty in the countryside, to learn about sustainable development, and to interact with the youth of Waslala. The members of the Youth Movement are between the ages of 13-26, and most are scholarship students of the Cultural Center of Batahola Norte that come from low-income families. While some are still in high school, others studied or are currently studying: Anthropology, Graphic Design, Systems Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. All are involved in social service work, some at the Center in programs like tutoring for younger children, the Child-to-Child violence prevention, Storytime for neighborhood children at the library, leadership and self-esteem workshops for their peers, and other programs. One member is completing his Anthropology thesis on undocumented Nicaraguan immigrants to Costa Rica. Another volunteers with the organization Cantera in Cuidad Sandino in communications and facilitating workshops on gender and other topics, and is currently working on a documentary to promote garbage cleanup in the neighborhood. The youth who make up the group are dynamic, enthusiastic, and dedicated to learning more about the national reality of poverty and how they can be part of creative and holistic solutions.

During our time in the community we had the chance to visit a school in Waslala Arriba and deliver donations school supplies the youth had collected in Batahola, and shoes donated from the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Cincinnati. There the group lead songs and games with the children. We also visited an agricultural institute that trained local youth in sustainable agriculture techniques including organic farming. We had the chance to accompany the youth group of Waslala for a day at the river and lead activities with them, to have to of our youth speak on the Waslala community radio, and to walk through the mountains in the natural reserve and visit the homes of several campesina women and hear their stories.

In addition to learning about rural poverty, the situation of rural women, sustainable development, empowerment initiatives, and environmental issues, the young people reflected that they had the chance to think about values like communication (especially among group members as we learned to live together), of consumption (of being aware of the impact of what we buy and making socially and environmentally aware choices), and of solidarity--of reflecting on how they can better serve others in their future and current work.

Coming back from the trip, the group has been energized and has started organizing to raise money to purchase 250 backpacks and school supplies for students in Waslala to bring to the community next year. They plan to raise part of the funds through a recycling campaign (to sell collected plastic and paper). They are also planning to spend a day volunteering in Pajarito Azul, a local home for disabled children, and other events.

Check out the photos of the trip below! It was a wonderful experience and I hope through the Youth Movement we are able to strengthen solidarity between youth in Managua and rural zones like Waslala and promote social consciousness among the youth of Nicaragua to dedicate themselves to working for a better future.

Paz
~Laura

We Are Proud to Announce Our Next 2 Volunteers!

After a long process of selecting our next two volunteers from a pool of amazing applicants, we are proud to introduce you all to Greta Tom and Amanda Otero!!!

Below are their introductions. They will arrive in Batahola in July, 2009 to being work at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte for 2 years. The community is excited for them to begin!! Greta has already been working at the CCBN for 7 months as a Mennonite Central Committee Volunteer, and Amanda Otero is graduating this spring from Carlton College. She lived briefly in Batahola while studying at the Center for Global Education in 2007.


Greta Tom:
Hola a todos y todas! Me llamo Greta Tom y me alegre mucho de ser una de las nuevas Voluntarios de Amigos de Batahola. Realmente, ya he pasado mas que seis meses trabajando en CCBN por medio de la Comité Central Menonita. Inicialmente, me iba a quedar en Nicaragua sólo once meses. Ahora estoy muy contenta que no tengo que irme del Centro y de mis nuevas amistades tan pronto.

Estudié en West Virginia University y salí en 2006 con licenciatura en Estudios Internacionales. Tambien estudiaba Música. Despues, trabajé un año en Amsterdam, Holanda, como voluntaria en un albergue juvenil cristiano. Siempre sabía que existió la desigualdad social, y aun participé en actividades para concientizarme acerca de asuntos de la opresión y pobreza del mundo. Pero ésto no me afectó mucho hasta que fui a Amsterdam y conocí a algunos refugiados de Africa y el Medio Oriente. Escuchar a sus historias me hizo desear ser voluntaria por un ONG o algo que promueva la justicia y la paz. Tambien no sabía que hacer con la vida y deseaba tener otra aventura internacional. Encontré a la Comité Central Menonita, y aquí estoy!

Hasta ahora, mis actividades en el Centro han incluido hacer tutoría y a veces dar clases de inglés, escribir para el boletín informativo, participar en las algunas actividades musicales, y facilitar una clase de conversación de inglés. Mi gran proyecto en los meses que vienen es ser intermediara entre estudiantes becados por el Centro y sus patrocinadores en los EE.UU. He aprendido mucho en todo ésto y espero los desafíos de mis nuevas responsibilidades en el futuro.

Hello everyone! My name is Greta Tom and I am very happy to become one of the new Friends of Batahola volunteers. Actually, I have already spent more than six months working in CCBN through the Mennonite Central Committee. Initially, I was only going to stay in Nicaragua for eleven months. Now, I am glad that I don’t have to leave the Center and my new friends so soon.

I studied in West Viriginia University and left in 2006 with a bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Music. After college I worked for a year in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, as a volunteer in a Christian hostel for backpackers. I always knew that social inequality existed, and even participated in events to raise awareness about issues concerning oppression and world poverty. But this didn’t affect me much until I went to Amsterdam and met some refugees from Africa and Afghanistan. Listening to their stories made me want to volunteer with an NGO or something that worked to promote justice and peace. Also, I still didn’t know what to do with my life and wanted to have another international adventure. I found the Mennonite Central Committee, and here I am!

So far, my activities in the Center have included tutoring and sometimes teaching English, participating in the choir and small music ensembles, writing newsletter articles, and facilitating an English conversation class. My main project in the coming months is to be the intermediary between scholarship students at the Center and their sponsors in the United States. I have learned a lot from these projects and look forward to the challenges of my new responsibilities in the future.

Amanda Otero:

Mi nombre es Amanda Otero, y estoy en mi último año en Carleton College en Northfield, MN. Estudio religión y estudios latino americanos. En Junio me voy a graduar, y estoy emocionada en llegar a Batahola y conocer a la comunidad en Managua y la comunidad internacional de Amigos de Batahola. He pasado tiempo viajando y estudiando en México y Centroamérica, y el semestre que pasé con el Centro para la educación mundial en Guatemala, El Salvador, y Nicaragua me motivó a regresar para vivir en solidaridad con la gente de Nicaragua. Me interesan todos tipos de asuntos de diversidad e igualdad, anti-racismo y anti-sexismo, inmigración, educación, fe, y jóvenes. Los dos últimos veranos he trabajado con comunidades católicas de latinos sobre asuntos de inmigración, y quiero aprender más sobre la organización comunitaria con Batahola.

Nací el 30 de marzo de 1987, y mientras he pasado la mayoría de mi vida en Fargo, ND, siempre he tenido una influencia latino americana en mi vida porque mi papá es de México y mi mamá es de Nicaragua. Todavía tengo familia en México y Nicaragua, y espero poder pasar más tiempo con ellos en el futuro. También tengo un hermano menor que es uno de mis mejores amigos y que se está preparando para empezar la universidad este otoño. Me crié en la iglesia católica, pero me gusta identificarme como una católica de la gente, no de la jerarquía. En los últimos ocho años la mayoría de mis experiencias religiosas han sido ecuménicas y de varias religiones, entonces estas experiencias de diversidad han sido importantes para mi espiritualidad. Cuando no estoy estudiando o trabajando me gusta leer, pasar tiempo con mis amigos, hacer ejercicio, cocinar, cantar, baliar, y escuchar música.

My name is Amanda Otero, and I am currently a senior at Carleton College in Northfield, MN, where I study religion and Latin American studies. I will be graduating and moving to Batahola in June, and I am very excited to get to know the community in Managua as well as the international Friends of Batahola community. I have spent time traveling and studying in Mexico and Central America, and my semester abroad with Center for Global Education in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua sparked my interest in returning to live in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people. I am passionate about all kinds of issues of diversity and equality, anti-racism and anti-sexism, immigration, education, faith, and youth. I have spent the last two summers organizing with Latino Catholic church communities facing various immigration-related challenges, and I am interested in continuing to build my organizing skills with the community of Batahola.

I was born on March 30, 1987, and while I have grown up mostly in Fargo, ND, I have always had a Latin American influence in my life as my father is from Mexico and my mother is from Nicaragua. I have family in both Mexico and Nicaragua, and I am looking forward to spending more time with them over the next two years. I also have a younger brother who I am very close with and who is looking forward to starting college this fall. I was raised in the Catholic Church and now like to identify myself as an organic Catholic, which I’ve defined as “of the people, not the hierarchy.” However, in the last eight years most of my faith-related experiences have been ecumenical and interfaith, and I rely on this diversity to sustain me spiritually. When I’m not studying or working I love to read, spend time with friends, work out, cook, sing, dance, and listen to music.

Updates from Laura and Christine

Laura: Gathered around the table the other night, ten members of the newly-formed youth movement sat with ears alert as they listened to Mary Luz describe the rural community of Waslala they would be visiting in a few short weeks. “This is not just a field trip,” she said, “this is an opportunity to learn about the reality of our brothers and sisters living in extreme poverty.” During Holy Week, I will be accompanying the youth movement and Mary Luz, to Waslala, an isolated community located within a natural reserve in the center of the country. Mary Luz, a doctor from Batahola and longtime friend of the Center, first got to know the Waslala through her work in public health. Moved by the hope and initiative of local people to improve their standards of living, she proposed the idea for a trip with the youth group as a way to promote solidarity among Nicaraguan youth. The youth movement, composed of the Center’s scholarship students and others from the local community, is excited to put into action the formation they received from the Center in group leadership, violence prevention, and the values of “sharing all that we are and all that we have” with others.

I am excited for this adventure with the youth movement. It is an opportunity to focus on values of solidarity and simple living, of connecting with other young people across cultural boundaries and sharing hopes for the future!

Christine:
As the date of my parents’ arrival to Managua got closer and closer, I wasn’t the only one getting excited. My mother, who is an excellent quilter, had agreed to give the CCBN’s Quilting Group a two-day workshop in the art of quilting round edges and appliqué work, much to the excitement of everyone. For the past year and a half I’ve enjoyed accompanying the Quilting Group in their process of group formation and trust building, in market research, and in the development of accounting procedures. Throughout the past year the women have made quilts, table runner, bags, cosmetic cases, and many other products that they have designed themselves. One of the group’s goals has been to incorporate Nicaraguan culture into their quilting, by the use of color and design. The workshop given by my mom, Barbara, helped the women investigate different color combinations and demonstrated how to quilt butterflies, birds, flowers, etc. Twelve women took part in the workshop, three of whom were new members to the group, who for the past weeks have been learning the basics of quilting from the group’s senior members. I was able to translate for my mom, and the workshop was a huge success. One member, Rosalina Herrera reflected on the workshop, “I loved learning the new techniques. My favorite things to make are bags, so I’m excited to incorporate what we learned into my bags. Learning how to quilt curves and make our own designs increases what we are able to quilt.” By the end of the two days the Quilting Group (and my mom and I!) felt very accomplished and with a new sense of energy to bring to our work.
Aside from working with the Quilting group, Laura and I have been working hard on the English Program, which has now begun its second year at the CCBN. We have 15 incredible students who arrive to class at 9 in the morning with energy, great senses of humor and a real desire to learn. It is our second year teaching, so the both of us feel even more comfortable, confident, and able to enjoy the class. Our students are very diverse, anywhere from 16 years old to in their late 60s. Most of them hope that English will help in their ability to find good employment. We are looking forward to sharing the following months with them!

Micro-Business Start-up and Administration: Equipping Women with Tools for Self-Improvement

By Laura Hopps

The Micro-Business Start-up and Administration course is taught by Laydia Bermúdez, who has six years of experience training people in how to manage their small businesses. In addition to teaching administrative skills and planning techniques, Laydia incorporates lessons on self-esteem and violence prevention into each class. “Many women live violent home lives because they depend on their husband for income completely and have very low self-esteem,” she said. “When women become independent financially, they are more able to leave abusive relationships and reclaim their human rights.” Laydia recognizes that aiding people to improve their economic situation can help them to be healthier emotionally and psychologically.

Small businesses are often run out of people’s houses in the community, and can be helpful especially for those who are home raising children or are interesting in providing services to their local community. Joseline Rojas, 26, has studied International Cooking, Pastry-making, and Cake Decorating for 3 years at the Center. She has found the Micro-Business class useful so far because “it teaches you to plan, to figure out how much you will need to invest and how much your profit will be. Laydia also helps us with self-esteem, to know that we have rights and should be treated with dignity.” She hopes to start her small business selling cakes and other gods from her home.

Most women in the Micro-Business and Administration class have taken courses previously at the Center such as: Cooking, Cake Decorating, Pastry-making, Natural Medicine, and Sewing. The women all noted that they are learning practical skills they will use to start their own small business, and that the formation part of the class—discussions about self-esteem, violence, and human rights—is crucial for their personal growth.

Project Education: Scholarships that Transform Lives

By Laura Hopps

Mennonite Central Committee Volunteer Greta Tom has been busy interviewing the over 200 scholarships students of the Center to match their profiles with supporters from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Cincinnati. In addition to scholarships are for internal courses, there are 150 external scholarships to help young people attend primary and secondary school, as well as university. The following is an interview with Greta in which she reflects on the stories of scholarship students:

“I have really enjoyed being involved in Project Education because it has given me the opportunity to get to know people in the community and to hear their stories,” she said. “Courses at the Center provide people with skills to help them earn income on their own. Women sell cakes from their homes or set up a natural medicine clinic, which helps to supplement their income.”

“Among external scholarship students,” she said, “I have seen how investing in education, in giving young people opportunities and promoting their self-esteem can help prevent them from following in their parents footsteps.” The parents of many scholarship students never had the chance to study and now work selling bread and other goods in the street or other low-paying, “informal sector,” jobs. Investing in the scholarship students’ education opens opportunities for them to have more secure futures, to reach their dreams of becoming teachers, doctors, artists, psychologists, anthropologists, and other professions.

“Equally important as the practical skills they gain,” noted Greta, “ is the therapeutic nature of many of the courses. Many people (adults as well as children) have difficult home lives, and to have a few hours a week to learn painting or handicrafts helps them to release stress and express themselves creatively in a positive environment.”

The Center recognizes that education must be integral—that students come not only to learn practical skills, but to explore their own abilities and creativity, to increase their self-esteem, to share with others in a positive environment and discover their human rights.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009