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:

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.


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!

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