Saturday, May 22, 2010

Community Organizing

Last week I spent three days at a Cantera workshop learning about community development and organizing. We reflected on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to community organizing in a Nicaraguan context, and we shared a lot about our personal organizing experiences. Cantera workshops are always excellently facilitated, and I particularly enjoyed this one because it gave me so many good, concrete tools that I can use in my work at the CCBN. One of the greatest strengths of Cantera workshops is the diversity present in the room. People from all over the country, from NGO’s, from political organizations, and both paid workers and volunteers with a variety of educational backgrounds and economic circumstances, come together to share their experiences and learn from one another.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the workshop for me was seeing so many of the same theoretical concepts that I had learned at Industrial Areas Foundation’s national training in 2008, but with different methodological tools. For example, IAF’s basic organizing tool is the relational meeting, sitting down with someone one-on-one and probing them about their hopes, fears, and dreams, in order to identify their self-interest. At Cantera’s workshop, we learned about the importance of self-interest and of tapping into people’s dreams, but instead of starting with a relational meeting, Cantera gave us la muñeca, or the doll, as our initial organizing tool. You being by drawing the figure of a doll on butcher paper. Placing the community’s dream at the head of the doll, the committee writes down their resources and places those at the right arm of the doll. Next they place challenges at the left arm of the doll, and their personal commitments at the heart of the doll. Finally, the group makes a list of the initial steps that need to be taken to make the dream come true and places those at the doll’s feet. This tool is very effective in terms of visually laying out where the community stands in relation to their dream. Seeing these methodological differences caused me to reflect on how context determines effective organizing strategies. In the U.S. organizing context, we are looking for a way to take a much more individualistic culture and make it about community, whereas here, the assumption is that there is already an organized structure in place in the community, and that an outsider (such as an NGO) must learn to work within that structure.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

gatito documentary

Good Friday morning. It was hot, and I was still in bed groggily trying to decide if I would be able to sleep a little longer in spite of the heat and take advantage of my vacation while it lasted. The Center was closed during Holy Week except for evening choir rehearsals. As wonderful as it is to listen to all the CCBN’s activities, it sure was nice to sleep in past 8am without being woken up by trombone lessons or recorder class. However, instead of the normal musical din I soon began to hear different kinds of sounds coming from outside, just below my window. It sounded like a kitten. I remembered that the volunteers who lived in the house before us had gained a reputation for taking care of unwanted strays. Groaning inwardly, I rolled over and decided that if it was still there when I woke up again I would figure out what to do with it.

Sure enough, when I opened the front door mid-morning, I found a wee bit of a kitten crying miserably in the corner of the porch. It was still wobbly on its little legs and obviously couldn’t have climbed up the steps by itself, so someone must have left it. Funny, people usually take things from our porch, not leave them (e.g., laundry drying on the line).

I had never taken care of a kitten this tiny, and Amanda hadn’t had any pets at all growing up. Luckily, Laura, one of the previous FOB volunteers and daughter of a veterinarian, had left us a small baby bottle and powdered infant formula for just such occasions. At his arrival, the kitten was so tiny that he even had trouble taking milk from a bottle, and one eye was swollen shut. Now, his eye has healed thanks to some drops, his fleas are gone thanks to a bath, and his little tummy is getting quite plump. He’s even starting to scamper and loves nothing more than to sit between our feet while we are cooking or washing dishes, making it a bit awkward for us to move around the kitchen without stepping on him.

Few of our Nicaraguan friends are as taken with the little guy as we are, but our friend, co-volunteer and freelance filmmaker Melissa Engle has put together a little documentary based on her observations, featured above. At first we were looking to give him away, but no one really seemed interested. Now we’re rather fond of the little guy (okay, okay, I admit I was ready to keep him from the start, but it seemed like Amanda needed a little more time to get used to the idea).

So far we’ve just been calling him “gatito” or “kitty” (not very creative, but easier than felis catus). Other suggestions have been Garfield, Fuzz, and Samson, but we may just end up calling him Tiger. If nothing else, it’ll give him something to aspire to.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Center Profiles: Ansony Gutierrez Jimenez

How old are you?

What was your first experience at the Center?
My first experience was studying the first level of Adult Basic Education. I got to know a lot of friends through this experience. It was both a fun and sad experience because I was scared to go to the Center sometimes, I was nervous about participating.

What do you currently do at the Center?
I help the guys. I help with security and maintenance, and I’m also in the painting class. The painting class is not easy, when I started, I couldn’t imagine getting involved, it’s a scary thing to put yourself out there, but if you say you can’t, you won’t be able to, and if you say you can, you can. The hardest thing about painting is painting faces. I’ve been painting for almost four years. I still remember my first painting, which I gave to my Adult Basic Education teacher, it was of a boy with a beautiful background of a tree with leaves in the fall, and around the tree were a bunch of kids. Painting has helped me economically because I sell my paintings and that’s helped me meet a lot of people.

Where do you live, and who lives at your house?
I live in Batahola Sur, and I live with my grandmother, two uncles, one aunt, and two cousins.

Who, of those that live at your house, work, and what do they do?
Only one of my uncles works. He works in a cosmetics store.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to go out, hang out with my friends, wash my clothes, iron, and go to the gym.

What is your biggest dream?
My biggest dream is to be with my mom in the United States. She has lived in Miami for 14 years and I haven’t seen her since she left.

What is your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is walking into a haunted house!

Why is the Center important to you?
The Center is important to me because I like helping the guys, they help me too, and I’ve learned I don’t need to be too proud. I go to the Center to leave behind my sadness. Once you enter here, you lose your sadness. My sadness is that my house doesn’t have food, that I’ll have to go to bed without eating.