Friday, September 30, 2011

the Blog has moved!

Hi everyone,

With the change of volunteers also comes a change of address for this blog. We've decided to use the Wordpress platform because Andrea has more familiarity with it and it works well.

So, the new address of the blog is:

Please save this new address and subscribe to it to receive the post updates if you are interested.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Hand-Off

After a month of training sessions, slang sessions, dance sessions, and a lot of bonding, the official hand-off from old to new is fast-approaching. The four of us (Amanda, Greta, Sam, and Andrea) have spent the month of September sharing stories and spirituality, building community, and looking towards the future of the Friends of Batahola Volunteers program. It has been incredibly enriching to have this month together, both for Greta and I to share our story with Sam and Andrea, and for us to be able to accompany Sam and Andrea as they take over program management and the English class. It will be exciting to see what other projects they get involved with at the Center!

Sam and Andrea are both settling into the neighborhood as well. Andrea has made friends with everyone on the path from her host family’s house to the Center, and Sam is now infamous for his first-place finish in the annual dance competition at the Kermes (yearly fundraiser). The English students love the new games they have brought to class, and they both have a gift for reaching out to those around them and hearing their stories.

Greta and I leave next week, so we are in the final stretch of good-byes, packing, and last Doña Cony helados (ice creams). Greta is heading home for a few months, looking forward to spending time with her family and continuing an online Master’s program in Urban Studies with a focus on Arts and Transformation. I am also heading home for a few months of quality time with my family and a bit of traveling to visit friends and family around the U.S.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Celebrating the Pacific Coast

Check out the photos and videos from last Wednesday night's celebration of the Pacific Coast culture at the CCBN.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Marimba and Guitar Debut

Check out Greta and I playing a duet of the famous Nicaraguan folk tune, La Mora Limpia.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Food for Thought

So many that visit Nicaragua go home with a new-found gratitude for all the blessings in their lives. This video is an ironic reminder of just how good we have it in the U.S.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Empty Education

This morning, at the weekly Casa Ben Linder talk, I heard Vanessa Castro of the Center for Educational and Social Research and Action (CIASES) speak on the state of education in Nicaragua. The statistics she shared with us are alarming, but her organization’s work is inspiring. While they believe it is the government’s responsibility to provide quality education, CIASES is actively working with both public and private institutions to make sure this right is respected.

Vanessa explained that in the 1980’s, the Sandinista government emphasized the importance of education and expanded the net coverage of schools. In 1979, only 500,000 children (50% of those that should have been) were in school, but by 1985, 1,200,000 children were in school. The problem, however, was that the government implemented this increase in coverage without a vision for how to ensure quality education. Today, this problem continues, with the government focusing on getting children into desks but not on developing support for them to actually learn while they are there.

Teachers are paid dismal salaries ($200/month), classroom materials (including textbooks) are unavailable, school conditions are poor at best, and appropriate and effective teacher training is not widely available. In fact, 42% of secondary school teachers are currently uncertified, along with 27% of elementary school teachers and 70% of preschool teachers. Vanessa shared a personal testimony, too, noting that she taught her children to read at home because, although they were in school, the teachers were not trained to use the Cuban literacy method that had been implemented. Lately, her research (and subsequent action plan) has focused on literacy: current rates, how best to teach it, and the perception of its importance for progress in Nicaragua. Today, only 40% of Nicaraguan children reach the word-per-minute reading goal for their grade level. These numbers drop dramatically when you look at areas on the Atlantic Coast.

Vanessa cites low levels of investment in education as the root cause of these troublesome statistics. Currently, the government doesn’t even spend 4% of the GNP on education, while other developing countries spend 7%. Without money and without a vision, education in Nicaragua will continue to depend on non-profit organizations like the CCBN to strengthen and supplement the government’s meager offerings.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Cierre Cultural 2011 in Images

Recent Visitors to the CCBN

In the last two months we’ve welcomed several visitors to the CCBN. Here are summaries of their visits:

In May, Alison, a short-term volunteer, accompanied the English class and worked on strengthening the Center’s evaluation skills. Alison hosted one-on-one tutoring sessions with our English students and encouraged them day-to-day, greatly building their confidence. She also led the monthly class reflection, which was on the theme of human rights, and hosted a staff relaxation hour. In addition to her work with the English class, Alison facilitated a workshop on community evaluation tools with a small group of scholarship students in which they learned about, designed, implemented and assessed their own community survey focused on the needs of youth in Batahola Norte. She also facilitated a workshop with staff about community evaluation tools, presenting the theory behind and practical application of surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Alison was a wonderful addition to our team, even if only for a short while, always sharing a smile and open to lending a hand wherever needed. The Center hopes to continue building on her workshops in the future, increasing our capacity to assess how we’re meeting the community’s needs and identify new needs as they arise.

In June, the CCBN welcomed a group of young women studying with the Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) program at the College of New Jersey. These young women spent a day at the Center receiving a mural tour, hearing from scholarship students about their experience, participating in a dance class, and sharing experiences with the Center’s gender violence prevention project. During this exchange, Center speakers explained both the historical work done around women’s issues and violence prevention, as well as how the Center is currently addressing these needs. Then, the WILL group described the activities they organize on their campus to raise awareness of these same issues. It was a very meaningful exchange as both groups were excited to find they had so much in common in terms of their activism and work with women.

And also in June the CCBN received their annual visit from Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Cincinnati, OH. Their three days at the Center were jam packed with activities, including a reflection of the word and dinner with staff, a cultural presentation, a play dough activity with children, class visits, house visits, and a service project at a local elementary school with the older scholarship students. It was wonderful to see so much relationship-building taking place.The IHM group asked insightful questions about life in Nicaragua and shared how much they have heard about the Center in their parish and how excited they were about visiting. The Center staff and participants welcomed them with open arms and shared much about life and work in Batahola.

A Bakery Story

Walking through the glass doors of Honey’s Bakery, one finds an open and friendly atmosphere, with the sweet smells of freshly baked cake and cookies wafting through the kitchen doorway.This recently opened sweet treat shop and eatery is owned and operated by three CCBN graduates, Silvia Ballesteros, Edwin Urbina Solorzano, and Aura Maria Gutierrez Calderón.Silvia, who has taken an array of courses at the CCBN, including General Cooking, International Cooking, Cake Decorating, and Pastry Class, hatched the idea for the business. Her daughter, who died of cancer at the age of 26, registered her mother for a course at the CCBN right before she passed away as a parting gift. Now, Silvia’s own business is a tribute to her daughter, Honey.

Silvia loved her experience at the CCBN, and she tells anyone who will listen where she learned her trade. When she started out in Johanna Ocampo’s General Cooking class, she didn’t think her cooking would turn out right. But Johanna kept pushing her and telling her she could do it, and she didn’t give up. After graduating from so many courses, Silvia was set on using her skills to better her life. Now, when the bakers have a question, they call up their professors from the CCBN, and both Johanna and Marcia Santamaria are always willing to help them out. In Marcia’s courses they learned a variety of unique recipes that sell, as well as strategies that help them put their own twists on otherwise commonplace recipes. Also, Marcia’s Pastry Class is much more accessible than other such courses, some as expensive as $50, and teaches the same professional techniques.

Without any start-up capital, Silvia, Edwin, and Aura Maria brought everything they needed from home, from pots and pans to two ovens, and set-up shop in a small space they found to rent for $100 a month. While all the other places they looked at were more expensive, this amount is still quite hefty for a group starting from scratch. According to Silvia, “You’ve got to like cooking to do this, because it takes a lot of sacrifice and love. It’s a big risk, but we have faith that we will get ahead. We’re very proud of ourselves.” Often, they don’t have all the supplies they need to make certain cake molds or decorations, but their policy is to always say yes to the client and figure out how to borrow or creatively make-up the materials they lack.Sometimes they end up investing all the money from the price of the cake into the actual cake, but as Silvia says, it’s worth it because the client is happy, so they’ll come back and spread the word.

And on a personal level, Silvia says, “I used to cry everyday. But now I leave my personal problems at home and focus on the bakery’s problems. One’s emotional state affects both cake and frosting, and you can’t work under stress. I’ve been able to get off of sleeping pills, and I feel much less depressed now.” Silvia has peace because she knows Honey is watching over her beautiful work from above.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Welcome to Our New Volunteers!

We are excited to (finally!) announce the selection of two new volunteers from a pool of very strong applicants. Andrea Kraybill and Sam Estes will be arriving in Batahola in September, 2010, to accompany the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte for two years. Sam has been accompanying residents in a Latino shelter for the past year, and Andrea has just graduated from Goshen College. Below are their introductions.

Greetings! My name is Andrea Kraybill, and I am soon coming to join the community at the Batahola Cultural Center. I graduated in May 2011 from Goshen College in Indiana, where I studied fine art, along with Religion and International Studies. I am Christian, from the Mennonite tradition, and a visual artist with wide interests, including theatre, dance, music, and cooking. God opened the door for me to learn about Batahola, and I am thrilled to be joining in your ministry!

I was born in 1988 in Virginia, spent six years of my childhood in London, England, and have lived in Indiana since then. After high school, I spent a year as a volunteer through the Mennonite church, learning from Mennonites in the Patagonia of Argentina. This experience cemented in me a desire to serve in the name of Christ, wherever I go in life, and inspired me to continue living cross-culturally, wherever I am in the world.

While I was taking art, Bible, and language classes at Goshen College, my summers were filled with experiences of community-life, social justice work, and deepening my commitment to the global Church. I spent a summer interning at a mutli-cultural Mennonite church in Philadelphia; a summer living in community with members of a small ecumenical church in east London, where I built relationships with youth and cooked alongside asylum-seekers in a Catholic-run caf. A year ago, I spent three months volunteering at a center for art and faith. In the fall of 2010, I spent three months in Egypt, where I experienced incredibly hopsitality from both Muslims and Christians, and where I taught English.

It is my desire to follow closely God's call in my life, weaving my passions with the needs of others' in the world. I love to build and be a part of diverse community—in age, ethnic background, language, and religion. A goal for my life is to combine my love for the arts with ministry, helping open doors for others to live with dignity and freedom, and the hope that God offers all people.

Hola y saludos! Mi nombre es Andrea Kraybill, y pronto me voy a juntar con la comunidad de Batahola. Gradué en Mayo 2011 de Goshen College en Indiana, donde estudié las bellas artes, y también especialicé en religión y estudios internacionales. Soy cristiana, desde la tradición menonita, y soy artista visual con intereses diversos—incluyendo el teatro, el baile, la música, y el cocinar. ¡Dios abrió la puerta para que conociera Batahola, y estoy tan emocionada a unirme en su ministrad!

Nací en 1988 en Virginia, viví seis años de mi niñez en Londres, Inglaterra, y he estado en Indiana desde entonces. Después de escuela secundaria, pasé un año como voluntaria por la iglesia Menonita, aprendiendo de los menonitas en la Patagonia de Argentina. Esta experiencia cementó en mi un deseo a servir en el nombre de Cristo, dondequiera me voy en la vida, y me inspiró a vivir.

Mientras tomaba clases de arte, la Biblia, y idiomas en Goshen College, mis veranos durante estos años estuvieron llenos de vivir en comunidad, de trabajo en áreas de justicia social, y de hacer más profundo mi compromiso a la iglesia global. Pasé un verano siriviendo como intern en una iglesia menonita multicultural en Filadelfia; un verano viviendo en comunidad con miembros de una iglesia ecuménica en el este de Londres, haciendo relaciones con jóvenes y también cocinando al lado de personas solicitando asilo en un café organizado por católicos. Más reciente, pasé tres meses trabajando en un centro de arte y fe, en los Estados Unidos. En el otoño de 2010, estudié en Egipto, donde los cristianos y musulmanes me daban mucha hospitalidad, y también donde ofrecí clases de ingles.

Es mi deseo seguir atentamente la llamada de Dios en mi vida, tejando mis dones con las necesidades de otros por el mundo. Me encanta construir y ser parte de una comunidad diversa—por edad, étnico, lengua, y religión. Una meta mía es combinar mi pasión por los artes con el ministerio, ayudando a abrir puertas para que otras pueden vivir con dignidad, libertad, y la esperanza que Dios da a todos.

My name is Samuel. In 2006, I had the opportunity to live in Batahola Norte for four weeks and visit the Centro Cultural (CCBN) as part of an academic program through the Center for Global Education. I remember Batahola Norte as a welcoming and vibrant neighborhood and am excited to return! I am also excited to work and participate in the CCBN. I am interested in education and pedagogy, so I am eager to work in an educational institution like the CCBN, in which individual empowerment and community-building are an important part of the curriculum.

I was born and grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was raised in the Catholic Church, and being a Catholic remains an important part of my identity. I have a special interest in the communion of saints and the social teachings of the church. I am the third of four children in my family. Along with my parents, I have an older sister, older brother, and younger sister. Though my parents and siblings live in Arizona, in recent years I have lived in another state, Minnesota. I first ventured to Minnesota to attend Carleton College, where I studied Religion and Latin American Studies and graduated in 2008. I twice traveled to Latin America while at Carleton: once in the fall of 2006 when I studied in Nicaragua (as mentioned above), Guatemala, and El Salvador for a semester, and again in the summer of 2007 when I went to Colombia. I spent six weeks in Colombia facilitating conflict resolution workshops with the Alternatives to Violence Project. Before joining Friends of Batahola Volunteers, I worked and volunteered with various organizations in Minnesota serving the poor and marginalized, including many Latino immigrants and refugees.

Me llamo Samuel. En 2006, yo tuve la oportunidad de vivir en Batahola Norte por cuatro semanas y visitar el Centro Cultural (CCBN) como parte de un programa académico por el Centro de Educación Mundial. Yo recuerdo Batahola Norte como un lugar acogedor y vibrante, ¡y estoy emocionado volver! También estoy entusiasmado trabajar y participar en el CCBN. Tengo interés en la educación y la pedagogía, y por eso tengo muchas ganas de trabajar en un instituto como el CCBN, en que la educación es una herramienta para capacitar a individuos y para fortalecer la comunidad.

Nací y me crié en Scottsdale, Arizona. Me crié en la iglesia católica, y ser un católico se queda un aspecto importante de mi identidad. Tengo un interés especial en la comunión de los santos y la doctrina social de la iglesia. Somos cuatro en mi familia; soy el tercero. Junto con mis padres, tengo una hermana mayor, un hermano mayor, y una hermana menor. Aunque mis padres y hermanos viven en Arizona, en los últimos años he vivido en otro estado, Minnesota. Llegué a Minnesota al principio para asistir a Carleton College. Estudié religión y estudios latino-americanos en Carleton y gradué en 2008. Dos veces viajé a la América Latina como universitario: una vez en el otoño de 2006 cuando estudié en Nicaragua (como se menciona arriba), Guatemala, y El Salvador por un semestre, y otra vez en el verano de 2007 cuando fui a Colombia. Pasé seis semanas en Colombia facilitando talleres de resolución de conflictos con el programa alternativas a la violencia. Antes de entrar en esta posición, trabajaba y era un voluntario con varias organizaciones en Minnesota que sirven a los pobres y otras personas marginadas, incluso muchos inmigrantes y refugiados latinos.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Looking for Volunteers

We are looking for two new volunteers to begin accompanying the CCBN on September 1, 2011. Please click on the above "Now Accepting Applications!" page for more information, and pass the word along. Thanks for your help!

March in Review

This month has been a whirlwind of travel, events, and visitors. It was a good month for reflection, both on a personal level and in terms of the social/political reality of our world. Discussing the upcoming presidential election in Nicaragua, hearing about anti-union and anti-immigrant bills in the U.S., talking about budget cuts, facing the reality of women’s status in society, and learning about the situation of violence in El Salvador all played a significant role in my reflections over the last several weeks. One of the most important lessons I have learned during my time here is how there really isn’t separation between public and private. The issues affecting me in my “personal” life are the same ones affecting my job and the communities I’m a part of. Reflecting on this point of intersection is really reflection on how our actions and work for justice can be most effective.

I started out the month attending two events about women’s rights: a photography exhibit of Nicaraguan women who have been killed by males close to them (boyfriend, spouse, brother, close family friend, etc.) and a march for International Women’s Day. The photography exhibit was organized by the Women’s Network Against Violence, and was on display at various rotondas (traffic roundabouts) throughout the city on March 7. Along with photos of each victim, the exhibit highlighted the sickening statistic that, in 2010 in Nicaragua, 89 women were murdered by males close to them, and of those 89, nine were girls under 15 years of age. Along with speaking out against this violence, the “All Together, All Free” march and concert on March 8 also denounced authoritarianism, maternal death, femicide, exploitation, sex trafficking, unemployment, and unwanted pregnancies.

Then Greta and I were off to Guatemala and El Salvador for a VMM retreat and the Romero vigil. We spent three days high above the beautiful Lago Atitlan in Guatemala, and then three days in San Salvador building community with the volunteers there. The retreat’s structure was totally focused on story-sharing; each participant had one hour to share their mission experiences and reflect on the challenges and joys of living in mission. We learn so much from each other, and hearing about the experiences of others always strengthens our own work.

Walking along with participants of the Romero vigil on March 19, I was struck by how many young Salvadorans were marching and praying and shouting together. Although it has been 31 years since Romero’s assassination, his memory is alive in the Salvadoran people and today’s youth are continuing his struggle for justice. In light of Obama’s visit to El Salvador, vigil participants took advantage of the event to organize demonstrations for immigrants’ rights and peaceful and effective solutions to the gang and drug-related violence during Obama’s visit.
After arriving home from our one-week VMM hiatus, we welcomed the Friends of Batahola board for their annual visit to the CCBN. Their four days here were jam-packed with meetings, reflections, exchanges, and lots of joke-telling. One highlight was the cultural presentation they attended on March 25, with performances by the CCBN choir, orchestra, and dance group. Then, the next morning, the Friends were excited to see the same faces participating in a composite biography activity with them, where youth and Friends were able to share about their personal histories and experiences.

Also on March 26, the Gender-based Violence Prevention Project at the CCBN hosted a fair celebrating 100 years of defense and promotion of the human rights of women. Around 350 people participated in a morning of cultural performances and educational information in honor of International Women’s Day. Participants received t-shirts, posters, stickers, brochures, and other awareness-raising materials.

Monday, February 28, 2011

BBC on Nicaragua

Check out this article from the BBC on November's election.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Sandinista Perspective

Tuesday morning I attended Envio's monthly lecture on Nicaraguan current events. The speaker was William Grigsby, director of La Primerisima radio station and an outspoken Sandinista. The topic was "How is the Sandinista party entering this election year?" Grigsby gave a well-organized speech about how the party is feeling about their chances this November. Knowing his audience would be highly critical of many of the FSLN moves in recent months, he directly addressed well-known criticisms and did not shy away from brutal honesty.

Grigsby began by explaining that, up to this point, the FSLN has succeeded in re-ordering the country's priorities, putting the economy, energy investment, and infrastructure first. But they are not finished with their work, which is why they need more time in office. Current social programs are the seed for future development, and one more term will see that development through. The FSLN has an "efficient electoral military," which means prospects look good for November. Grigsby stated, though, that it would still be a tough fight with the country's second-in-command political party, the PLC (Constitutionalist Liberal Party). He doesn't see popular radio personality Fabio Gadea, running on the PLI (Independent Liberal Party) ticket, as a threat at all. The fact that Gadea's candidature is splitting the liberal (read: right-wing) vote means that the election atmosphere favors the FSLN.

Then he tackled that-which-must-not-be-named with Sandinistas (or that which is being screamed at the top of the opposition's lungs): institutionality. The accusations are clear: the FSLN is destroying institutionality because they are authoritarian, and they are violating the consitution and electoral law. The response from Grigsby was also clear: the ends justify the means. While he did not use these words (in the discussion period afterwards, the audience agreed upon this as a fitting catchphrase for Grigsby's message), he did remind us that all these issues are the result of politics. Politics wrote the constitution of 1987, amended it in the coming years, and wrote electoral law. Not the FSLN, but the various political forces who have risen and fallen in Nicaragua's recent history. Special interests always win out, and because of this, life and elections are not always fair and clean. According to Grigsby, "With this same institutionality they [the opposition] messed up the Nicaraguan people for 17 years, it's [institutionality] at the service of some particular interest, usually an economic interest." He points out that the FSLN doesn't even have a political majority in Nicaragua, so they can't be dominating the rule making that much. That's just the way the game is, and the FSLN is going to play it (and play it well) this time around.

And as for election observers, they don't always guarantee a fair election, anyway. (Background: International observers are a hot topic right now because Denmark just declared they are pulling their aid out of the country, in part due to Ortega's refusal of international election observers). But, he conceded, observers do help with legitimacy, so the coming election will probably, in some way, shape, or form, have observers or accompaniers. The most important thing is that these elections be Nicaraguan elections. Nicaragua is one of a handful of Latin American governments that has a national agenda and does not simply cater to U.S. interests. One great Nicaraguan accomplishment is that neither the PLC nor the FSLN are U.S.-supported parties. The embassy knows that sometimes they can work better with the PLC, and sometimes they can work better with the FSLN, so no one party solely represents U.S. interests. Nicaragua's political parties are all looking out for national interests, and voters don't feel the pressure to vote for or against foreign money.

Since Grigsby did not leave much time for questions, most of the audience's thoughts came out in the discussion period which followed, led by Envio founder and editor Maria Lopez Vigil. She was quick to point out that many of Grigsby's historical facts were off, particularly those passing judgment on past fraud and changes in the law. Remember, Aleman and Ortega have a pact, so if PLC candidates are voting for law or constitutional changes that favor the FSLN, it's as good as the FSLN voting for it themselves. And it's part of this arrangement that the two parties be seen as important forces in Nicaraguan politics. In other words, the FSLN needs the PLC to be a strong party because they guarantee a split right-wing vote. Vigil described the situation as one of "Who's the livliest rat?" Forget values, what really matters is who's got the stamina and cunning to outsmart his opponent. According to Vigil, "The only flag that an opposition should be waving is that of fiscal reform." The message? If civil society has a problem with transparency or corruption, they should form a political party and join the game. But electoral law makes it nearly impossible to do this. So they're stuck between a rock and a hard place, choosing between ideals and practicality.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Co-Worker's Blog

Check out our co-worker Darling's blog. She is the coordinator of the Gender Violence Prevention project at the CCBN, and has done a lot of work with women's organizations in Nicaragua.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's an Election Year

I have been struggling to write this blogpost for weeks. Although this year’s presidential elections aren’t for another eight months, there is plenty happening now that will affect the outcome in November. It seems like such a complicated mess that I haven’t known where to begin. I want to represent the situation fairly, and yet I certainly have my biases. But the Egyptian people’s success at making their voice heard and enacting change in their country has inspired me to finally put pen to paper, or rather, hand to keyboard. The question around here has been “If Egypt can do it, can we?” I have a co-worker who thinks that if Egypt did it in 18 days, Nicaragua can do it in 15. Not everyone wants to get rid of current president Daniel Ortega, but there is a lot of controversy surrounding his bid for re-election.

According to the Nicaraguan constitution, a current president cannot run for re-election during his term. He must wait at least one election cycle before entering the race again. Additionally, the constitution states that no person can be president more than twice, and Daniel Ortega has reached his limit, having served one term in the 1980’s and another one now (if you speak Spanish, Google “constitución de Nicaragua” and scroll down to Artículo 147). After failing to get the votes he needed in Congress to change the constitution, Ortega still managed to “allow” his own re-election thanks to his friends on the Supreme Court, a completely unconstitutional procedure. Many may ask, how is this even possible? Simple. Remember Arnoldo Aleman, president of Nicaragua prior to Ortega? The one who stole a ton of money from the country? He’s not in jail, or even under house arrest anymore. Why, you ask? Because he formed an alliance (“El Pacto”) with Ortega years ago, which has turned into a series of traded favors and divvying up of political posts and institutions. The latest in the chain of corruption is Ortega’s reprinting of the constitution and Aleman’s running for the presidency yet again, because his bid guarantees a split opposition vote which in turn guarantees Ortega’s win. Though not by a majority vote, which, again, is technically unconstitutional. So, in conclusion, Ortega and Aleman continue to be the big political players, the general public is well versed in their chronicle of corruption, and any other candidates have little chance at upsetting the system.

This is a basic outline of the election set-up, although it says nothing about the candidates themselves and their political platforms. By March 18, 2011, parties must declare their candidates, and this process has also engendered all kinds of corruption (i.e. abrupt and illegitimate changes to electoral law and cancellation of some political parties’ legal status). But, the campaigning goes on, and while Nicaraguans are divided on whether Daniel Ortega’s re-election would be a good move for the country, most Nicaraguans agree that Ortega will be the winner of the next election, whether legitimately or not. At the same time, a lot can happen between now and November. How will the Nicaraguan people make their voice heard during the campaign? Will the international community recognize the outcome? If Nicaraguans protest the process, what can the goal be? How likely is an unexpected outcome? As U.S. citizens with a government claiming to promote democracy around the world, it is our responsibility to use our power and privilege to promote real democracy, not simply a cover. One way we can do this is to stay informed about Nicaragua’s elections and lobby our government to not look the other way when political injustices are committed. The U.S. has already unofficially cast their vote for Ortega, quietly applauding his ability to keep within their neoliberal economic system. Over the next several months I hope to continue writing about the elections, both from my own perspective, and from the perspective of a diverse group of every-day Nicaraguans. I will post a series of interviews so you can hear, in their own words, local perspectives on these issues.

For a more detailed account of the election process in the last few months, including a more substantial description of candidates and information on the U.S. stance, read this article from November’s issue of Envio.

For more history on The Pact, read this article from January 2000’s issue of Envio.

And, for continuous coverage of the election, check out Tortilla con Sal for a more Danielista perspective and Confidencial for less of one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

English Class Profile

Our new English group has just finished their second week of class. Their energy and attention has been incredible, as well as their punctuality and willingness to work together. So far so good! Here are some numbers based on interviews we did with each of them:

27 students, ranging in age from 14-53
18 women
9 men

12 parents
1 married couple
2 single mothers

2 high school students
8 university students (studying law, languages, journalism, electric engineering, graphic design, applied economics, and special education)
1 technical education students (studying to be a bilingual secretary)

1 architect
1 actress
1 karate student
1 bartender
4 volunteering or working for an NGO or community-based organization
1 dance teacher

5 looking for work
4 women who work in the home
6 working for themselves in a small business
7 with jobs in the formal labor sector
22 who want to learn English to get a better job

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nicaragua: Surviving the Legacy of U.S. Policy

Check out this amazing book of photography depicting the legacy of U.S. foreign policy in Nicaragua. The book will be available in April and can be pre-ordered on the website.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Arts for Hope Camp

In the beginning of December I had the opportunity to participate in an Arts for Hope camp for children living in extreme poverty in Chinandega, Nicaragua.  The camp used the methodology of Build a Bridge, a faith-based organization that seeks to use the arts in processes of healing and building emotional skills.  A fellow volunteer who had participated last year told me about it, so I jumped at the chance to learn more when I realized Build a Bridge would be in Nicaragua again.  Because they were short of hands, I was able to assist a teacher named Iskra with Rhythm class. 

Preparation for the camp classes began in November with a workshop about planning art, choir, rhythm, crafts and dance lessons that reach the four main objectives of Build A Bridge: academic learning, community building, spiritual values and artistic expression.  For example, using what we learned in the workshop, Iskra and I brainstormed to choose songs and games that would help the kids learn about musical notation and note values, learn to work together, be inspired with hope, and perform in the presentation at the end of the week.

Each afternoon, 60 kids from three marginalized communities arrived at the church in a battered old school bus.  Our rhythm class was held under a tent set up in the dirt parking lot.  The instruments we used were our clapping hands and shakers made from plastic bottles and gravel.  Our dozen students ranged in age from 6 to 12 years old.  It was a delight to get to know the kids just a bit during the three days I was with them.  I saw the most timid ones overcome some of their shyness, and the most boisterous ones calm down slightly as we formed relationships of mutual respect and got better at planning the pace of the lessons. 

It was an enriching experience for kids and teachers alike, and I hope to apply some aspects of the methodology in English class this year.

For more information about Build A Bridge, visit their site at
For more information about the Nehemiah Center, through which the camp was organized, go to

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Story of Stuff

Check out this informative and engaging video on where all our stuff comes from and what happens to it when we throw it out.

The Story of Stuff