Finding New Connections in Nicaragua

By Dylan Harris and Joey Propper, teen delegates ‘15

We became intrigued to go on a trip to Nicaragua because experiencing a new culture seemed essential to broadening our global horizons. The Dos Pueblos board talked about the strong connections they made with communities in Nicaragua, and how amazing it feels to immerse oneself in a foreign culture. We were sold. The minute we arrived in the capital Managua, we were thrown into speaking Spanish as soon as we unloaded our luggage. Our group mission was to have a meaningful cultural exchange with Nicaraguan teens and finish building a library in Tipitapa, a more rural town than the capital. We also went to visit Ometepe, a two-volcano island that featured something very amazing that we never experienced before—black sand. As New Yorkers, we were first struck by seeing only one-story buildings, but we soon observed how a more rustic and slower lifestyle made the Nicaraguans really value community and family. On this trip, our Spanish skills improved remarkably as we strived to connect with our new friends. We also learned something we did not know about ourselves living in New York—that we enjoy living and working as a group with a unified goal. What we most loved, and the reason we want to return, is the warmth and friendliness of the teens that we have gotten to know and now consider good friends.

Queremos volver pronto!

Access to Water is a Basic Human Right

That is why much of our work focuses on getting clean water to the neediest in Tipitapa. Potable water protects the most vulnerable, children and elders from water-borne diseases, and frees residents, especially women, from the endless daily task of obtaining what they call “el líquido vital.” It is one of the most powerful – and cost effective – ways of helping communities organize around meeting their basic needs to break the cycle of poverty. In the last eight years, our partners in Nicaragua have coordinated many projects bringing clean water to growing communities (over 20,000 families). With support from our individual donors and the generosity of the Cottonwood Foundation, our experienced volunteers lead the way by providing technical expertise, and the communities always contribute the ?sweat equity‘ to install the refurbished wells. Once the basic necessity of water is met, our volunteers continue to engage the communities in addressing local health and education needs.

The bad news is that the Cottonwood Foundation is closing its doors in May. The good news is that they have recognized our work with a final Legacy Grant to provide healthy water to 10 new communities. This grant will allow us to reach the most rural regions in Tipitapa – those that are most excluded from society – so that they may play an active role in protecting their health and their families. In other words this means child mortality is reduced, schools are built, water pollution is decreased, and economic opportunities begin. Help us provide these basic rights to Nicaraguans. We need your support more than ever to continue this important work. Please don‘t forget to make a generous donation today.

Little New Yorkers Make a Big Difference

LittleNYersIn Tipitapa, where clean drinking water and electricity are in short supply, one might think that books and learning materials are secondary, but when you see the impact of Rosa’s children’s lending library you realize this is not the case. The library is the only place where children can borrow a book, and for some it is the only opportunity to read at all. More than one parent told us that children who take out books each week and participate in group activities such as reading classes, repairing books and teaching others to read, are going to be the future leaders of the country – we know they’re right! What makes the library so important is that it is not just a place for education, it is also a safe haven where children can spend time with friends, learn about hygiene for better health, and a place where they can get moral support that they may not get at home. Our delegation brought five 50 lbs bags of school supplies and Spanish children's books, kindly donated by PS87, a public grade school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for the children of Ciudadela San Martin. Given the success and demand for Rosa’s existing library, Rosa has started a small library here that serves handicapped children and the children who labor at the local dump.

The big day for the delivery arrived and we were told, “some children will be waiting for you”. As we approached the red gates of the school, a group of policemen stood in the street. Were they waiting for us? Our thoughts were soon confirmed as we turned into the school to see around 200 cheering children sitting in the sun with their teachers and parents. We were suddenly confronted with five times the children than we were expecting. Everyone was excited about the gifts from the students at PS87, but the idea of handing out the materials was now impossible – Rosa’s meticulous inventory of all supplies down to the last pencil for 30 children had to be rethought. She was also surprised, and remarked that as funds and resources have become scarcer, word travels fast around the communities, and parents (mostly mothers) do their best to provide educational goods for their children.

We thank our little New Yorkers at PS87 for contributing to Rosa’s dream of making education a reality for so many children, especially for handicapped children who are often forgotten, and are a source of shame for families in places like Nicaragua. Through school supplies and books, Rosa is able to show parents their children’s talent!

The Strength of Women

GirlandbookThis June, board members and volunteers visited our sister city.  This delegation took place during a difficult time - as Nicaraguans recognize that wealthy countries can’t provide the same levels of support due to the global economic crisis. The US nor the EU will fulfill their levels of aid to Nicaragua in 2009, and the Millennium Challenge Account created by G.W. Bush cancelled its remaining $60M amid allegations of fraud in local elections last fall.  Money sent back to families by Nicaraguans who have emigrated north has also fallen dramatically. We were impressed that upon arriving at the airport in Managua, all passengers were screened for swine flu with a thermal camera before being allowed in the country. Nicaragua also launched a major public health campaign to prevent the H1N1 virus from affecting its population, dispatching thousands of health brigadistas to educate people and detect any new cases. This theme of good organizing in the face of financial scarcity was repeated throughout our trip.  With the help of community organizers, we saw these realities in Ciudadela San Martín when delivering much-needed school supplies. Next we visited the community water well to see their plan for new pipes to bring potable water for 120 additional families. We also looked at a location for a feeding center, as lay-offs at the free trade zones continue to idle employees as jobs leave for China.

Mayor Cesar Vazquez and Vice mayor Ligia U. Santana informed us that Tipitapa continues to grow. Ligia took us to a new settlement Cristo Rey, where cardboard, plastic and aluminum sheets serve as new homes for the latest residents. We were glad to hear that all property titles in this community were only being given to women, but the good news ended here as Ligia informed us that with the swell of thousands of residents in less than a year, and no electricity, water, or social services, the risk of disease and crime is high. I asked if she thought that only a woman could pull this community together. She asserted, “women do this kind of hard work everyday around the world, and get nothing for it. Here we are giving them property for the hard work that is involved in keeping families together, especially in these impossible circumstances.”

The women of Nicaragua have become the beacon for change, and we were glad to hear this from the halls of the mayor's office to the communities women serve. The fight for most women is twice as tough – not only do they need to earn a living but they must also provide family care, and run a household. They are survivors of war, economic and sexual exploitation – yet they refuse to give in to despair. Instead, they teach us how to organize, to build health clinics, nutrition programs, schools and literacy campaigns. Women such as Rosa, a community organizer who helps over 200 children, and Lucia, a mother of 6, who built her own home and installed pipes to bring water to her family illustrate the power of women.

We left Nicaragua filled with hope but sobered by the increasing poverty we saw. We returned home ever committed to the struggle for health, nutrition, equality, and an end to economic injustice. Please join us in supporting these women and their strength in making this world a better place.