Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Last Day

Mallory, Colin, Rosie, and Michelle have arrived safely back in Portland and the rest of the group also had a travel day on the bus to Costa Rica.

We spent our last few days together with Witness for Peace. Friday we visited the Los Quinchos boys' and girls' homes for street children where we saw a new water storage system was installed, thanks to a donation made by last year's Nica group. The girls were incredibly grateful to have running water and they had all prepared handmade thank you cards. We also spent time on "retreat" at a beautiful crater lake to reflect on our whole experience, relax, and enjoy our last weekend together. During this time, we did some action planning and started brainstorming how we're going to take what we've learned back into our lives in the States. Our last full day was in Managua so we visited a fair trade store and had a meeting at the U.S. Embassy. Hopefully the folks in Costa Rica will have some time this next week to post more reflections on some of these things, but until then... thanks for reading. We had an amazing, unforgettable experience and have grown to appreciate so many aspects of the Nicaraguan culture and people.

Here's us at the school we helped build in San Ramon:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last day in San Ramon

These pictures are from our last day in Santa Isabel. We had a ¨despedida¨(going away ceremony) in the community, which was a lot of fun but we were sad to say goodbye. Tomorrow we are wrapping up our time with Seeds of Learning, visiting a coffee processing plant, and heading back to Managua with Witness for Peace.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mas fotos!

This is the free AND fair trade factory we visited, the first owned as a cooperative by Nicaraguans. Compared to the factory we saw making North Face clothing, this one was by far more humane and friendly. (Taken a week ago.)

Max with his and Kevin´s host family in the campo. Little Cristiano loved the blow up ball. (Taken 4 days ago.)

San Ramon and Seeds of Learning!

¡Hola, mis amigos!

After saying goodbye to our talented guide, Ben Beachy, and Witness for Peace in Matagalpa on Saturday, we headed for the small municipality of San Ramon to the north which is surrounded by thousands of acres of coffee plantations. The weather is mercifully cooler and damper up here at a few thousand feet, and our hotel, SueƱo de la Campana, is situated on a ridge overlooking the quaint town with a breathtaking view of the surrounding hills. We were greeted by Daniel, our new guide who works for Seeds of Learning, who explained his organization´s mission and history in Central America and more specifically in the San Ramon area.
Seeds of Learning helps fund and organize school construction projects in communities that either lack a school or have an inadequate facility. Daniel explained that the community we were going to start work in on Monday, Santa Isabel, only had a temporary wooden structure in the middle of a coffee field. The sturcture is extremely dark and cramped and not a dignified space in which to learn. Also, Nicaraguan law requires that the preschool be in a seperate room which meant those students currently have to meet in someone´s house in the community. Daniel made sure to point out that they are unlike other organizations that just swoop in, build a structure in a few days, and pack up and leave. Seeds of Learning works in solidarity with the people it serves by fully including them in every part of the process. Additionally, both the locals and volunteers work together to build the school, which takes longer, but it develops important relationships that help close the gap that countless years of arrogance and oppression have created. Needless to say, we were all excited to be a part of this project.
On Monday, we rode in the back of a couple of trucks up into the misty hills surrounding San Ramon. We could hear Congo monkeys with their powerful calls that carry for miles while light rain cooled our bodies. We hopped out, and after a short welcome that included songs and poetry from some of the local students, we eagerly began work with both the adults and children of Santa Isabel. Some of us organized into groups that mixed concrete and laid bricks on the foundation which was already poured while other trucked off into the campo to get choice compacting dirt from a distant hillside. The work is tiring but the local residents have been extremely gracious hosts, including offering us freshly cooked meals to eat during breaks. Also, we all took turns socializing with the adults or playing with the children because while the school is the excuse for everyone to gather, the point is developing relationships which is the heart of social justice. Not too far in, the wet season decided to arrive and mother nature dumped at least a couple inches of rain on us in a period of less than an hour which halted work as everyone huddled under a few shelters. We only completed a little more before the work day was done and some of the community leaders invited us to see their homes. The hike was treacherous at times as we climbed 45 degree hills of moving mud, but we were playing tag and other games with the group of children who were gleefully following our every move as a group. During the tour, the residents explained some of the difficulties of campo life which were similar to what we observed during our homestay in Ramon Garcia, but with the important difference that this community lived on a finca which is a large plot of land owned by one person who does not live in the community. This community depends almost solely on coffee production unlike the families of Ramon Garcia which were able to sustain themselves by having diversifed crops on land that they themselves owned.
Tuesday proved to be much more productive in terms of the actual amount of work that we completed on the school. We laid more than triple the amount of bricks that we laid on Monday thanks to the beautiful weather that was remarkably rain free. The project is shaping up nicely and pictures are soon to come!

¡Hasta luego and Adio!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tiempo en el campo (homestays in Ramon Garcia)

Laying on my cot, still wearing the same clothes I had worn that day, I pulled my sheet cover over my head to keep out the huge bugs that buzzed around the room. The sweat, sunscreen, and bugspray caked to my body failed to keep me warm that first night in the campo, but the "sonidos de la noche" (sounds of the night) seemed to make up for my lack of sleep: the crickets sang their sweet melody, the frogs croaked, the neighbors were talking in their homes, the bugs buzzed around the room. The early wake-up call by the roosters' cock-a-doodle-doo got us up in time to help our host-mom make corn tortillas. While getting ready for the day and trying not to wake up the three hermanos on the other side of the fabric wall, we walked out of the 30x20 ft one-room house into the kitchen/dining area/living room. Our shy host mom, Maria, showed us how the corn is first mixed with meat, put into a machine that is cranked to a mush, formed like a pancake with your hands, and placed in a pan on the woodstove in the corner. We ate corn tortillas, beans, and rice for almost every meal. It was great, though, no complaining!
Our group had the absolute honor and privilege of staying with the rural community of Ramon Garcia, who graciously welcomed us into their community for two and a half days. After learning about the struggles this community had gone through in keeping their land and their pride, it was evident that this was a strong and community-oriented group of people.
My host-dad, Fausto, is one of the most humble and inspiring people I have ever met. He was so open and loving in allowing us to stay with his family for two nights and in sharing about his life and dreams. He brought us down to the river behind their house to show us the pipe that he had engineered to pump water up to their house. His gaunt face was gleaming as he showed us how it worked and how he had taught others in the community how to build one. Later that afternoon, he took us to his parcel of land, which I was not expecting to be much, because of how poor their family was... We walked through the coffee plants, he pointed out a mango tree or two, and we started walking up the hill. We walked and walked all the way up the hill, through palm, mango, and banana trees until we got to the very top with one of the most breath-taking views I had ever seen in my life! Surrounding us and the valley was a wall of mountains that were of a lush green, the tops disappearing into the clouds. We saw a rainbow off to the right, which made the scene complete. It was absolutely majestic. The profound tranquility I felt seemed to open my heart to hear the wisdom that this simple man had to offer.
Fausto began to tell us his dreams for his children and for his land. He realizes the richness of the land and wishes for his children to appreciate and take care of it after his is gone. He wishes that his children could get a good education, but he seems to realize that it is not likely because of the fact that his family has little to no money. His dream for the land is to build a small home where we were sitting for one of his children and their family, but they would need a well up there also, because it is too far away from the river. He has all of these dreams, but because they are extremely poor, they might not ever happen. Fausto seemed very aware of this fact, and yet he still has these dreams. Amazing.
The way they live is incredible as well. Using the river as a place to bathe, do laundry, and take a swim, they seem to fair just fine. They carry their drinking and cooking water to their home from a well by the school. They have electricity, but the only thing my family used it for was the one lightbulb in the house and the radio. Their bathroom consisted of a latrine (like an outhouse, but with no toilet paper) located about twenty feet from the house. It felt like camping, and although most of the comforts I am used to were not there, the shack was made into a home with the love, laughter, and simplicity of their humble lives.
We had great coversations about his time serving in the war during the revolution, their daily lives now; we shared pictures of our own families; talked about our lives in America and the struggles and problems of Nicaragua; played cards and hacky sack with the kids; and laughed about Nicaraguan sayings and how they just do not quite translate well into English.
After only two and a half days, I felt like part of the family and did not want to leave! It would be difficult to physically live the way they do, but it seems like the more simply one lives, the richer their life becomes, especially when one values God, family, and community.


Here are two photos from our adventures. It takes a long time to upload, so we're starting small!

Kenzie tries her hand at making a tortilla with her homestay family in Ramon Garcia. Tortillas are cooked over the wood stove behind her.

This is our happy group on the Nicaragua Immersion, saying our goodbye's to Witness for Peace leader, Ben, before heading out to work with Seeds of Learning.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 8

We can't believe we've been in Nicaragua for a week. We've learned so much and experienced so many new things! We spent the last three days (two nights) with homestays in a beautiful but poor community called Ramon Garcia. Hopefully we'll have more time soon to post some stories. The people we've spent time with seem to hold so much wisdom. At one of our reflections recently we discussed how our American society and culture puts such a high value on "progress" (technology, efficiency, accumulation of wealth) but what we've experienced in the lives of the Nicaraguans is something even more profound- something that makes our American progress seem so very backwards.

Anyway, we are all doing well. There have been some minor encounters with diarhea and such but nothing we can't handle! Dios les bendiga.