December 2000

Building forms to hold concrete     The Sewing Cooperative's building continues to go up. Each woman works 20 hours a week. If she later leaves the cooperative, her hours of labor will be repaid after there is product being sold. Meanwhile, the women continue to work for no pay on their future business.
    The funding for the building came from two women in the U.S. They have invested much to see that these Nicaraguan women have a job, a business, and a way to provide for their families. One U.S. woman is also helping us fund the needed sewing machinery and equipment. Women helping women.
    A small foundation is committed to paying for a businessperson who will come and teach business skills to the Sewing Cooperative women. The future buyer is committed to buying the products (she has already begun to advertise that she will be selling their organic cotton products).
    We have a community promoter, Ana, who works with the women to help them make decisions and stay motivated, because this start-up is a long process with no pay... these women are sacrificing in hope.

    The loseta business continues but is having some problems. They are not breaking even financially and so are trying to figure out how to cut costs.
    When production days are slow, they are working on building their building (away from our back yard to make room for the Volunteer Dorm) and on the fence that will encircle their building and the Women's Sewing Cooperative.
    We are hoping to be able to provide them with training in business management skills and cooperative structure skills. We are hoping grant monies will hire a consultant to help all our cooperatives learn how to work together. When the Sandinistas won the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship, they set up cooperatives all over Nicaragua. They hoped idealistically, that by providing resources the cooperatives would flourish, but little technical training was given (partly due to idealism and mostly due to the war) on how to jointly make decisions and keep the work going. We do not want to make the same mistake.

Unloading honey barrels     PRONIC, S.A., the organic crop cooperative, has had its ups and downs. We are (as I write) in the midst of this season's certification process. We are fortunate to have had two volunteers here to help get ready. Lisa has helped the growers begin to understand the complicated certification forms.
    Organics has gotten to a place where providing a paper trail to verify that everything has been maintained to standards is as important as growing the crop organically in the first place. Poor campesinos (rural growers) have a most difficult time simply reading, let alone filling out the U. S. forms.
    Cynthia, another volunteer, is drawing maps for all of them. The forms require maps. This is all so foreign to the growers.
Raul, Lisa, and Cynthia review certification paperwork     PRONIC has now sub-divided into seven smaller groups for certification purposes. One group got completely overwhelmed with the forms and opted out of the certification process which means a loss of money for them and for PRONIC.
    Raul, PRONIC's agronomist/manager, has such a hard time trying to figure out what and "why-on-earth for" all the forms are. Lisa is helping him learn. We also have two people experienced in organics and cooperatives considering coming to help.
    We are currently growing sesame, honey, coffee, peanuts, mung, and sunflower seeds. We are growing our own seed bank.
Land Cruiser awash down the arroyo     We had several representatives of one buyer here recently - during a hurricane, of course! They saw little due to the rain. They did, though, see the inside of our Land Cruiser sideways, as it and they floated down the arroyo! Mike was taking our night watchfolks home across a flooded arroyo and the vehicle's engine flooded out as it sank in the mud. Then this 6-foot-high wall of water came and knocked it over on its side. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. Unfortunately, the Land Cruiser, our last 4-wheel-drive vehicle, was seriously hurt.

Pedro the potter     Other microenterprise endeavors include small loans to individuals trying to add to their income or start a small business. We continue to buy more and more of our crafts directly from the craftspeople themselves. One of our potters lost lots of merchandise and his kiln in the earthquake last July. Sarah placed a big order and paid him fully, up front. He repaired his kiln, replaced the merchandise, and completed the order.
    The processing plant for our organic crops closed. We then found the only remaining organically certified plant in Nicaragua. The bank is now foreclosing on it. We are looking for investors to buy equipment and a place to start our own worker-owned processing plant. Mike's dad, Thomas Earl, is helping us look for funders.

Liz planting trees in Nueva Vida     The tens of thousands of baby trees are almost all planted in Nueva Vida. We have had wonderful volunteer help. We have a Crisis Corps worker, Gabe, who knows trees, and he is overseeing the project now. During the summer, Liz, a weed specialist, helped us for a week and helped us get the planting going. She and her husband, Brian, came and worked. Brian worked hard on the clinic construction project.

    The clinic construction has moved at a snail's pace. How to motivate people to build on a community project as opposed to building on their own individual houses is a mystery. Juanito's (one of our community promoters) job is to organize the Nueva Vida community's construction efforts.
    We finally resorted to closing the existing clinic to people who have not worked in the construction. We now require one day of labor in exchange for one medical exam with treatment of medicines. It has been interesting to watch. When reminded that they need a work coupon to receive medical help, people explain why they can't currently work. We explain that the construction has been going on since March. They hush and go to work.
Hoisting roof beam in clinic construct     Restricting whom we see has been difficult but we do not want to feed into helplessness, but into empowerment. Now people are working and the roof is going up. We will be in the new building in January. We want Nueva Vida to be a community, which is what the other two promoters, Danelia and Juan Che, continue to foster. We want the clinic to be theirs.
Sue and Rachel     The current temporary clinic provides many services: primary health care, wound care, medicines, nebulizer treatments, consistant care (with patient forms and histories - unusual for Nicaragua), and counseling through our Pat. Exams are provided by our doctor, Jorge Flores, Monday - Friday afternoons, and two full days by Sue Klassen, a Mennonite volunteer. Henry, our medic, does excellent wound care all day long. A volunteer, Rachel, is helping the clinic run more smoothly.
    A generous woman brought medical books in Spanish for the clinic. Jorge was so excited because Nicaraguan doctors do not have the resources to continue to learn. He was like a kid in a candy store!
Neonatal training team     Nicaraguan doctors really are starved for information. We had three pediatricians who came and taught neonatal resuscitation techniques to hospital personnel. They were treasured. Nicaragua was the only Central American country where this had not been taught.
    Because our clinic keeps patient forms, the administrator insisted that Jorge write clearly and Maria, our "receptionist", do the same. Jorge has really tried, and Maria, who is just learning to read and write, practices writing when days are slow.
    The care that is given by the staff is loving. We have one patient who is 20 years old. She is TB resistant and HIV positive. She should be in the care of the Ministry of Health. She came to us recently with a greatly enlarged liver and extreme difficulty in breathing. (One clinic had given her iron and an antibiotic and sent her off home). We took her to the hospital.
    We arrived at the Ciudad Sandino hospital to find it closed. Why? Because the government was using it for an election rally!! No doctors, no care, not even emergency care! The one saving grace was that at least two police officers and a hospital official hung their heads in shame when told how ridiculous it all was.

Election official explaining  ballot in Nueva Vida     Nicaragua just had its municipal elections two days before the U.S. had its elections. This was Ciudad Sandino's first election for its own city government (previously it was part of Managua). Ciudad Sandino elected a Sandinista mayor and city council, as did most of Nicaragua's cities, which was surprising.
    The election was monitored by international observers and leadership from all four parties. There was definitely less tampering in this election than in the 1996 presidential election.
    It has been interesting - to say the least - to watch the U.S. elections from abroad. As I write this, we still do not know the outcome of the U.S. presidential race. We hope the U.S. will seriously address election irregularities because we know the price that is paid for acquiescence.

    Other Community news will also be in the reflection. We are looking forward to Christmas when parents and children come to celebrate with us. We have a friend with us now, and two more coming soon. We hosted a Halloween party for the Ecumenical Committee here in Nicaragua. We had about 50 folks here. We are looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving together with four or five other families. Our community expands...

Reflection...

    We have had a couple of rough months. While Kathy and Pat toured the West Coast of the U.S. speaking and fundraising for us, a series of events took place here. First, I got sick - really sick. I ended up being treated with IV antibiotics for several days.
    Secondly, while Kathy (our bookkeeper) was gone, we realized we were in a cash-flow crisis. (Fall is financially difficult each year because some crops are going in the ground, while some are being harvested, processed, and shipped, all involving thousands of dollars.)
    Then the hurricane dumped water on the crops, and we lost the Land Cruiser, our last reliable vehicle.
    During the hurricane, Mike's dad, Thomas Earl, came back from the States and got pneumonia. Then we thought he might be having a heart attack and he ended up in ICU in a Managua hospital (fortunately, it was only an angina attack).
    I told a friend, "It's all overwhelming. It's nothing large - the kids are fine, we have a roof over our heads and food on our table, none of us are dying from a disease - but it is so overwhelming."
    She said, "You can die from a pile of gravel as well as a boulder."
    When you see people drudging through mud, houses flooded, and kids sick, you feel less likely to complain BUT the burden we felt was enormous. What was going to happen? Was all this going to undo the work? How were we going to juggle pennies and vehicles and still be loyal to the people we serve, the staff, our kids?
    Then a large check arrived from the estate of a woman who had supported our work. A church started looking for a 4x4 truck for us. Another woman generously wrote and told us to look for a new vehicle to do what we needed it to do. A past volunteer wrote saying, "you need help - I'm coming". Volunteers helped to get paperwork done and slowly the burden lifted. Hope was there again. All from the love of people's hearts.
    Is this what Advent and Christmas was like originally?
    Did Mary, as she pushed that baby out, as she leaned back exhausted, as she reached for him... did her heart fill with wonder and hope?
    Did Joseph, as he looked upon this son entrusted to his calloused hands... did his hands tremble as hope looked back?
    Did the angels, singing to poor shepherds in a field, lift their burdens and give them hope in the darkness of night?
    Did the wise ones, when they located the child and bestowed their gifts, wisely recognize hope?
    Did the world unconsciously sigh from relief as hope was born when the babe was born?
    Hope is powerful.
    We, as Christians, believe God gave us hope in Jesus and our response is to return the hope to the hopeless. How? Well, like the examples above, from the love of our hearts.

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