The Women's Sewing Cooperative is sending two women to do a speaking tour in the States starting in September. Yadira has already gotten her US visa (a major feat) and hopefully soon Ruth will have hers as well. They will be speaking from DC to Maine to Oregon and many, many points in between. Mike and Becca will be playing "tag team" accompanying them and translating for them. Also the Inter-American Foundation is sending Zulema, the women's former president, to Chile to speak about the co-op's successes. César will be traveling with her.
It is gratifying to watch the changes in the women. They are more professional and more certain of themselves as they face "officials" and talk to groups, which is as it should be. They have accomplished much and gone so far, especially considering where they started and what they were up against.
The Health Clinic is expanding. The Women's Center is getting finished thanks to many volunteers' help. We are planning new uses of the facility until we see a clear need for the Center to be just for women. We are converting one exam room into a dental room and another into a lab room. We are interviewing lab technicians now.
For the immediate future the birth room is going to be an alternate healing room: using acupuncture, medicinal herbs, and other alternative healing techniques. We, or rather our delegations, have constructed five raised garden beds with a fence at the clinic. The postpartum room will be converted into a Green Pharmacy. We have great hopes of getting Cuban doctors to come and teach us. Cuba has the best green pharmacies in the world, especially with tropical plants. We are very excited about all of this. We feel hopeful that this is a more sustainable route to go for the clinic while keeping the current care provided.
Volunteers have worked hard, gotten dirty, and given much love and care. We have had five delegations since mid-May: the first group was friends and alumni of Bucknell University (Lewisburg, PA). With this group the idea of changing the Women's Clinic around began to become a reality. Then in June, we hosted St. John's Methodist Church (Rock Hill, SC) and then from Westminster UCC (Spokane, WA). July brought Highland Presbyterian Church (Maryville, TN), along with Dylan and his mama, Deb. Last but not least St. Giles Presbyterian Church (Raleigh, NC) came in August. In total the delegations had three doctors, two nurse practitioners, one dentist, two hygienists, and one lab technician. They saw hundreds of patients.
To help us with all these groups we had nine volunteers: Frank, Preston, Meredith, Emmie, Jessica, Eric, Hunt, Becca and Kevin. They have organized, engineered, brain-stormed, and translated as well as other more "normal" volunteer work. We've been very fortunate.
The Coffee Cooperative, El Porvenir, has built a school for its children. With materials provided from donations, they are now beginning to build another water catching system while the rains are here and get the pump to their well fixed. They do have filters in every home so that they can have clean water.
The CDCA marks 2004 as ten years in Nicaragua. As we looked back on old newsletters to summarize what we accomplished in those years, we were struck by something we wrote in our first newsletter before coming down, "The people of Ciudad Sandino have put a lot of hope in us&we hope we don't let them down." As we list off the highlights of what we have accomplished and where we messed up, we still hope that we will not let them down.
When we moved here, we started with the little money we got from mortgages on our homes. In order to work we mostly plugged into things other organizations were doing and then we went further. For example we helped FUNDECI, our host organization, build a health center in Trinidad Central (a small rural community in the Ciudad Sandino area). That started our health aspect. Since then, the CDCA has:
- built two rural health centers
- remodeled one rural health center
- hosted over 75 health brigades or volunteers treating thousands of patients in many, many areas of western Nicaragua
- provided on-going health promoter trainings in five communities
- created family planning options
- run a temporary Nueva Vida clinic after Hurricane Mitch (1998) for 1˝ years
- built a permanent clinic in Nueva Vida and continued to run it with eight paid staff (including two doctors and one therapist)
- kept charts on over 8,000 patients in the clinic
- treated over 200 chronically ill patients with on-going care
- and given out almost $1 million worth of medicines through the People's Pharmacy.
Our own first development project was in the poorest barrio at that time of Ciudad Sandino, Roberto Clemente. We have always tried to work with the poorest figuring they were the ones falling through the cracks&and the cracks here are canyons! Our first project was water and since then, the CDCA has:
- gotten potable water into every home in Roberto Clemente
- gotten latrines in every home in Roberto Clemente
- built and equipped a feeding center/preschool in Roberto Clemente
- gotten potable water into every home in Cuatro de Abril (a barrio later replacing Roberto Clemente as the poorest)
- gotten another foundation to fund projects of their own around Ciudad Sandino and hired their orginal staff
- designed and built three solar-composting latrines
- designed and built 17 fuel-efficient, wood-burning cook stoves
- built over $170,000 worth of temporary homes in Nueva Vida immediately after Hurricane Mitch
- dug hundred of latrines in Nueva Vida
- designed gray water catch systems for Nueva Vida and tried to make them work (but failed because the houses were too close together and the ground did not perk)
- arranged crisis help to the last neighborhoods of Nueva Vida where the international help was not reaching
- and planted 16,000 trees in Nueva Vida.
In the beginning FUNDECI, our host organization, gave us one of their staff to aid us in our new work. César Fajardo has been with us since and is always emphasizing that we have to listen and do what the community wants, not what we think is best. Since then, the CDCA has:
- worked with community leaders in both urban and rural communities
- attended countless meeting with communities to determine just how best we could assist.
- worked on behalf of the displaced community of Masatepe, squatters on unused land (due to eviction by riot police, we failed miserably to help them)
- worked closely with immerging community leaders in Nueva Vida (who were just relocated) to determine who most needed the emergency food and clothing
- hired four staff for 2˝ years to organize Nueva Vida going from house-to-house and block-to-block
- and acted as liaisons with the mayor of Managua on behalf of Nueva Vida and with other mayors on behalf of other communities.
One of our first projects was to provide English classes free-of-charge. Since those classes we have kept up the need for teaching, if not by us then by someone. The CDCA has:
- hired a teacher for the Roberto Clemente preschool for three years
- built and equipped a school for the Las Parcelas community and hired a teacher for two years
- provided funding through donors for students to go to school
- organized sister preschool relationships with five schools
- organized a sister church relationship with a church in Nueva Vida that has a feeding center and preschool
- and provided a teacher for El Porvenir's middle school at the coffee cooperative.
Early on the most over-whelming need identified for us was economic development&ways that parents can bring in cash so that they can buy what they need to feed, clothe, house, and care for their children. The first project we did in this area was to work with 11 growers to plant organic sesame in a barren field in 1995. Within two years it grew to 1400 growers!
In sustainable agriculture, since then the CDCA has:
- provided huge loans for planting, fixing equipment (like irrigation pumps), and harvesting
- helped hundreds of growers get organic certification (not an easy process)
- trained growers in organics
- provided tractors when needed
- marketed their products for no charge
- arranged for processing and shipping
- included products such as peanuts, cashews, coffee, honey as well as sesame
- helped in repaying huge loans left unpaid by Hurricane Mitch (still owe $35,000)
- kept all our growers from losing their land after Hurricane Mitch devastated all the crops in the country
- tried to buy the processing plant when all processing plants in the country went bankrupt (failed [no plant is open today])
- formed the cooperative business of growers to market their organic products
- and hired an agronomist/business consultant. Unfortunately the cooperative has had to ask some members to leave because of lying and not being faithful to their contracts, which hurts them all.
In our early efforts for economic development we aided some dairy producers in getting a large grant to build and run their own micro-processing milk plant. They got the grant and then never produced one liter of milk. We learned many hard lessons on what not to do and what to do. For a while we focused on microenterprises and the CDCA funded first a refrigeration family business making the only cubed ice for Ciudad Sandino. Since then, the CDCA has loaned money for:
- start-up costs for small&small businesses
- repair money for broken machinery
- crises in families that would break the business if all money went to the crisis
- and arts and crafts from the artists, which we sell in the USA.
But microenterprise loans were not enough especially with Nueva Vida adding 1,500 unemployed families to an already over-burdened economy; and so, our small efforts grew to larger economic projects. Since Hurricane Mitch, the CDCA has started a concrete construction materials cooperative, which has:
- built their facility on their own land
- gotten machinery and out of debt
- but never gotten a good market base outside of our construction projects.
The CDCA tried to help the Filtrón business, which makes clay water filters, become worker-owned. They also built their own facility and kiln, but have never gotten a good market outside of non-profits who buy filters in times of natural disasters. So they have been bought out by a foreign investor but they still make great filters!
The CDCA has started a women's sewing cooperative for export clothing including organics&our pride and joy and our hell! We have gotten them loans and aided them while they&
- bought their land
- built their own building
- bought industrial machinery
- trained machine operators
- and learned administrative skills.
- While we continue to:
- create clothing patterns
- publicize their endeavors
- market their products and ship them
- maneuver around export and import laws
- and work on the final steps for Free Trade Zone status.
The CDCA tried one year to start a Furniture Cooperative with the help of a volunteer. Our timing was off and the venture failed, but then we started a Security Cooperative.
How have we done all this financially? With fundraising. Our first hair-brained idea to raise money was to put the bus we drove to Nicaragua on a bus route. We published a cookbook (sold over 2,000 copies in 10 years!). We applied for and received some grants and - slowly but surely - people like you started supporting the work and have kept us afloat. In 1995 we started speaking tours and have done two every year since. Starting in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch, we have had over 250 groups from other organizations come to hear about what we are doing.
How did we get all these projects started? What role have we played in all this? Well, realistically we're stupid enough to say, "Hey! Why not?! Let's try this." We are also stubborn enough not to quit even though those brick walls are awfully hard and periodically, just every so often, the breath of the Divine blows on us and we breathe in deeply.
How did we get the businesses started? We had businesses in the States that especially helped at the onset: Once Again Nut Butter (Nunda, NY) started with the growers and Maggie's Clean Clothes (Ypsilanti, MI) started with the women's sewing cooperative.
And physically? We have had great staff&from only César and us in 1994 to now 22 people ten years later. We have had numerous Nicaraguan volunteers. We have had about 75 delegations and about 350 individual international volunteers.
Sometimes to us it feels as though the CDCA has not had a very big impact on people's lives, sometimes we feel we have let the folks of Ciudad Sandino down, but looking back we surely have worked hard not to and had a lot of people helping.
So that's it for the last 10 years. Hope the next ten are even better. With your help they will be. Thanks for sticking with us.
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