Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Meghan's Story about Conchita

Meghan interviewed Concepción (known as Doña Conchita), an amazing woman who works at the Nueva Vida Clinic.
Follow this link to view a slideshow/video about Conchita.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Good News about the Genesis Spinning Co-op

We recently received this from JHC:

The Genesis Spinning Plant building is now home to a new grinder that can do 4,000 lbs. an hour and mixer that can mix 2,000 lbs every 5 minutes, making cattle feed to 1) give jobs to the Genesis co-op folks while we wait on spinning machinery and 2) use up byproduct from our organic sesame and cottonseed. We don't actually have cattle, we're hoping other people do and they want to buy some feed! According to people who know more than we do (not hard to find) we can put 11 people to work full time on this and if we hit the price point (we think we can) sell like crazy during the dry season November to May. Tomorrow we're making 10,000 lbs of feed to test the market. If it goes well, we should start into full production soon to be ready when the market needs feed in November. (Oh, and P.S. another co-op is LENDING us the machinery, so the initial investment on this was LOW!). We're keeping fingers crossed!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Betsey's Fund-raiser Yard Sale for JHC

Meghan wrote this:
Betsey made $183 for Jubilee House at her yard sale on Saturday (9/24/2011).  But there’s an even better story.  Back when Betsey was trying to raise the money to go to Nicaragua, Darren and Audrey (Betsey’s son and daughter-in-law) gave her a used Hyundai to sell.  The Soto family bought the car, and since then Catalina Soto has been making a little extra money cleaning for Betsey and Audrey.  When the Sotos heard about the need in Nicaragua, they wanted to help and brought a lot of items to sell at the sale.  But then Betsey’s husband Bruce got laid up with back trouble and Betsey thought she’d have to call off the sale.  The Sotos came to the rescue, offering to set up the sale and have their daughter Emmy stay all day on Saturday to help.  This wonderful connection between the Sotos and the Kenworthys is just one of the unexpected blessings of our trip to Nicaragua.

Our community of support for JHC is growing.  We got to talk to lots of people about Nicaragua at the sale, and many were moved to donate a little extra or pay more than we were asking for an item.  Betsey’s neighbors across the street, who Betsey hadn’t connected with in a long time, heard about Nicaragua and donated a TV and a sound system to the sale (both of which sold), and wouldn’t take any money for either.  It was a labor of love and felt like it from beginning to end.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thanks from JHC and Genesis Co-op

Multnomah Monthly Meeting sent us to Nicaragua with this "traveling minute". 
We gave it to the Jubilee House folks and the Genesis Co-op members, and they wrote their thanks and blessings on it and returned it to us. The text of the "thank you" notes is below along with a photo of each one who wrote it:

Front side:

Greetings Friends! Thank you for sending this wonderful group of people to the Center to help, learn and broaden a relationship between our community the work and the people of Nicaragua.

Kathleen Murdock for the Jubilee House Community 

Pablo Gonzales

Ervín Estrada

Gloria Elena Aguirre – hola q’ el Señor los bendiga

Gloria Elena Aguirre – Hello, may the Lord bless you all.

Xiomara Experanza Obando – Hola estamos muy agradecidos por haber trabajado para nuestro proyecto. Que Dios los Bendiga.

Xiomara Experanza Obando – Hello we are very thankful that you have worked for our project. May God bless you.

Back side:

From Friends in Managua, Nicaragua to Friends in Portland, Greetings! What a blessing it was to have Multnomah Friends worship with us at the Managua Worship Group on 28 August 2001 (means 2011). We are a tiny worship group composed of a handful of resident attenders. Our ministry is to provide spiritual community for ourselves by also for the many Friends and friends of Friends who come to Nicaragua to learn and serve. The experience here for most is a powerful and life-enhancing one that we are privileged to accompany. What stands out most to e from our time of worship together was the joy Multnomah Friends seem to find in that worship experience. It was certainly a joy for us as well. Thank you for your support of this group from your Meeting, and may it be the beginning of a rich and fruitful relation(ship). 
In peace, Pat Floerke, Clerk Managua Worship Group

Sara Carolina Narváez González – Gracias por su apoyo y que el señor los (les) bendiga.

Sara Carolina Narváez González – Thanks for your support and may the lord bless you all.

Diana Murillo - Bendito de Dios que permite estos acontecimientos y ha permitido que nos conozcamos y ustedes ayudarnos. Que Dios bendiga sus entradas y salidas hoy y siempre.

Diana Murillo - I am blessed by God for permitting these things to happen and that we have gotten to know each other and that you have helped us. May God bless your comings and goings always.

María Mercedes Serano - Muchas gracias por su ayuda para nosotros en la mano de obra y su visita. Esperamos que regresen nuevamente. Que Dios les bendiga y les deseo un buen viaje.

María Mercedes Serano - Many thanks for helping us with the work and by visiting. We hope that you will return again. May God bless you all and I wish you a good trip.

Soy Martha Vílchez y me siento muy alegre porque hay personas como ustedes. Solídanos Cariñosos y bondadosos, con un gran corazón tan hermosos. Gracias por toda su entrega. Que Dios todo poderoso los bendiga mucho mucho. Gracias (Martha?)
I am Martha Vílchez and I feel very happy because there are people like all of you. In solidarity, caring and kindness, with a huge heart you are so beautiful.  Thanks for your visit. May the all powerful God bless you very very much. Thank you. (Martha?)

Soy Rosa Urbina. Que Dios les bendiga y los proteja siempre.  Siempre les deseamos muchas prosperidades en sus iglesias, en sus grupos. Gracias por la ayuda y por el amor que llevan en sus corazones - aman al prójimo. Gracias por ser como son blancos como la lana y llenos de amor. Buen viaje. Rosa U.

I am Rosa Urbina. May God bless you all and protect you always. We wish for you much prosperity in your churches – in your groups. Thanks for the help and for the love that you carry in your hearts-- loving your neighbors. Thanks for being as you are, white as wool and full of love. Rosa U.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

El Porveir - Photo-Video w/Audio

Here's a link to what Meghan put together from her photos and audio recordings at the El Porvenir Coffee Co-op and Community. It takes about 16 minutes to play - definitely worth the time if you're interested in what people can do with limited resources and wealth. 

About 3-1/2 minutes into the video you hear a reference to the landslide (lahar) cause by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 in the next village over. René of El Porvenir states that 2,500 people died in that landslide. I've created a Google Earth animation video showing some of the places we went to and the site of the 1998 lahar. This was a giant mudflow that buried two villages and killed about 2,500 people. Read more about that at: 
or at
Note that the name "El Porvenir" was also used for a village a few miles away from the coffee co-op. This village was completely buried by the 1998 lahar, but the coffee co-op keeps the name.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Genesis Spinning Cooperative

This is Lew writing. I believe that I speak for most of the delegation when I say that one of our greatest concerns when it comes to supporting the Jubilee House Community is the Genesis Spinning Cooperative. We sat under the big shade tree with them and listened to several of the 18 co-op members talk about working for the last 4 years without pay and the  disappointment they felt when they were cheated and given junk machinery that could not be used. The lawsuit continues and provides hope, but  they need to see some success in their business soon. If you wish to help you may start by following the instructions on this link to send an email to those responsible for the problems.

Also, if you have some financial means, the VIDA fund created by Jubilee House will be an important source of support until a legal solution is achieved. Note that the VIDA fund accepts either donations or loans. The loans can be set up to pay back up to 5% annual interest over 5 years. JHC manages this fund. The VIDA fund and its predecessor funds have a perfect 15-year track record of paying back investors. Here is a direct link to information about the VIDA fund. At the bottom it says how to loan or donate to it.
While in Nicaragua, I spoke at length with Becca Mohally-Renk about the needs of the Genesis Cooperative and what their options are (or were at that time; end of August 2011). Of course receiving a proper settlement for the lawsuit would be ideal, but what we can help with most effectively now is getting the needed $125,000 into the VIDA fund. With that funding the Genesis Co-op could purchase used but functional spinning equipment in Costa Rica, disassemble it, ship it to the Genesis Co-op, reassemble it, and get it operating. This would take about 3 months from the time those funds are available. 

While this is not the complete set of machinery needed to produce the final cotton thread, it would make a huge difference for them in several ways. 
1.) The cotton "rope" they could then produce would not have to be fumigated to enter the US (as the baled cotton is now). Thus, it would become possible to export true organic cotton to the US and obtain a significantly higher price that they can now get from the baled cotton.
2.) This would boost both their income and their spirits.
3.) It would begin to prove to their families and the community that "the gringos" (Jubilee House) are not trying to cheat them.
4.) It would also help make funds from the Nicaraguan government more available; funds that are needed to further expand production to the final cotton thread.  

If you doubt the importance of using organic cotton, please visit this link.

If you can read Spanish you may wish to read directly what the Genesis Co-operative members have to say on their website; www.genesis.jhc-cdca.org
I find the "profiles de socios" (member profiles) the most interesting part of their website. You may get something out of it even without reading fluently in Spanish. 
I would appreciate any comments you may wish to add to this blog entry or any of the previous entries. 

Lew Scholl 

PS Anything you wish to say to the Genesis Cooperative members offering your support or prayers, can be passed on by emailing the Jubilee House Community at:
 jhc@jhc-cdca.org This could mean a lot to them - just knowing we are doing what we can for them.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Back Home for over a week - September 9

Things got busy during those last few days in Nicaragua. So it was hard to find time to focus on the blog. I've been telling folks for over a week now that we would be putting up more photos and writing more in the blog. Well The time has finally come. Meghan and I spent several hours on Monday going over the photos and creating a PicasaWeb slideshow. I have since gone through and added captions and tweaked a few things. In case you choose not to follow the link and watch the whole slide show, I am including a few of the photos here.

The most important part of our travels that we haven't yet written about is the trip to the "El Porvenir" coffee cooperative, which I consider the highlight of the whole experience. Also little was written before about Saturday's tour of the Masaya volcano,  and our the trip to the market. I will write a bit here about the trip to El Porvenir, but I expect that Josh also has much to say about his experience there related to his interest in coffee. Also, perhaps Becca could write about her experience there, as the medical team offered significant service to that community. Betsey also seemed very interested in the school and education there. During part of the visit, we spent over an hour sitting in a classroom talking with René, the current co-op director, about the community, the coffee business, the education of the young people and their hopes for the future. This was far more information than I can write about here. So please, when you see us, feel free to ask any of us about what we learned of this fascinating community and its cooperative coffee business. 

What I personally found most interesting about El Porvenir was its remote location and the fact that most houses in the community are well up on the side of a mountain and its main center is perched high on a ridge. Getting there from the Jubilee House Community in Ciudad Sandino requires a 3 hour drive including nearly an hour on a very rough and narrow dirt road, then an additional 45 minutes or more with everyone packed into a trailer like cattle clinging to the rails as it is towed up a steep rough cobblestone road to the village located 3 km (2 miles) away and 430 meters (1,400 feet) above the valley floor. 

The water supply system for the entire community of about 250 people (44 families) for much of the year is an old rainwater collection system. Of course that only works during the wet season. During the dry season (and I'm told it is very dry from November through May) they have to use some other source. Until about 2 years ago they had to haul water up the hill in a tank on that same trailer we rode in towed by the tractor for those 3 km. This changed about two years ago when a project, apparently inspired by Engineers Without Borders, provided the community with a small pipeline and a pumping system. Now during the dry season a 1-1/4" galvanized steel pipe about 3 km long along with an electric pump and an intermediate storage tank, provides enough flow to keep the large tank filled during the dry season. This is a great benefit to the village, as it frees up both people and machinery to concentrate more on farming activities. What amazed me about this system is that it raises the water nearly 1,400 feet from the valley floor to the community perched high above on a ridge. With all the improvement, though, people still have to limit themselves to about 2 gallons per day per person.

The picture below shows two water tanks on the right - apparently both used for drinking water. There is only that one TV antenna. The only electricity for running the one TV, belonging to René, is provided by charging an extra large vehicle battery on the tractor. There is also a small photo-voltaic system that is used for one small light and for charging cell phones:

The village is located approximately equidistant from two active volcanoes, San Cristobal and Telica, both about 7 miles away. From the deck of the main building, Telica is visible to the southeast. San Cristobal to the east, is not visible from El Porvenir as the view is blocked by the ridge top and another old dormant volcano.  Another active volcano, Momotombo was visible on during the drive north. The large number of active volcanoes in Nicaragua seems to be related to what we learned in the National Museum; that Nicaragua is geologically the youngest part of Central America. This Google Earth simulated air photo shows the community looking toward the Telica Volcano.

Here's the same actual view of Telica:

In struggling to understand the economics of the village and coffee co-op I asked about its annual income from coffee sales. I'm told that the gross income is about $60,000. Some of this goes to purchasing and maintaining equipment and purchasing supplies. So the amount that actually ends up in the hands of the people is considerably less than that. So perhaps the income represents less than about 50 cents per day per person for the 250 people there. It is true that they grow some (perhaps much) of their own food and it may also be that some have jobs or work occasionally out side the village area, but this provides a rough concept of how little people live on in Nicaragua. I'm told that a common wage for workers is about $2/day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday August 30

I am not a clinic nurse. Nor am I a pediatric nurse. One of the first questions I e-mailed to Becca this spring while deciding to come or not was in regards to my actual use to the clinic here. Me - an intensive care nurse, a cardiac nurse, a hospital nurse, an adult only nurse, and a just for 10 tiny short days nurse. I don’t even speak Spanish. Yes, of course. Come, come was the response I received.
My thoughts and feelings on American NGO aid to foreign communities are complex and not well resolved within my own mind. I don’t think I’m going to delve into that now, but one persistent question stays with me even now at the end of our time here: What will I do (have I done) that will effect lasting change within this community? Sure. I can take some blood pressures, and temperatures. I can check patients into the clinic, sort medical supplies and count out prescriptions. I can even provide some patient teaching through the eloquent, ever present and skilled voice of Claire (whom without I would have been useless). But when I’m gone, these skills and my willing hands are gone. This contribution is so finite and in the long run I have difficulty seeing how it will ultimately change the lives of individuals of this community. So what is my role as a white, middle-class, highly educated health care professional from the United States in the infrastructure of third world health care systems? The answer is: I still don’t know. Instead, I’ll share with you two stories from my time working here in the clinic.
At the end of last week, it came up in conversation that a 12-lead EKG machine had been donated to the clinic. Dr. Avilla, a resident Nicaraguan Doctor, was interested in learning how to place the leads and use this device in the Nueva Vida Clinic, which takes an electrical picture of the heart useful in diagnosing heart attacks and other cardiac dysfunction. I eagerly offered to look at the EKG machine to see if it was a model I would know how to use. It was, so in the afternoon with Claire as our translating guinea pig patient, I showed Dr. Avilla how and where to place the leads, connect them and then to print a subsequent reading from the machine. We practiced again with him placing the leads on the laboratory tech. He was thrilled and excited to learn, and it was a joy to teach him. I smile to think that I have left a little bit of knowledge here behind me that will be used when I’m gone.
The other story is from my time spent checking in patients to the clinic. Most of the children I saw would take one look at me and burst into tears, some did nothing short of scream should I try and actually touch them. In an effort to make my assessments less scary I would often hand my stethoscope to a child in hopes of convincing them it was more a toy than a Western instrument of torture before we started. Ignoring all I know about epidemiology and infectious disease I let my stethoscope be chewed, sucked and flung. With the older children I would place my ear pieces in their ears and let them listen to their own heart before I did. It was thrilling to watch a slow smile spread over their faces as they realized that the lub-dub, lub-dub they were hearing was coming from their own chests. One of the small girls about 8 was so excited about this she could hardly stop chattering away, a huge grin pasted across her face. Her mother smiled, nodded knowingly and said, “she’s going to be a doctor someday”. She grinned even wider. Maybe her mother was joking, but I leaned in close to her and through Claire said, “I hope you are, I think you will be a good one”. I showed her how to count her mother’s pulse; she nodded enthusiastically. The little niña followed Claire and I around for the rest of the day- clinging to my legs, reaching for my stethoscope. I told her to study hard, her community needed her. I hope she believed me, I hope her mother keeps telling her she can accomplish anything, and I hope she goes home after medical school to work. If nothing else, when she thinks she can’t accomplish something in the face of such poverty; I hope she remembers the gringa that told her she believed that she could.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday August 29th

I'm working on the blog this morning before we get ready to go off on an all-day trip to El Porvenir, the coffee cooperative many miles to the north. Yesterday I was with the group that skipped out of Quaker Meeting and instead went to the National Museum. I was impressed with the quality of the displays and much art that speaks about the revolution. Walls at the entry and in various places about the museum are covered with murals - paintings depicting Augusto Sandino, the national historic hero, and Carlos Fonseca, martyr of the revolution and many others. 
A Prominent Display in the Nicaragua National Museum
We had an English speaking guide who gave us a detailed running narration of the exhibits. The first few exhibits depicted the geologic history of Nicaragua. So it seemed at first that it was a natural history museum, but there were also many artifacts that illustrated the native cultures and later it large modern paintings. I was impressed by what the guide said about the pre-historic human migrations. She said that some old people of the indigenous cultures tell stories that have been passed down for many generations about how their people came here from Mexico to flee the cultures there that performed human sacrifice. I asked if any of the cultures here used those practices. She said that, no, the indigenous cultures here were more peaceful than those further north. They know that because the bones and skulls found here do not show the results of violence that are evident in other places. 
Pedro Guerrero Demonstrating his Craft.
The day before, Saturday, I was impressed by our visit to the pottery shop of Pedro Guerrero. He did a demonstration of how he makes a pot. Talking while performing operations that his hands did so naturally and easily making it look easy to create a near-perfect pot with a sea turtle in relief. In his display room full of amazing pottery, it nearly took my breath away. I bought a few pots for gifts and chatted with Pedro's 17 year old son Eduardo who makes pots nearly as beautiful as those of his father. He will be going off to college soon. I felt a special connection with this young man as I wished him luck in his future.

There are many other experiences of yesterday that I will remember, but I will leave those events for others to write about. Josh has a great perspective on the liberation theology mass we attended at the Batahola Norte Community Center.     

Josh von Kuster:
We had a bit of a spiritual day today (Sunday).  Right after breakfast, we had a delegation worship sharing centered on the querries of what we anticipate bringing back with us spiritually and whether we anticipated our lives changing as a result of this trip.  Afterwards, 12 of us, including myself, went to Quaker House here in Nicaragua and had a rather vocal hour of meeting for worship with 7 local attenders.  We had lunch at a Salvadoran restaurant and then toured the city for the afternoon: the highlights being stops at Revolution Plaza, a hill with about a 270 degree view of the city and lake, and a fair trade organization/shop.  We then went to a Liberation Theology mass, which proved to be the most profound experience of the trip thus far to me.
Mural at the Batahola Community Center
where Mass was held
The structure was somewhat reminiscent of the covered outdoor basketball courts you find in Portland parks.  There were lots of colorful, lively murals, the most stark of which was the back of the altar.  In the area usually occupied by a guilded crucifix or by ornate wordwork, there was a nativity scene.  Except here rather than shepherds and maggi, we found common Nicaraguan folk offering not gold, frankincense and myrh but mangos, corn, linens and other gifts of daily life in this country.  There were far more women present in the mural than men and the men present included Che Guevera, Augusto Sandino and other figures of the Revolution encouraging and looking on at the periphery of the scene.
I have to confess that my Spanish is not equal to the task of keeping up with a Catholic homily, but the entire time the priest was speaking, I was contemplating the welcome unamericanism of having a "terrorist"  vilified by the US government in zealously religious terms like Che looking out on me from the position usually reserved for Jesus in every Catholic church I have ever visited.  To say it was unexpected is an understatement.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday - August 28

Lew: Back writing again after a few busy days. Friday we went to the dump. Saturday was a big day of tourism and relaxation. Today we go to Quaker Meeting, or the National Museum, more tourism and then a Catholic Mass in the evening. Here's what Laura and Avery have to say about their experiences:

            As an American health care worker I was in the midst of a crisis: there was no computer access, and I did not have the phone numbers of any of the patients to be seen the nest day. But the clinic was working perfectly: at the end of the day the last patients were picking up prescriptions and the doctor was writing final notes. The paper medical records on over 16,000 patients were organized in the rows of filing cabinets, and an outreach worker had visited at home all of those who would be coming in for free appointments with the volunteer doctor.
Clinic at Nueva Vida (a neighborhood of Ciudad Sandino) operated by the Jubilee House Community. 
            The Nueva Vida Clinic functions based on its relationships with those of the community they serve. One of the clinic buildings is set up with a laboratory and a dental office because people wanted these rather than a birthing center; the outreach worker knows who needs to be checked on because of news from the trained layperson Health Promoters around the neighborhood.
Delegation at Work in the Clinic
In back - from left to right:
Carl Thatcher, Becca Cooper, Dr. Dana, Claire Riggs
In front - from left to right: Pat, Mari Petzing

            Of the international development work which I have seen and participated in, despair has come from the absence of reciprocity. An organization can come into an area that needs a medical clinic and build a building in 9 months, and having completed their project proposal call it a success and leave. This omits the evaluation and feedback of the people purported to be served: it denies a relationship.
            The recipients of the service are the experts of what the impact of the project is on their community, and they are the ones who need to be heard.
It is only when those ‘receiving’ assistance have the opportunity to critique what has been done that there is the possibility to improve what is being done, and the only way for those ‘giving’ the service to learn if they are accomplishing what they actually intend.
            Both the Nueva Vida Clinic’s outreach worker and Community Health Promoters are dramatic ways in which the health care that it provides is focused on the community, rather than on what the clinic thinks is needed. A woman spends her work days walking around the dirt roads of the neighborhood, and checking in at the homes of people experiencing health issues, and those too frail to travel to the clinic. She is able to give out “Bonos” for free care for those who are themselves unable to afford the small fee or volunteer shift and also lack family support to help them with it.
            Community Health Promoters are volunteers who receive training in basic wound care and keep supplies like nebulizer and blood pressure machines in their homes, and are resources to their neighbors. Basic care can be provided.
            Health care as I know it is professionalized, and remarkably inaccessible: one must go to the system. While I work with nurses, physicians, physical therapists and others who visit patients at home, potential patients must go through an intake process and be aided through a maze of billing to be seen. Even for basic care, formal channels must be followed. Shifting simple care to the community means strengthening the ties among neighbors, rather than removing individuals in need from their social supports.
            I am encouraged by development work which have ten year reciprocal relationships with the community with which they collaborate, and by a vision of health care which bases its work both in and on people and their existing social ties.

Avery talking with a boy who lives at the Nicaragua Dump
Avery Welkin
Blog entry draft 8.27.2011
Visit to the >>>> Dump

            What was the last thing I threw away today?  It was probably an empty can of Del Monte Iced Tea this afternoon, left alongside some used napkins and other cans at a hostel picnic table.  Though I didn’t think much further about it then, that can had a lot farther to go than that picnic table, or even the hostel garbage can.  After our trip to La Chureca landfill yesterday morning, I can now picture a vivid place, with haunting faces, of where that can probably ended up.  This dump went beyond a place where trash is contained; it is a scar on the earth, where disposable materials and people are left to be forgotten.  Hopefully, not for much longer.
            We all filed onto the bright yellow JHC schoolbus to take a windy trip through Ciudad Sandino to a place on the edge of Managua, passing all the normal little gas stations, tortilleras, and mechanics shops to a neighborhood consisting of brand-name car dealerships in bright, shiny new buildings. (Incidentally, many of the large international car brands represented there, including Toyota and BMW, and almost all of the beer and rum in the country, are owned by one wealthy Nicaraguan family, the Pellas).  Then, we took a left, and were asked to close up the bus windows to avoid having burning trash smoke waft in.  We immediately found ourselves in a low brick alley lined with mud, and semi-sorted piles of plastic bottles, sawdust, organic waste, plastic bags, cups, and wary eyes.  In the small cross streets, there were lean-tos with people repairing bicycles with salvaged tires, or burning small piles of trash, very possibly cooking on those fires as well, while stray cats and dogs lethargically sift through the same detritus.  These people are really the poorest of the poor, living in the dump and trying to make a living by collecting recyclables for bulk materials resale.  They often get almost all of their food, clothing, and shelter from the dump as well, which means all the risks of spoiled meats and fruits, dirty, threadbare shirts, and small pieces of scrap sheet metal, wood, or plastic.  As we passed block after block of these piles and people, the brick walls fell away to more shacks (even a snack shop selling soda and cheap carbs to dump workers and residents), and the cats and dogs were joined by cows and horses grazing on the trash, or hauling it on carts.  Finally we rounded a muddy corner, and we could see the vast, layered expanse of trashed earth.  However, this story could be heading towards a positive future, because this particular dump has mostly been filled in with dirt as part of an effort to find alternatives to a massive, open air landfill.  The view from that muddy road, with trash-encrusted, packed earth mounds to our right, leading around a large cesspool to our left, led into a slum where that latent light of hope lay.
            We parked and skirted along a path around the steep banks of the cesspool to enter the >>>>>>>>> Center, led by Bismarck, a community organizer for the trash pickers living in this dump.  We traipsed through people’s front yards, back yards, and porches (solely consisting of dirt and salvaged materials) to a sturdy concrete building, built by an Italian NGO sponsor.  As we congregated under the open air space with picnic tables, so did a growing number of young children, roughly between the ages of 4 and 12.  Bismarck spoke to us, with a face both hardened and caring, of the plight of these children surrounding us, whose family’s lives had subsisted entirely around working and living in this landfill.  He noted the desperate situation of their health, from contaminated water to malnutrition, and the quashed hopes of schooling for most of these children.  He described the efforts the organization was spearheading in teaching the children to read and write, the provision of good meals for free, even mentioning a soccer team he coaches for them.  After about 20 minutes of translation, interspersed by children kicking a ball into our circle, sitting next to us, staring into our faces, smiling, crying when they fell into a puddle, and generally keeping things from getting too adult-serious, we were allowed to get down to the real business: play!  After all, when you are visiting a gargantuan landfill, and the people who live and work there by no choice of their own, for one day: what can you do?  Make the trash disappear?  Give them all food for a year?  Nope.  But, you can ask that little boy what his name is, and draw him a yellow tiger with blue stripes when he asks you to.  You can also join in their chaotic game of mud-soccer.  And, you can just give a damn about them, give their little bodies a hug, and realize that you are about to get on a bus out of hell in a few minutes, and they are not. 
So what about that can? 
First off, you can do your best not to support Del Monte products at all, whether in Nicaragua or in Oregon, where that company has a long history of labor violations, including quasi-legal deportations of their undocumented employees (see article here: http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/06/women_caught_in_fresh_del_mont.html). Next time, I’ll try and stick with something locally produced instead of a can of tea produced by misery.
Secondly, you can do your best to make sure that can gets recycled in a recycling plant, not by children in a landfill.  In hindsight today, I should have brought the can back up to the hostel lobby, where they’d probably have a labeled container. 
And third, and most importantly, make the mental connection between that can in the cooler and the landfill, or recycling plant, where it will inevitably go.  It’s not about feeling guilty (that doesn’t help anyone, including yourself) it’s about being informed about what your choices do.  Yep, it’s taking on a little bit of that first-world responsibility that we have to care, and help create better systems than we’ve done so far.  Ultimately, we probably won’t be the ones who can make all of it happen, because we’ve created this massive mess in the first place.  There’s nothing like a reckoning with a mountain of refuse created by us, paid for by the lives of other people.

PS. If you want to get a visual on what a massive landfill looks like in Latin America with some professional cinematography, great art, and a similar context, check out the recent Oscar-nominated film Wastelands (created with help from a friend from Brazil!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fourth day - Thursday

Photos were all taken on Wednesday August 24
Written Thursday Aug 25 
Schedule for this day:
7:15 AM Breakfast
8:30 AM or so Talk by Jennifer Atlee-Loudon about Liberation Theology
10:00 AM Some go to work at the clinic
12:00 PM Lunch
1:30 PM Work time - some go to work on excavating the driveway - some to the clinic.
4:30 PM Work time complete
6:00 PM Dinner

Betsey: First night musings
Sounds of chirring, chirps, trills,
Noises foreign to me, how curious!
How long since I’ve been in a place at night where I couldn’t identify the sounds of the darkness?
A wailing siren, brushing teeth, distant drumming, muted voices,
These I know, and now a chance to learn new ones.

Now Thursday night and again a quiet time to listen to the sounds outside, standing by the pool. There it is, the sounds of a video arcade, but actually "boing-boing" frogs that live here, gathered where the water is.

The days have been full for all of us with various activities and speakers and the evenings varied as well. Tuesday night a group of 10 students from Earlham College were here as part of their orientation to a study semester in Nicaragua. Laura, Becca Maholly Renk and I joined them in a EC photo. We had a great time listening to Nicaraguan folk music of Guitarra de Madera Azul, and the guitar actually was a blue wooden one. The couple’s music and the dancing of their daughter were wonderful. They closed their program with a circle dance that included all of us. What a lively evening!

Last night there weren’t any particular plans and as we sat around after dinner in the bunkhouse meeting room, Judy, one of the Episcopalians, asked us how Quakers worship and what was it like. As you can imagine there were as many descriptions as there were Quakers in the room, but we found a richness sharing our experiences and ended up getting our Faith and Practice out. The Episcopalians explained their organization and also shared from their spiritual journeys. Somehow sharings like this that just evolve have a special richness.

Josh von Kustger here. What has struck me on this trip again and again is that people are people. The same silly jokes that get a laugh for me in the States get the same laugh and rolling of the eyes in Nicaragua; even in broken Spanish. People have the same concerns and the same motivations and the same hopes here as anywhere else.

As for how I’ve been passing my time, I am now a bit of a concrete worker. Our non-medical party has been exploring the upper limits of human perspiration capacity since Monday. Today we were excavating the foundation for a paved drive way to the Genesis spinning cooperative to accommodate the trucks bearing cotton later this year. This involves picks and shovels and I keep getting flashbacks of the opening scene from BLAZING SADDLES so while my electrolyte levels are a bit off, my spirits remain intact (thank you very much Mel Brooks).

I have most enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with the folks here. Padre Pedro Bautista, Giovani and Rosa and Sarah who are all connected to Genesis, Josue who has been helping us with the paving. There was even a guy selling Eskimo (ice cream) from his pushcart who stopped by today and I had an opportunity to chat with him for a bit. The conversations have been highly rewarding, memorable and entertaining.

It is rewarding to see that the recipe for acceptance is possibly universal. All that is required is an open mind, a bit of humility, willingness to work (hard) and a smile and there is nowhere in my experience that you will not be welcome.

It has also been very helpful to be accompanied in spirit by friends not able for one reason or other to make it here. There are hammocks all over the place here. The clinic has an herb garden. They have a rescue-monkey out back and a couple of cats and dogs. There are lots of birds I’ve never seen before. I was welcomed to the country by an advertisement for Flor de Cana rum. They have a limon tree (think key lime) and served plantanos maduros (ripe plantains) for lunch today. All of these have been more-or-less unexpected reminders of people who put a smile on my face.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday, August 24. Day three!

Monday’s schedule:
 7:15 AM              Breakfast at JHC
8:00 AM               Work at JHC and Clinic
8:30 AM               Work at JHC
12:00 PM             Lunch
1:30 PM               Work at JHC
6:00 PM               Dinner at JHC
8:30 PM               St Philips flight arrives
9:30 PM               Dorm Orientation

Tuesday’s schedule:
7:15 AM               Breakfast at JHC
8:00 AM               Money changing
8:30 AM               CDCA Project orientation, Talk with Genesis pinning Cooperative
9:30 PM               Walking Tour of JHC, tour of Ciudad Sandino, Nueva Vida Clinic
12:00 PM             Lunch
1:30 PM               Work at JHC with Genesis and Clinic
6:00 PM               Dinner at JHC
7:15 PM               Nicaraguan Folk Music with Guitarra de Madera Azul

Wednesday’s schedule:
7:15 AM               Breakfast at JHC
8:30 AM               Talk with Aynn Setright about Nicaragua history at Casa Ben Linder
12:00 PM             Lunch
1:30 PM               Work at JHC and Clinic
6:00 PM               Dinner at JHC

Words from folks here:

Lew: Our whole group was taken to “Casa Ben Linder” this morning. This house is dedicated to the memory of Ben Linder with amazing beautiful murals of Ben and the projects and circus fun that were part of his spirit. It serves now as offices for some non-profit organizations and as a meeting place for progressive thinkers. Aynn Setright, who has lived here for over 30 years, gave us a fascinating talk that wove a complex and nuanced picture of the personalities and bizarre events of Nicaraguan politics. Her talk impressed me with how Nicaragua has survived many natural disasters and wars. Aynn pointed to the positive aspects of this history in that she believes this past has given Nicaragua a flexibility that may allow it to survive future environmental problems better than other countries.
In the afternoon we came back and I joined in hard labor with 3 others from the MMM group (Avery, Josh, and Tara) plus maybe 7 Nicaraguans – including several from the Genesis cooperative. The work involved digging with pickaxes and shovels to remove soil in the driveway preparing to place sand and cobblestones.  

Claire: I’ve been spending a bit of time at the health clinic here, Nueva Vida (new life), helping Becca check in patients by translating. Interpreting gives me quite a window into people’s lives here. A handful of women with small children come every day. Though they’ve all been sick, today the children seemed more visibly sick to me today. A woman held one daughter on her lap, barely two years old, who couldn’t keep her head up or eyes open, heart beating quite rapidly. The mother too had been sick. They just looked sad and tired and sick. I felt for them. Though I do not ‘do’ much for the patients, I feel privileged to have a window into their lives, and it certainly has my brain churning away as to who I am here theses ten days, in Portland the next couple years, as a citizen of the world… I find myself contemplating a lot, and chatting with other people here, about how change is affected in the world, how we honor and use our privilege wisely. Though perhaps not all too eloquent, that’s a little bit about what I’ve been doing and thinking.

Carl:  I have been considering my original proposition and reason for being at JHC:  There is hope in Nicaragua.  The current government overthrew a brutal dictator and replaced him with a democracy, which, however imperfectly, attempts to allow common people a voice and an opportunity in the great movement here to bring people out of poverty and into opportunity for many.  This would bring fuller expression of their greater potential.  That premise has been my belief since my visit 27 years ago, when I first saw the efforts the new Sandinista government was making to improve the lot of ordinary citizens. 
Now, hearing more of the current government’s political and moral compromises and alliances with un- or anti-democratic forces, I wonder if that’s a valid line of thought.  Perhaps the poverty I now see in the barrio of Nueva Vida is insurmountable.  After all, there appears to be no prospective intervention which could conceivably offer the kind of wealth-building and opportunity-creation I would like to see.  The government talks about it but isn’t funded or equipped or politically enabled to offer it.  The various grant-funding organizations, for public health issues anyway are not oriented to international efforts.  Public awareness of the enormity of poverty in the third world is pitifully absent.  From where does any hope for a people, a nation in dire poverty spring?
I don’t want to entirely abandon my premise, but I really wonder if it’s realistic at all.  Sometimes the first step toward a problem’s resolution is to confront the real magnitude of the obstacles.  Then, as Churchill said, “Never ever, ever give up!”

MariRuth: I have been privileged to spend my time interpreting for medical visits to elderly people in the Nueva Vida community and in interviews that Meghan is conducting.  I really appreciate the opportunity to have a window into the lives of others.  Being the person that I am with my skills and roles I would not have these experiences but as an interpreter I am given the opportunity to be an observer and a facilitator. 
I really enjoyed hearing from three of the women from the Genesis co-operative.  They had three very different perspectives and listening to them greatly enriched my understanding of their experience.  I am also very aware of my privilege as a Spanish speaker in the group in that I am able to have conversations with the Nicaraguan people that I run into.  I have also been going off on my own for walks and having interactions with the members of the larger community who are not associated with JHC and its projects.  I hope that the others of group who are here are also having those experiences and feel that I need to do more to facilitate that.