Archive for October 2010

Churches in Action – A bit about the work of Peace and Justice

October 21, 2010

How does a country begin to recover after forty years of dictatorship?  After forty years of disappearances and assassinations, followed by a bloody revolutionary war, then almost 10 more years of war against counter-revolutionaries?  How does a nation heal and move on and not pass on the violence and trauma to the next generations?

These are the daunting questions that the Peace and Justice Commission of the Anabaptist Churches of Nicaragua is asking itself, and in its own small way trying to respond to.  Peace and Justice seeks to contribute to the construction of a culture of peace; overcoming the culture of violence in which Nicaragua finds itself.

Peace and Justice currently partners with four local congregations that are trying to respond to the violence and conflict that they encounter on a daily basis in their neighborhoods.  Two churches, located in some of the most impoverished and marginalized neighborhoods of Managua, are working with gang members in the community, searching for ways to reincorporate these ‘at-risk’ youth back into the community.  The Peace and Justice Commission has been working with members of the church involved in this new initiative, training church members on a wide range of topics from self-esteem to communication to conflict transformation so that the church is better equipped to work with these youth.  So far church members have been very encouraged by the response they’ve received from the supposed gang members.  Interest in the monthly meetings has been high and the youth have even requested that they meet more often.  The church has also begun seeking connections with community agencies to advocate for the youth to find more opportunities for education and recreation.

The other two churches volunteer in their local schools teaching children, parents, and faculty the basics about handling conflict without using violence and how to communicate and listen effectively in home and at school.  These church members have also been trained by the Peace and Justice Commission and continue to receive support from the Commission in their work with school families.

As the Peace and Justice Commission continues to motivate other congregations to be peacemakers in their communities, part of my job over the next 3 years will be to continue to walk along side and train the churches currently working with our organization.  The scope and depth of the violence is deep and the process towards recovery will be long, but churches are making a difference in their communities, influencing the way people interact with each other and think about conflict.


Culture of Reading

October 13, 2010

In the U.S., reading for pleasure is a habit that most people have, if not books then magazines, newspapers, etc. Mothers read to their babies the moment they find out they’re pregnant. Many children know how to read before they get to kindergarten. It seems some parents are pushing their kids too hard. In this New York Times article, U.S. children are being forced to read chapter books, skipping picture books altogether.

There is a huge discrepancy between U.S. children being forced to read books way above their level, and Nicaraguan children never seeing picture books. In Nicaragua, the reality is:

  • Most librerias don’t sell libros – Most bookstores don’t sell books, they are just office supply stores
  • Most bibliotecas don’t have have books on their shelves – you have to know what you want and ask the front desk lady to get it for you.
  • Many bibliotecas don’t let you check out books.
  • Books are priced in dollars, and when most families earn about $1 a day, it’s impossible to buy books priced at $8-$10 each
  • A lot of books for sale are classic fairy tales where the hero or heroine is fair skinned with blond hair and blue eyes
  • Picture books here have TONS of words on each page, which makes them inappropriate for most young kids, and difficult to read aloud

All of these things add up to mean not much reading for pleasure happens in Nicaragua. The country has a rich history of poetry as well as an amazing literacy campaign in the 1980’s where illiteracy rates dropped almost 40% in a matter of months. It’s one thing to teach a person to read, and another to instill a love of reading. It seems like I have my work cut out for me! My hope is that the work is not an imposition of ideas from the outside, but a concept that can grow and be nurtured by Nicaraguans themselves so that it becomes a part of their culture.

Moblie Library Visit

October 8, 2010

A few weeks ago we went to the beach town of San Juan del Sur (close to where Survivor is being filmed) for a combination of work and vacation. The main purpose was for me to visit the library there, which has served as a model for other libraries across Nicaragua. (We still don’t have a camera so thanks to Emily Thrush for these pictures – I’m using a lot of them since our other blog posts have been so boring!)

This is the main library

This library also has a mobile project, which reaches over 30 rural communities.

Following the truck with all the books

One of several small rivers we had to cross

When we got to the last spot, the road was too washed out for us to go any further, so the kids walked over 1km and we read in the brush on the side of the road!

Adam reading with some kids

Here's our fellow MCC'er Beth reading in the trees

The little boys were loving the pictures of lions devouring their prey in this book.

Here's me as a librarian - I learn quickly!

Nicaraguan Grab Bag (a little about us, politics and economics)

October 5, 2010

Things continue to get better for us here in Nicaragua.  Life is beginning to have more of a rhythm and familiarity to it.  We’ve both started in our respective jobs and are trying to feel our way along with the help of our coworkers.  Marisa has really hit the ground running in her job.  The project is new so there is plenty of work to be done.  As I write this blog entry she’s calling members of the four partner schools of the library project to see if they can send representatives to a national library conference this week.  Luckily, I’m getting introduced to my work at a bit of a slower pace.  Martha, the director of the Peace and Justice Commission has a great vision for healthier, more peaceful neighborhoods in Managua.  The challenge of course is how to make that vision a reality.  So far Peace and Justice is already accompanying 4 Anabaptist congregations, supporting them in their work in their own communities.  Marisa and I both plan to expound on our work soon in future blog posts but for this post I want to try to give an idea of what life is like for the average Nicaraguan (bearing in mind that I’ve only been here for 5 weeks and can’t possibly know what life is really like for the average Nicaraguan).  But here’s a shot at the general politics, economics, and social life. 

Presidential elections will be held here in November of 2011 and there is already lots of talk about who the candidates will be and who will win.  Right now it looks like the two candidates will be Daniel Ortega from the FSLN (Sandinista) party and Arnoldo Aleman from the PLC.  Daniel Ortega is the current president, and unfortunately a cynic would say that he’s maneuvering to try to be Nicaraguan’s president forever although the constitution currently does not allow it.  Arnoldo Aleman was president in the late ’90s and was convicted of embezzling over 20 million dollars in international aid that came into the country after Hurricane Mitch.  So, to many Nicaraguans, neither of these candidates inspire confidence and trust.  There is movement by the opposition to support a different candidate in the 2011 election besides Aleman, but there is doubt about whether or not anything will come of this. 

As far as the economy goes, the latest report by the Nicaraguan National Bank is that the GDP grew by almost 3% in the last quarter, which was an improvement over the past, however I don’t think the average Nicaraguan would say that the economy is improving.  Steady rains since April have caused water levels to pass even post Hurricane Mitch levels and October is historically the wettest month.  Flooding has caused many to lose their homes and lives already.   The flooding has also contributed to the loss of the red bean crop this year and Nicaraguans cannot survive without their beans (we eat them for every meal).  Since we’ve been here a pound of beans has risen from 8 cordobas to 22 cordobas and is expected to rise even higher.  So, imagine if a gallon of milk or a loaf  of bread suddenly almost tripled in price. 

So those are a few observations we’ve made so far about life here in Nicaragua and its politics and economics.  Please pray for Nicaragua and its people that there will be no hurricanes this month and less rain.  A hurricane would be truly devastating.  Also, I know there are many arguments out there about global warming, but no one can dispute that God has called us to care for God’s creation and in the U.S. we use much more than our share of the earth’s limited resources, so don’t only pray, conserve resources as well.