Monday, November 10, 2008

Workshops, Elections, Pause.

We spent much of the second half of October 2008 in the office, discussing logistics, creating a quarterly budget proposal, and Karla continued to show us her work system and give us background on FCP’s current projects and community engagements. We also met with some of the many organizations that FCP works with in Jalapa, and we are realizing that we have a lot of work ahead; that the need here pervades most conceivable sectors of life, from basic things like food and water, to other, less obvious issues like access to community activities, art and cultural events, health care, and education.

On 10/27, we went to Champigny for a meeting with community leaders. This is a barrio in Jalapa that is notoriously divided and with whom FCP has had issues working with in the past. We planned to meet with several people, but few came. Ultimately, we confirmed that there is a lot of burning anger in the community, especially within the leadership. There are also problems with the water system, and service is intermittent. We feel some responsibility to this community, though FCP’s work formally ended when we completed the water project. One of the people we met with pushed for a community-wide assembly to discuss the issues, and we suggested revisiting this option after local elections on 11/9, when the political situation would hopefully be calmer.

We share hope with Champigny because while this community is divided and disorganized, there is a tangible interest among people to improve the situation. During our meeting, people crowded around the windows of the Casa Comunal to see what was going on, adding insight to the conversation. We’re not sure what we can do, but we hope that we can facilitate something
positive, working with the leaders to build bridges between the many “islands” of influence here— to help them work together to facilitate the changes their community longs for.

Dan now attends classes four afternoons a week with Javier Aguilar, ISLA’s in-country coordinator. We met Javier through our work with ISLA and the Women’s Foundation (FMJ). Javier speaks excellent English and shares this knowledge with Jalapeño youth by offering English classes Monday through Thursday. Dan helps the students with pronunciation of English words, and in turn, they help him to learn Spanish. He comes home from each class with a homework assignment!

On 10/29, we met with Don Isidro Traña, the head of UNICAFE, an Nica org. that works to improve conditions for small coffee producers in Nicaragua. UNICAFE hopes to liberate cafeteleros from dependence on unpredictable coffee markets by diversifying their income base and improving the quality of their coffee to bring a better price. UNICAFE’s work in Jalapa is currently focused on Santa Rosa and another community, as the needs are most profound there. Since Santa Rosa is also a Huertos community, it is natural that FCP would work with UNICAFE
to serve the joint ends of both organizations.

Don Isidro invited us to a coffee-quality workshop the next day in Santa Rosa. There were representatives from UNICAFE, CATIE, CCAJ,and Café Nica, as well as 20ish campesinos from Santa Rosa and other communities. We learned about standards for coffee production and quality rating in Nicaragua. Some producers gave samples of their coffee to Café Nica earlier, and the rep. from Café Nica went over the quality report for each of the samples and described how to improve quality. We did a coffee tasting that took about 2 hours. Overall, the workshop was very informative, and it was exciting to see campesino a campesino (a methodology based on horizontal learning, where people exchange knowledge, instead of learning from lecture) in action.

On Friday, Karla and Hannah went to a women’s health/STD workshop with FMJ. We learned about HIV/AIDS epidemic, HPV, and how people can protect themselves. There is an ever-growing movement here, mostly directed at youth and women, to promote better sexual health practices and raise awareness about the risks posed by STDs.

On 11/3 and 11/4, Karla went to a workshop on behalf of FMJ in Matagalpa. This workshop was the last of 5 workshops , hoping to educate organizers on different themes, enabling them to more effectively work in their world. The program is specifically focused on women’s groups, as they often become targets for sabotage and are attacked as “money launderers” for receiving the funding they do while employing imperfect accounting practices. In many ways, Nica women suffer prejudice- the more empowered they become, the more trouble they recieve from machista men who are threatened by them. The people giving the workshop invited FMJ to participate, in hopes of augmenting the workshops they give to the women of Jalapa. These workshops remain pending.

The early days of November were slow, with Karla in Matagalpa for the workshop, and Dan and Hannah out of town for about a week to catch the US presidential election with other American friends on holiday. The two days following our return were consumed by the local elections, which are critically important to Nicaraguans, and only occur every five years. Sandinista caravans have been blazing the streets at all hours bearing flags, music blaring, and trucks, bikes, motos, cars, horses, and all other imaginable modes of transportation laden with excited people triumphantly declaring victory. To look at it, one would never know that the election in Jalapa was actually very close.

At any rate, we look forward to getting busy again tomorrow.

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