Photo of the Day

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When most students in the U.S. get let out of class early because of snow or ice, here in Nicaragua it’s for fumigation. Every month or so you’ll hear a slow hum of machines and know what’s coming your way. Without warning men in masks come through spraying a thick smoke of fumes through all of the classrooms and offices, giving workers and students an escape for a good hour to let the fumes settle before going back inside. These precautions are taken by the government to prevent mosquito-born illnesses such as dengue and the current virus going around: chikungunya.

On Saturday as we were interviewing scholarship students for the profiles, we just had to laugh as we were interrupted by the fumigating process and all of the students we wanted to finish interviewing were dismissed early. “Asi es la vida”–“that’s life” here in Nicaragua. Plans change and you have to adjust accordingly. So with the camera already at hand, I decided to put on a mask and capture some photos of this strange, yet day-to-day experience we’ve become accustomed to here in Managua.

Kelsey

The ‘Friends’ visit Batahola!

This past week, we had the pleasure to spend some time with the Friends of Batahola, who were here on their annual visit to see how everything is going and to spend time with the Center staff and community. Aside from board members Mark, Helen, LaVette, and Terri, also present were Tony with his photography skills, and two new friends Sharon and Alissa, who brought their gifts of yoga and music to share with workers at the Center. A midst their board meetings and staff check-ins, they were able to have an exchange with the non-violence promoters group, visit the Saturday classes, and attend a cultural event at the Center in honor of their visit. They were also able to visit with Ileana, a team member who has been ill, but was very excited to see them. Saturday evening, all of the Friends and staff met at Kairos Center for a traditional Nicaraguan dinner of Caballo Bayo and some karaoke!

It was a special few days, getting to learn about the lives of the board members and hear their stories of how they got involved with the Friends of Batahola. I never met the co-founders Margie Navarro or Angel Torrellas, but their spirits felt ever-present these past few days as we were able to hear from Sister Helen how they got to Nicaragua and began their work with the community.

The second to last day, the Friends and the leadership team from the Center were able to enjoy some down time at the Laguna de Apoyo. The day was filled with good food, hanging out on inner tubes, and lots of laughter! And although some of the Friends don’t speak fluent Spanish, it was incredible to see the relationships they have with the members of the team here at the Center. Many of them have known each other for ten to twenty years, and they share a pretty unique bond.

A special thank-you to the Friends for their commitment and love for the community in Batahola, it was a privilege to be a part of your time here!

 

 

Abrazos,

Erika C.

Photo of the Day

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Today the Friends of Batahola who are here visiting had an exchange with a few of the young people that make up the Center’s Youth Violence Prevention Network Promoters. The youth shared stories of what all they’ve accomplished this past year and their hopes for a future Nicaragua with less violence and more gender equality. They also got a chance to get to know some of our wonderful Friends, both new and old, who work very hard to support the Center back in the states. An afternoon of dancing, laughing, sharing and hope.

Happy Friday!

-Kelsey

What have we been up to this year? What could YOU be up to next year?

In case you aren’t a frequenter to our blog, here’s a brief roundup of all the things we’ve been involved in in 2014. If you’re thinking about applying to become a volunteer there’s still time! You could be putting some of these things on your roundup for 2015!

English Class

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Last year we had 13 students complete the full 10 months of our Communicative English course for adults and receive their certificates for level 1-5 of a 12 level accreditation in Nicaragua. Even though the goal is learning English, we also implement a holistic and interactive methodology, based on popular education and other values of CCBN such as gender equality, teamwork, culture of peace and environmental sustainability. In this model we are all students and teachers, which aims to detach from a traditional top-down model of education.

 Violence Prevention & Gender Equality

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This year we got the opportunity to be involved in a community-wide campaign to promote healthy and non-violent relationships entitled “Desmarimbando en Batahola.” In English, desmarimbando essentially means breaking down, or un-packing, and it is meant to encourage people to un-pack the norms that we usually use to define relationships. The campaign involved movie forums in the park, a communicative campaign, workshops with 195 youth led by the promotors from CCBN’s Youth Violence Prevention Network and a closing Carnival, including a march through the community (pictured above) and a cultural activity. As volunteers we offered logistical support through helping plan activities, updating the program calendar, soliciting funds, handing out flyers and taking pictures of events.

“I was able to accompany an elementary school group of 10 and 11 year olds each week throughout the program, and it was incredible to see how interested they were in the topics at hand. Just getting a basic introduction of gender and violence-related vocabulary was crucial. They journaled, played games, drew pictures, and watched short films on what relationships in their lives looked like, and reflected on how they wanted their own futures to look different.” -Erika

Project Education

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One of the biggest programs at the Center is the scholarship program, offering students that come from families with limited economic resources the opportunity to get a quality education. Whether that means supporting their costs to go to public school (anywhere from elementary through college) or giving children and adults the opportunity to study a course offered at CCBN. Project Education helps make the scholarship program possible by giving the opportunity for donors in the U.S. to support a scholarship student. Therefore each year, we as volunteers match each donor with a scholarship student then interview that student and construct a profile with their photo and a little bit about that student so donors can have a more personal connection with the Center. In 2014 we completed 216 profiles and as we start the process again for 2015 we’re looking to do another 200+ profiles.

“As we started doing the interviews, we became aware of how common it is to be raised in a single-mother household or to be raised by a grandmother. Yesterday I interviewed a student who is living with her mother who works full time at a textile factory in a free trade zone. She makes only 4,000 cordobas a month (about $150) which is hardly enough for their family of four to get by. Because of her scholarship she is able to study accounting at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua and hopes to one day be a financial manager in the Central Bank.” -Kelsey

 

Delegations

IMG_3288Each year we have lots of groups of foreigners who come through to visit the Center and find out about the work we’re doing here. Some of those groups decide to do a more intentional exchange by visiting families in the community, participating in classes and events at the Center and most importantly building some lasting relationships. (*interested in bringing a group to the Center in 2015? Please contact our International Communications Liaison, Joe Connelly at joeypconnelly@gmail.com) These exchanges have surprisingly been some of the most fulfilling for us as volunteers. Even though our role is often to do some translating and accompanying activities with the group, it’s also a very good opportunity to share our experience as volunteers and reflect on how far we’ve come since arriving here. We’ve also been pleasantly surprised to hear that through sharing our experience we can inspire others to also consider doing service.
“As I’ve grown older, I’ve developed a plan for my life. I would go to a respectable college, study business, and graduate. I’d get a nice job, have a nice family, live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and have nice things. I never thought about anything other than this straight, set path that I, and others, had created for myself. This trip to Nicaragua has changed everything for me. It has introduced to me a completely different lifestyle and forced me to re-examine my goals.” -Kyle Morrisroe (participant in Immaculate Heart of Mary delegation 2014)

Environmental Initiatives

Upon arriving at the Center we both wanted to initiate some activities around the theme of environmental sustainability, one of our personal interests as well as a core value of the Center. So we decided to plan activities with a group of 15 young scholarship students for a few weeks to facilitate a discussion about trash and pollution and the importance of keeping Managua green by starting in our very own homes. They all got to take home a tangible reminder, a plant made in their personalized recycled plastic planter which they pledged responsibility to take care of. We also watched the movie The Lorax, and discussed the severity of deforestation and especially its reality in Nicaragua. In continuation of this initiative, this year we are planning a trip to a part of Central America’s largest Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua, BOSAWAS. The idea is to take a group of young artists and have an exchange with youth from the community in Peñas Blancas as well as participate in educational hikes and a workshop on how to make a raised bed. The goal is that the youth that apply for this trip also make a commitment to come back and apply what they learned to make the Center and their community a greener and more sustainable place. The application process will start next month with the trip proposed for the beginning of May!

Hope that gives you a better idea of some projects we’ve been a part of in 2014 and what we’ll be getting into in 2015. Please be in touch with us at bataholavolunteers@gmail.com if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer at the Cultural Center starting in August of 2015! See more details on our apply page.

Hope you all have a great Monday!

-Kelsey & Erika

Photo of the day: First week of class brings young people to the library!

Most schools here started either last week or this week, and so the library has been filled with scholarship students and kids from the neighborhood doing their homework (or just having some fun:)!!

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-Erika C.

“Made in Nicaragua”: the impact of Free Trade Zones in Central America

IMG_9257While spending a few weeks back in the U.S. over Christmas break, I made the inevitable trip to the mall to invest in some basic necessities like jeans and v-necks since most of mine were faded and beyond repair after over a year of being hand-washed while living in Nicaragua. Yet as I wandered into Target, a little overwhelmed and determined not to buy more than I really needed, I was surprised to find printed on the back of the v-neck I picked up “Made in Nicaragua”.

IMG_9253Not used to seeing a Central American country on a tag, let alone the country I’ve been living in, I decided to investigate a bit. What is the impact of buying a shirt made over 2,000 miles away in a small, poor Central American country? And why, on the other hand, is the biggest demand for clothes in Nicaragua for U.S. imported clothing?

Well the answer to that question can be found in the DR-CAFTA (Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement). DR-CAFTA is a policy made to lower taxes on imports and exports between the U.S. and the partnering countries (including the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras & Nicaragua). DR-CAFTA was passed under the presidency of George W. Bush in 2004 and began to be implemented in Nicaragua in 2006.

Since its implementation, Nicaraguan exports to the U.S. have gone up by 71%, with the biggest contributor in textile and apparel. And U.S. exports to Nicaragua are up 69% since 2005. Seems like a win-win. But lets dig a little deeper. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative website, DR-CAFTA “promotes stronger trade and investment ties, prosperity, and stability throughout the region and along the Southern boarder.” The question is, is DR-CAFTA truly creating a more stable Central America?

Nicaragua continues to be the 2nd poorest country in Central America, with over half of the country living on less than $2 per day. Even though the government is currently working on raising the minimum wage, Nicaragua continues to have the lowest minimum wage in Central America which explains the incentive to open more textile factories here. In 2010 there were “148 companies operating in 44 Free Trade Zones” in Nicaragua, with the largest percentage (30%) owned by U.S. companies.

Workers in these free trade zones make about 4,000 cordobas ($150 dollars at the current exchange rate) per month, which is a near fraction of the living wage that the government declares is enough to meet the basic needs for a family of four. ($470 in 2014). Even though Nicaragua has recently implemented increases to the minimum wage, the fair trade zone has been excluded from the increases. So you might have been wondering, what happened to the “Made in China” labels that used to be seen on the majority of clothing sold in the U.S.? Well, currently under DR-CAFTA, the U.S. is able to “ship cheap fabric from places like China, sew it together in Nicaragua and export it tax-free to the U.S. in boxes labeled ‘made in Nicaragua’.”

Despite all of the textile factories in Nicaragua, the ironic part is that the main demand for clothing bought here is U.S.-imported clothing. Especially those with popular name brands such as Hollister, Abercrombie or Nike. In almost any neighborhood of Managua you’ll find a large used clothes store, called something along the lines of “Ropa Americana” (American clothes), most likely bought in large bundles from the U.S. I haven’t investigated much of the U.S. imported clothing market here, but that undoubtably could be a blog post in itself.

Even though the DR-CAFTA agreement seems to be benefiting the U.S. and Nicaragua economically…socially and environmentally it doesn’t seem to add up. DR-CAFTA has little to no monitoring of labor or environmental standards making conditions dangerous and unstable for workers as well as the environment–adding on to an already unstable reality due to the increased affects of climate change in Central America. DR-CAFTA policy is also intended to prioritize large U.S. corporations, making it difficult if not impossible for small and medium sized local businesses and farmers to survive. One of the largest impacts of this has been migration. Unemployment and unstable climate has caused farmers and workers to seek jobs outside of Nicaragua. In fact remittences (money sent from family members outside of Nicaragua) made up 9% of Nicaragua’s GDP in 2014, with 80.5% being sent from the U.S. and Costa Rica (La Prensa). And this isn’t a problem unique to Nicaragua, migration has also affected many other Central American countries due to various factors including gang violence, political instability and un- and under-employment.

During my time here in Nicaragua, I’ve begun to analyze both through news articles as well as seeing daily life, the impacts of U.S. policy on Central America. My hope isn’t to make you feel more guilty for buying a shirt made in Nicaragua, but I do hope that you start to notice those tags and become aware of how our choices, both as an individual, and as a government, affect those living south of the boarder.

Peace,

Kelsey

 

Sources:

Office of the United States Trade Representative (export & import facts)

https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/cafta-dr-dominican-republic-central-america-fta

https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/americas/nicaragua  (Nicaragua)

“FACT SHEET: the Winners and Losers of DR-CAFTA in Nicaragua’s Free Trade Zones”

http://www.witnessforpeace.org/section.php?id=99

Minimum wage & living wage rates

http://www.centralamericadata.com/en/article/home/Nicaragua_Minimum_Wage_Increased

http://www.mitrab.gob.ni/documentos/canasta-basica/canasta-basica-enero-diciembre-2014

DR-CAFTA, ALBA and the Sustainable Development Trinity

http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/3920

La Prensa, “More Remittences, More Migration”

http://www.laprensa.com.ni/2015/02/06/economia/1777574-cmas-remesas-mas-migrantes

 

Photo of the day: Scholarship students start off the year strong!

The high school and University scholarship students met this morning to learn about the history and values of the Center, as well as to get to know one another and figure out what they’ll be doing for their social service. In exchange for the scholarship, the students give a few hours a week to help out with tutoring, work in the library, help out with the Sunday mass, or give tours and participate in the mural projects.

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-Erika C.

Photo of the Day

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Today we jumped into the second day of English class, learning the alphabet, greetings and useful classroom phrases. Here the students are doing skits to practice the phrases they learned. The class is abnormally small for the first week, but we’re hoping to have some more students sign up within the next few weeks. Even though it can be a little uncomfortable until we start to get to know the students, it’s exciting to see new faces that are excited and committed to learn as much as they can in the next 10 months of class.

Saludos!

Kelsey