Photo of the Day

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Yesterday was our last day of level one of the five levels of English we offer here at the Center. We finished with a group of 23 students and we have a couple more who will test in to join next level. Congratulations to this wonderful group! Now it’s off to Semana Santa vacations! The Center will be closed for a week and we’ll return in April to start with level two. Happy Easter everybody!

Kelsey

Photo of the day: surprises in the wall…

This morning, as the construction crew was taking down a wall in the back of the building, they inadvertently knocked down a bee’s nest. Gilma called me over to share in the adventure, and she made sure not to let any of that honey go to waste!

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-Erika C.

 

 

 

 

Photo of the Day

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The past few weeks have been a tight and cozy office space with construction going on. Now instead of just the Trocaire team and us (the volunteers), we have Ivania from the violence prevention program, Tania and Josefa from arts promotion and others coming in and out trying to find a place to work. The hope is that after holy week everyone can move into the newly renovated offices!

Kelsey

Photo of the Day

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Visited my Batahola family today over lunch and happened to have the camera at hand to catch a few shots of a common afternoon on Amanda’s front patio. Hillary hiding behind her dolls but showing her sly smile while her baby sister Ruth is held by her great-grandma Josefina. I’m always amazed by the fact that 6 women from four generations live in this house, yet still find a way to support themselves by hosting students and running a small store from their house. I’ve made a date to make soup with them this weekend so I hope to be posting some more photos of that next week. Happy Friday!

Paz,

Kelsey

Putting a Face to the Free Trade Zone

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Meet Maria. She has been working in a Free Trade Zone for 6 years now in her community of Niquinohomo in the department of Masaya. Ironically the town of Niquinohomo means “valley of the warrior” and is also the birthplace of Augusto Sandino, who stood up to the U.S. occupation of his country in the 1920’s. Today we get the privilege of meeting a warrior, who is an example of the ongoing struggle as a result of foreign involvementĀ that continues to be a reality here in Nicaragua.

Maria has six children; two who are already married, three who are studying and one who also is working in a Free Trade Zone. Her typical day starts at 4am when she gets up to start making breakfast and washing clothes. Sometimes she doesn’t even get a chance to eat breakfast herself as she is off to catch a bus to work at 6:10 to arrive in time before the gates to the factory close at 6:45. There she works with three different types of machines, putting the hemming, cuffs and tags on clothing along with 800 other workers in this particular textile factory. At noon workers get a 15 minute break to quickly go outside and eat before coming back to work until 5pm. Sometimes they don’t even have time to use the bathroom and food is strictly forbidden and will be confiscated if they are found with it inside of the factory. Some people have even passed out from hunger and exhaustion.

Maria herself has been taken out unconscious various times because of high blood pressure problems which she never had issues with until starting to work at the Free Trade Zone. There is a lot of pressure to work quickly to fill large orders which causes not only high blood pressure but also accidents. Just last week she had a coworker that had the needle of the machine go through her thumb as she was rushing to finish a shirt. Although some Free Trade Zones have Unions that help workers with medical care, unfortunately the one Maria works at does not. Therefore there is no paid sick leave or worker’s compensation for injuries. Even to come to speak with us today Maria had to get permission to say she was going to a health clinic and she will lose one days earnings.

Not only do workers have issues of high blood pressure, but also hearing problems from the loud machines and lung problems from the dust and thread which gets into their lungs. Maria has had serious lung problems for the past two and a half years, which require her to go to get monthly treatment of a spray and medicine which she has to pay for out of her own pocket with what little she makes. Which right now is 1,914 cordobas (about $72) every 15 days, the equivalent of about $4.80 each day. And that doesn’t even account for the masks that they have to pay 4 cordobas (15 cents) for each day since the factory doesn’t provide them.

There is an opportunity to earn incentive pay for working more productively or working extra hours when big orders come in. For example right now Maria told us they just got an order for 250,000 shirts that need to be made in two weeks. So instead of working until 5pm she is working until 7pm, six days a week, even though the Ministry of Labor’s standards only allow workers to work from 8-5 Monday through Friday and 8-12 on Saturday. And when Maria arrives home after a long day of work, her work really isn’t finished. She also has to make dinner for her kids and clean up around the house, preparing for another day ahead which usually means not going to sleep until 10 or 11pm.

To some people, Maria’s daily routine might sound unbearable, but in reality she’s thankful to have a job to support her family. Before she was working as a maid in someone’s house and earned even less money. With the opportunity to work in the Free Trade Zone she can now support at least part of her families basic needs, but not all of it. Her husband and her son also contribute to the costs for their household of six.

So you might ask how does she keep going?

“Some days I wake up and say, ‘I’m really tired’ or ‘I feel sick’, but when I think about how much I would lose from not working one day, I find the energy to go. [When you’re on sick leave] it’s awful looking at your paycheck at the end of the pay period and knowing it won’t cover your expenses you need for your family to get by”

When I asked her what her opinion is on the Free Trade Zones from her experience and what she hopes for the future of her children, she told me a story of her son who works at a Free Trade Zone who just got his first personal order to make some outfits for a dance group in the community. After arriving from working all day at the factory he excitedly sits down to begin working on the order. He hopes to one day be able to pay off the sewing machine he’s using and possibly one day start his own business along with his mom to make clothing.

Even though these aren’t ideal conditions for Maria and her family, for now she said her opinion is that they can be a good thing. “This is a way to support us while we find the means to reach our dreams”

Maria is just one of many men and women who work in one of the four Free Trade Zones in Niquinohomo. I hope by sharing her story to give a face to the post I wrote a few weeks ago on the impact of CAFTA in Nicaragua. This post didn’t even come close to all of Maria’s story and all of the wealth of information there is on Free Trade Zones in Nicaragua, so if you have any more questions or comments feel free to post a reply or email me at kelseyschrock@gmail.com. I hope to continue to meet and share stories of other Free Trade Zone workers in the near future.

In peace and solidarity,

Kelsey

*A special thanks to Casa Ben Linder for inviting Maria to speak today at the weekly gathering. To learn more about Casa Ben Linder click here.

Photo of the day

I was doing interviews for the project education profiles, and Edgar could not sit still while I was interviewing his mother! It was fun to be able to include him in the photo taking process!

-Erika C.

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