Over the Holy Week vacation, I went with ten members of the newly-formed Movimiento Juvenil “Nuevo Amanecer” (Youth Movement “A New Dawn”) from Managua along with friend and public health specialist Dr. Mary Luz Dussan, to the rural area of Waslala. Mary Luz worked in the area for three years facilitating leadership workshops for community members focused on empowering them to be able to organize to carry out health and education projects. Since that time, they have succeeded in organizing several sanitation and water programs, and training local people to be teachers to be able to open primary schools, in addition to other accomplishments.
Waslala, located in the northern Atlantic coast region of Nicaragua, was hard-hit by the Contra War of the 80s. Even as peace was declared in 1990, fighting persisted in Waslala until 1996. Because the zone is in a remote area in the center. While during the revolution of the 80s, poor farmers were organized by the government into cooperatives, in the 90s most cooperatives dissolved, each family taking a small parcel of land. As families faced economic problems, they increasingly sold their land to wealthy landowners and fell deeper into poverty. Coffee has been an important crop in Waslala for many years, but there has been an increasing shift towards cacoa in recent year because of the fall of the price of coffee. While cacao yields better profits in the short-term, some local organizations are warning of the risks of relying on monoculture.
The goal of the Youth Movement in visiting Waslala was to learn about the reality of life and poverty in the countryside, to learn about sustainable development, and to interact with the youth of Waslala. The members of the Youth Movement are between the ages of 13-26, and most are scholarship students of the Cultural Center of Batahola Norte that come from low-income families. While some are still in high school, others studied or are currently studying: Anthropology, Graphic Design, Systems Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. All are involved in social service work, some at the Center in programs like tutoring for younger children, the Child-to-Child violence prevention, Storytime for neighborhood children at the library, leadership and self-esteem workshops for their peers, and other programs. One member is completing his Anthropology thesis on undocumented Nicaraguan immigrants to Costa Rica. Another volunteers with the organization Cantera in Cuidad Sandino in communications and facilitating workshops on gender and other topics, and is currently working on a documentary to promote garbage cleanup in the neighborhood. The youth who make up the group are dynamic, enthusiastic, and dedicated to learning more about the national reality of poverty and how they can be part of creative and holistic solutions.
During our time in the community we had the chance to visit a school in Waslala Arriba and deliver donations school supplies the youth had collected in Batahola, and shoes donated from the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Cincinnati. There the group lead songs and games with the children. We also visited an agricultural institute that trained local youth in sustainable agriculture techniques including organic farming. We had the chance to accompany the youth group of Waslala for a day at the river and lead activities with them, to have to of our youth speak on the Waslala community radio, and to walk through the mountains in the natural reserve and visit the homes of several campesina women and hear their stories.
In addition to learning about rural poverty, the situation of rural women, sustainable development, empowerment initiatives, and environmental issues, the young people reflected that they had the chance to think about values like communication (especially among group members as we learned to live together), of consumption (of being aware of the impact of what we buy and making socially and environmentally aware choices), and of solidarity–of reflecting on how they can better serve others in their future and current work.
Coming back from the trip, the group has been energized and has started organizing to raise money to purchase 250 backpacks and school supplies for students in Waslala to bring to the community next year. They plan to raise part of the funds through a recycling campaign (to sell collected plastic and paper). They are also planning to spend a day volunteering in Pajarito Azul, a local home for disabled children, and other events.
Check out the photos of the trip below! It was a wonderful experience and I hope through the Youth Movement we are able to strengthen solidarity between youth in Managua and rural zones like Waslala and promote social consciousness among the youth of Nicaragua to dedicate themselves to working for a better future.