From City to Rainforest: 10 Center Artists take their talents to the Bosawas Biosphere for a Youth Exchange focused around Environmental Stewardship

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Since the beginning of our time here in Batahola Norte, we have wanted to organize some activities that promote environmental stewardship around the Cultural Center and greater Managua. We thought that education would be the most sustainable way to get our message across; that if we invested in building capacity among a certain group of Center participants, the initiative would have the highest chance of continuing after we left. Tania Molina and Yahoska Urcuyo, two staff involved with the arts programming here at the Center, were also very interested in this idea, so we all put our heads together and decided to focus working with members of the various arts groups. We met with local musician and environmental activist Matute Tutema, who told us about Macizo Peñas Blancas, a rural community located on one edge of the Bosawas Biosphere. The communty has many different projects going on, one being the youth group that practices the Afro-Brazilian dance/martial arts Capoeira and Maculele.

The reality for many of the youth who come to the Center is that they rarely get the chance to leave Managua-let alone to go to a rainforest-and so to bathe in a waterfall and to see some of the hundreds of animal species living there is a once in a life time opportunity. This paired with learning about the struggles Bosawas faces and interacting with the youth group, we were convinced to search for a way to take some young people there.

We applied for a micro-grant that my church Prince of Peace Lutheran offers to carry out service work, and they were more than excited to be a part of the project. More than just the trip, the idea was to inspire these youth to create and implement some of initiatives here at the Center and in the community.

We left for the community Macizo-Peñas Blancas last week with 3 folklore dancers, 2 flute players, 4 violinists, and a cellist, (with many doubling as singers and guitarists), packing into a 15 seat van with all of their corresponding instruments and attire. When we arrived after the 5-hour journey, we ate and immediately went on a hike with local guide Abraham, who grew up learning to recognize medicinal plant life. Farmers by trade, he and his family are trying to slowly move more of their livelihood to eco-tourism. His parents Chico and Maria have a small restaurant and host people visiting the reserve, and with this extra source of income they have been able to allow some of their deforested land to grow back. The largest agricultural industries in the region are wood, corn, and cattle; however they also grow a lot of potatoes and coffee. The students were a sight to be seen, mesmerized by the bright blue butterflies and the medicinal Dragon-Blood tree, that when you cut into literally bleeds out a dark red liquid that is used as a coagulant and is also used to treat diarrhea and fevers. The water was freezing, but the students needed no convincing to jump right into it and stand under the stream of the waterfall above. They met their host-families afterward, and by the end of the week were already calling them mom and dad!

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Over the next few days, the students learned about how various environmental issues affected the area and how the community has responded. Freddy Castro, the President of the local cooperative Guardians of the Rainforest, shared that in a season with little rain-like last year-farmers lose a majority of their income as well as the food they grow for their families to eat. They had an exchange with the women’s group working in the community, where they shared their experience living as women in a rural area and their search to have an independent income. They are currently working on a recycled-art initiative to sell to tourists-making jewelry out of seeds and old magazines-a process that they shared with the students over coffee on a rainy afternoon.

With the Capoeira group, which is made up of about 25 young people from the community, they also participated in a few workshops of Maculele, learning the lyrics, drumming, and steps of this Afro-Brazilian dance over just 3 days. The two groups shared their experiences as young artists and the barriers they face collectively: finding resources and organizing amongst themselves. The Capoeira group performed and invited them to join in on their class, which turned out to be a bit intense for some of us! But the young men and women talked about how the group, about a year and a half old, has given them the space for individual development while also allowing them to become stronger as a community. The Capoeira, Maculele, and Women’s groups were started out of CREA, a project that has been working on permaculture and community development initiatives for the last fear years.

The last evening, we organized a cultural presentation so that the students from the Center could share their musical and dance skills, as well as showcase their Maculele moves alongside the Capoeira group. They invited their host families as well as workers from the Cooperative, and they performed various Nicaraguan pieces. The groups performed individually, but combined their efforts at the end for La Madrugada, a traditional Nicaraguan folk song written by Erwin Kruger. Afterward, all of the youth ate dinner and sang around a campfire together, as well as shared email and facebook information!

The next morning we said goodbye to our families and packed-up all of our things, as well as the various bananas, potatoes, and spinach plants (various gifts from the community), before taking off to Managua, where the real work would begin. We had hoped that the trip would motivate these young people start thinking about how to make change in their community, but many were already interested in this topic and just needed the space to develop their ideas.

In the upcoming weeks, the goal will be to organize and carry-out various activities that connect their experiences of art, music, and environmental stewardship. They have already voiced their excitement to build a raised-bed at the Center to teach kids about gardening, organize trash-collecting days around the neighborhood, and to hold a concert to raise awareness about environmental issues. Bosawas is over 5 hours away, and so the students want to make the project more local by focusing on issues that directly affect daily-life for Managuans. For example Lake Managua, which is visible from almost every part of the city, is used as a dumping ground for municipal sewage.

They realize the difficulties in organizing around this topic because of the lack of consciousness about environmental issues, but have expressed their commitment to continue meeting as a group to make concrete changes as individuals and as a community. The planning for these upcoming projects is underway, and there will definitely be more to come soon from this group of activist musicians from Batahola Norte.

We want to say thank you to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Roseville, Minnesota, for your financial support for this project, and to all the other individuals and organizations that helped us pull this off. We didn’t have enough space to upload all of the pictures from the trip, so please go to our Flickr account to see the rest:

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-Erika and Kelsey

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