Yesterday as part of our full first day we went to a community called Nueva Vida, ¨new life¨ in Spanish but also one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area. It was originally established as a refugee camp for survivors of the Contra War and the various natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc) that have devastated the country. They were bussed into the camp with no shelter, very few belongings, and without the community that they had had in their previous residences. The area continues to be very poor with lots of parentless children and full of gang violence. However, amidst this desolate community, we were very inspired by an organization called the CDCA. They came here in the ´90s to help develop the area. Currently, they help organize and run several coops, such as one for organic cotton farmers and a sewing cooperative. They showed us their cotton gin, followed by a building independently built by 18 women with no construction experience that will be used to spin the yarn.
The ultimate goal is to have the whole production line (from cotton seed to t-shirt) in Nicaragua and locally controlled by the people that work there. They also showed us other very impressive projects, like this outhouse that turns human waste into compost without smelling (I was really impressed and wanted to use it, but held back) and also a machine that converts vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel for their cars.
They have given many people in the community an opportunity to become self sufficient without dependence on others and hope to bring those people out of poverty. After learning about the faults of a neoliberal economy, the coops showed us a realistic alternative to globalization and a way for the people to escape the economic patterns into which our world has fallen. The CDCA also mentioned a health care system they developed where the people in Nueva Vida can pay for their health services by working a half day giving back to the community in an approved service project. They are really doing an excellent job in rebuilding the community, stressing the importance of caring about the value of their town, and becoming self sufficient people.
The whole experience of learning about the importance of coops in the real world made me realize that I take the coops in Oberlin for granted. If all the coopers at Oberlin had an economic lesson in neoliberalism and then saw coops that actually improve peoples lives, they would respect the organization more and have a better understanding of why the structure of the coops is so important. Hopefully, that is something we can bring back to Oberlin.