Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fillin' in some gaps

Last week was so overwhelming that we hardly had time to write about everything we've seen and done, so as Alice's and my last day (Nora and Marlee are already on their way home) winds down I will attempt to catch us up a bit.

On Thursday we had a golden opportunity: a whole day exploring the outskirts of Esteli with Fracis, the "fairy godmother" Alice mentioned before, who is also a close friend of Ligia's. Francis is a sister (basically a nun who can go out and do stuff) and a psychologist, and is one of the warmest, most lighthearted people I've ever met. Her nephew Josue also came along.
First we visited a family cooperative called the Tunoza, a small space where 20 women gather to make beautiful paper products from the normally undesirable parts of plants they grow themselves or receive from surrounding farms. They also use leftover office paper donated from nearby businesses--the UNAG now wants to be one of them. In addition, they teach workshops on papermaking to anyone who is interested. The cooperative was initiated by FIDER, an NGO that concerns itself with rural development, as a project to help unemployed women in the area. The women are proud of what they do now and asked us to bring more visitors (especially people who will buy as much as we did from them!) This visit showed me yet again just how important cooperatives are. Though they needed help to get started, these women are now empowered to make their own decisions and run the business however they want. To borrow OSCA's motto, "They own it."
We then hiked up a hillside with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and comunidades. Francis told us that she once brought a group of troubled teenagers there to have sessions on drug abuse.
She has also done a lot of work with women in prisons, as well as campesinas with the UNAG. As Nora mentioned, one of the projects she and Ligia would like to work on is opening a clinic for women in the campo, but they have no funding at all. Francis asked us if we would be able to direct the loan fund in a different direction, since it is revolving and theoritcally should be able to support itself. It seems like our fund is in a time of transition. We will continue the relationship with the UNAG Limay office at least until 2011, but if the office and the loan are stable enough, after that it would be great to be able to help with other projects. Either way the real decision lies with all the women of the UNAG, because the fund belongs to them.
Another thing that we discussed is the possibility of bringing young people we meet in the campo to visit Oberlin. They have shared so much of their lives with us but it has been harder for us to share ours with them. It would strengthen our relationship and understanding if they could eat in the co-ops and sleep in the dorms. Maybe one day it would even be possible for them to study in the US, maybe we could start to work something out while they were there. Right now this seems very difficult for a variety of reasons, but it is something we will work towards.

The last activity of the day was a visit to Sr. Alberto Gutierrez, a man who has dedicated the past thirty years of his life to, in his own words, "creating culture and agriculture in the mountains." A tall, white-haired man with an ever-present smile, he lives in a humble house with his wife, who greeted us as though she'd known us for years. He was happy to take us on a tour of his work, showing us the thousands of figures he has carved into the mountainside since 1977.
All kinds of animals and people--everyone from Jesus to Sandino--populate those mountains. He just as eagerly showed us all the coffee, orchids, and fruit trees he has planted over the years, and even sent Francis home with seeds of her own.
His robust love for life was inspiring and his happiness was infectious. Going back to Oberlin, I know that soon I will be worrying about petty things like grades again. Even from the dark and snowy world of Ohio, thinking of this joyful man in the mountains will remind me of the alegría de la vida.
We have fallen in love with this place and all the lovely people we have met along the way. In almost each city we've visited, we have made true friends who taught us important lessons and who we will miss very much. Ligia, Sayda, Francis, our host families, and many others: knowing that these people are counting on us to sustain and develop our end of the partnership will inspire us to keep fighting, in our own way, back at Oberlin.

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