Friday, January 29, 2010

Ligia the Leader

I definitely can´t do justice to this topic, but here´s a start. Someone our group has been thinking a lot about recently is Ligia Briones. As our principal contact with the UNAG, I had heard a little about her from the beginning of the committee´s meetings this year. However, I think it took me until to day to realize how amazing this woman is. Today was the Assembly of the UNAG- Esteli to turn over the presidency of the Esteli branch from Ligia to Pastor, formerly the vice-president. Although Ligia was only three years into her second five year term as UNAG Esteli president, she decided to step down due to her health. However, this doesn´t mean she´s leaving the UNAG. Previously, she was working two full time jobs, as president of the UNAG in Esteli in addition to president of the Women´s Sector of the UNAG nationally. She will continue her leadership in the Women´s sector.

At today´s assembly, I gained a much greater understanding of all Ligia has done. In her twelve years of leadership, the UNAG has consolidated its oraganizational structures, strengthened its financial resources, provided loans that enabled thousands of campesinos to buy livestock, invest in land, or make technological improvements to their farms and homes. The financial auditor said that a thorough investigation of the UNAG-Esteli´s funds uncovered nothing that raised concerns or jeopardized the organization´s future. Even more impressive that this, however, were the personal connections I saw displayed in the meeting. Groups of women sang songs in honor of Ligia, and gave impassioned testimonies about how she had inspired them personally and helped promote the rights of women farmers across the department of Esteli. We were one of many many groups to present Ligia with reconocimientos, or gifts of thanks, at the ceremony. Here's Ligia hugging Michelle as we give her a framed photo of her with the previous delegation.

Everyone we´ve encountered has the utmost trust in Ligia. They feel she is one of them, understands the struggles of campesinos, and always champions the rights of women. We´ve heard various concerns that with the presidency in the hands of a man, the promotion of women´s rights might fall by the wayside. Pastor, in his first address as president, tried to assuage these worries. However, only time will tell how the new president will be. Pastor will be president for the next two years to finish Ligia´s term, after which elections will be held to elect the next president.

I feel extremely priviledged to have gotten the chance to work with Ligia. In the interactions our group has had with her, she has proved honest to the point of being blunt, a force to be reckoned with, and most of all, inspiring.

She recognizes past successes, but always strives for more. She likes to propose "crazy ideas" as she calls them. I would call them visionary. Building a health clinic, founding a center for abused women, starting a program to prevent addiction and engender respect for the environment in at-risk youth, funding the best educated people in each community so they could teach students locally. Of course, as a realist, Ligia recognizes that there´s not enough money to start any of these projects now. But she hasn´t stopped dreaming or soliciting opinions from the communities about their needs and priorities. Her constant fight to give everyone the things they deserve as human beings has accomplished much, gained her universal respect, and should serve as an example for our committee in our future work.

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