Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Meaning of Partnership

I wanted to reflect a little on our relationship with the UNAG, which is evolving and hard to define. For one, it is so much based on mutual trust. We trust them absolutely. We put our lives in their hands for the time we´re with them. Every time plans changed last minute on this trip, or there was a miscommunication, or something went awry, we weren´t scared because we knew that we were in the best hands possible, people who truly care about our well-being. They also trust us, sharing with us intimate information about their lives, asking our opinions about big decisions regarding the loan fund, letting us in on some of the sordid drama that plagues all unions including the UNAG. What they did for us on this trip went way above and beyond simply keeping us happy so we would continue giving money in the future. They showered us with gifts and attention and love that we desperately tried to reciprocate.

When we were having a final discussion last night in the courtyard of the Quaker House in Managua (a hostel only for activists working to better Nicaragua), we mentioned feeling an enormous amount of responsibility considering how young we are. We four and how we behave on this trip are essential to the survival of the loan fund and the relationship with the UNAG, both of which have touched and improved many women´s lives. This is professional solidarity/aid work, but I think it´s our age that makes us (though inexperienced) better than most professionals for this work. Because we´re on the cusp of adulthood, on this trip we were able to be welcomed like daughters into the families in the campo, but asked difficult questions and treated like equals by the UNAG leaders. At our final meeting with the Junta Directiva, or governing board of Limay, I really understood why we call our relationship the Nicaragua Sister Partnership. As we sat in my host mom Jacinta´s kitchen eating yucca and cabbage salad and discussing ideas for improving the loan fund in the future, I felt like a true partner, fighting alongside the UNAG because we want the same things for the same people, people we now know intimately. It´s one thing to vaguely believe that Nicaraguan women should have access to food, water, a good house and education, and another thing to make sure that Ilia, my 12-year-old buddy from Parsila always goes to school with a full stomach. I believe it´s the personal relationships that drive our work, something many other international organizations cannot claim.

This was really clear for me at the Asamblea Departmental, which Nora already wrote about a little. Though the event was above all to honor Ligia´s 12 years as UNAG-Esteli´s president, I felt that our group was honored as well, formally and informally. We were presented with a certificate recognizing our solidarity, and I had the privilege of giving a speech to the 400 or so assembled campesinos explaining our connection and expressing our dedication, and also thanking Ligia for everything she is to us and to the women of Nicaragua. Here is the speech, captured on video by Michelle.

We were not seated with the other international groups, of which there were a handful. We were seated right up front with Sayda Flores, an UNAG leader who we became very close with on the trip, and we spent much time before and after the ceremony hugging and visiting with our host families from the campo and others we had met along our journey. We also got constant winks and smiles from the Master of Ceremonies, Francis, who we started referring to as our Fairy Godmother because of how sweetly she took care of us this past week. More than one of us shed tears, both during the ceremony and saying our goodbyes.

More wrap ups and reflections to come.

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