Beginning to Grow Hope
Good morning from Westminster, MD!
In the last post I began to tell you about how a request from an orphanage director for a few seeds led to the opportunity to impact the community of El Cañon through smalls scale agriculture. I left off with the question, “what does all of this have to do with beans?” Let’s take a look.
Many of the realities facing impoverished farmers, as I described in the last post, are what community members of El Cañon experienced in 2012 and still experience today. It is in the midst of this storyline that NicaWorks! saw an opportunity. What if NicaWorks! could provide tangible hope to El Cañon by providing the resources and expertise needed to jump some of these hurdles?
The community gardening project, as we called it, started with North American Mission Team Members and Nicaraguans working alongside each other. In hopes of giving a little boost to the program, the NicaWorks! team decided to have one of its summer mission teams help with the program launch. The plan was to have the mission team members meet the newly selected community gardening participants from El Cañon at the Puente de Amistad orphanage, located in the community of El Cañon, for some introductions and training. Jay, who also happens to be my dad, was the primary trainer along with Job, our agriculture expert at the time.
Something I learned quickly in Nicaragua was that a “plan” was really more of a guideline than a rule. This was challenging for me at first coming from the Northeast Region of the United States. Growing up, my experience was that a plan was made to be followed. Living in Nicaragua, I began to think that a plan was made to be broken. To say that was an adjustment for my somewhat rigid mind is an understatement. The truth is I am better for it.
The start of the community gardening program was no different. The training began at nine in the morning. The only problem was that most of the community gardening participants, and Job, had not yet arrived. Sometime later, after much standing around and staring at each other by the Mission Team Members, the community gardening program officially commenced. Jay and Job spoke very different verbal languages, but when it cam to working the land, they were on the same page. It was time for everyone to grab a shovel and to start sweating!
The majority of community gardening participants that day, and still today, were women with children. This was in part by design, but primarily by default. One of the striking realities I, and many other “outsiders”, notice when they spend time in a community like El Cañon is the lack of men. It is not to say that there are not men in the community, but rather that they are missing from the family structure. There are many reasons for this, including the great number of men who died fighting in the Revolution and the subsequent Contra War referred to as the “Lost Generation”. This timeframe of tragic loss spanned from the late 1970s to the early 1980s and had a great impact on Nicaraguan society. However, the most common reasons are the need for men to work away from hope to support their family, and the abandonment and absenteeism of fathers.
The reality for many families in poor communities in Nicaragua is that there are not a sufficient number of local jobs to support the population. This combined with a lack of transportation forces many men to seek employment in other areas of Nicaragua, and in some cases other countries such as Costa Rica, Honduras, and even the United States. This leaves the mother to care for the kids and maintain the household on her own.
The other more tragic reality is an epidemic of irresponsibility in places like Nicaragua. Due in part to the lack of hope, there are many men who leave women the moment they find out that she is pregnant, leaving the mother to have to figure out how to support a family on her own. The problem is complicated even more by the fact that the mother has to watch the children and, therefore, is unable to seek real employment. Sadly, this just continues the cycle.
With men absent from the family structure, it often makes sense to aim community development projects at women. That is not to say that there are not men in communities like El Cañon who need tangible hope. With drug and alcohol abuse rampant among men in these places, there is most definitely a need to be addressed. More on that in a later post.
Our group of women from the community along with the team members grabbed their tools and began to practice soil preparation. Wearing long skirts and pastel colored shirts, the women were hardly dressed in what many would call “gardening clothes”. This didn’t seem to bother the women as they showed the group that they were not afraid of hard work. After “practicing” a little longer the women from the community and the group from the U.S. headed to the future locations of the first community gardens in El Cañon.
Check back next time to find out how project started to move from an idea to a reality (and how the beans begin to play a role in the story).
– James Belt