The Emergence of Tangible Hope

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

How can a bean make a difference in a person’s life? Today we will continue on this journey of hope through the community of El Cañon. We left off with the North American team from Crossroads Community Church and the community gardening participants from El Cañon heading to the first community garden sites. We pick up there today.

Over the next two and a half days, our mixed group of North Americans and El Cañon residents worked side-by-side to literally plant tangible hope. This process started by preparing the fields. This was an education for the team members from the United States. As they walked to the proposed locations, the team noticed that the spots looked a lot like the surrounding area- tropical, almost jungle-like ground cover that just about reached the top of their heads. Looking back this should not have been surprising as Nicaragua is a sub-tropical country that is blessed with great soil. However, at the time it was a wake-up call as to the challenges of the project.

Job, the NicaWorks! Agriculture Expert, did not seem phased at all by the overgrown growing spaces. Instead, he showed the team how he would address the issue- machetes. As you can imagine, this was an exciting moment for the young guys in the group. However, this excitement waned once they realized that there was more to using a machete than meets the eye. Job, more of a get-it-done guy than a teacher, showed the eager team members how to swing the machete to cut the brush. Job would wing his machete through the thick, overgrown brush and it would look as if he had used a weedwhacker. We would swing our machetes through the same vegetation brush and it would look like a bad haircut. We would come to realize that Job could swing a machete like a professional golfer swings a golf club, and could seemingly do it all day. On the other had, our machete swings were much like my golf swing, broken and with little knowledge as to what the result would actually be. It also appeared that we were using twice as much energy as Job. It was a great lesson in humility.

After Job, the community garden participants, and the team finished clearing the land, they grabbed shovels and began to till the soil. Again, this was a great lesson on the effort necessary to strive for a better life when you have access to very little resources. In a world without hope, why would you expend so much energy and time if you did not believe it was really going to make a difference? It is very easy to say that people living in poverty should just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and work their way to a better life. While the principle of this is true, the application of it is very difficult when you believe it is an exercise in futility. The truth is that the idea of hope can be crushing for the hopeless. Many times, trying to live as if there is hope for a better future feels like it is just an opportunity for more regrets and deeper despair. Realizing hope when living in this place must come from an outside source for most people, and I would argue all people in the end.

This was the goal of the team. By working with the community, the team was saying we believe there is hope for you, even if their ability to put words to it was limited by the language barrier.

Once all of the soil was prepared in the two locations, the collective group of mission team members, community gardening participants, and NicaWorks! staff planted seeds and plants of all varieties of fruits and vegetables. From tomatoes, to squash, to watermelon, to a vine-like fruit plant unfamiliar to the North American group called Granadia, the overgrown patches of land had become a garden from which tangible hope could emerge. The two inaugural community gardening participants, Silvia and her family, and Aura, were cautiously optimistic that in ninety days they would have produce to sell and to feed their families.

Aura had also requested a chicken from which she could produce eggs. This excited a couple of the team members, who decided to build a makeshift chicken coup out of pallets and fencing. This also led to the “great chicken debate” after the chicken had not laid eggs for a few months. In retrospect, this should not have surprised us since we purchased chickens from a not so helpful, or honest, chicken vendor in one of Managua’s main markets. After a year of trying various “techniques” to get the chicken to lay eggs, we decided that we had been sold old chickens that had past egg laying age long ago. Chicken lesson number one- do not buy a random chicken tied to a post with a piece of twine by a market vendor who is less than forthright. I am not completely sure what happened to the chickens, but my guess is that they ended up as dinner. All was not lost!

In some ways, the chicken debate was a small picture of how challenging the road ahead would be for the El Cañon Community Gardening Project. After the team left the project would be in the hands of the community members and the NicaWorks! field staff. This would mean daily battling to stay motivated and hopeful that things could be different. While there were many tasks related to keeping the gardens going such as watering, weeding, and fertilizing, it was overcoming this temptation to give up that proved most challenging. If the community gardening participants did not believe the gardens could be successful, why would they do the tasks necessary to keep it moving forward? Complacency is many times borne out of a fear of the future. This would prove to be one of the biggest challenges the NicaWorks! team would have to overcome.

Check back next time to find out how the beans of hope finally became a reality.

– James Belt

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