Harvesting Hope

Good morning from Westminster, MD!

Last time we left off with the community gardening participants from El Canon, a small, impoverished community on the outskirts of Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city, beginning the process of making the project their own. This process was full of many challenges, but ends up with a picture of tangible hope.

Over the next three years the community garden project had many ups and downs. While the idea of growing produce to sell and consume seemed fantastic to the women, the day-to-day operation of it was quite difficult. However, this should not have been completely surprising for a group of people who were new to working as a team. This concept of teamwork was seemingly foreign to many in the community of El Canon. This was an issue because the community garden was meant to be developed in community. This meant cooperating and coordinating with each other, which is challenging when it has never been a part of your lifestyle. It took a little time, but the El Canon community members began to understand the value of working as a team.

In the first harvest, the results were mixed. The garden at Aura’s house did not produce much in the way of fruit due to a lack of care. The family at Plata Nerra, where the team had their “machete lessons” did better, but there was some confusion as to how the profits of the sales were to be distributed. The other few gardens that were started after the team’s departure were mixed from a results standpoint. The end result was that the majority of the group wanted to disband and give up. When hopelessness is the norm, minor setbacks appears to be complete failures.

It was here that NicaWorks! had to step in to remind them that this was a long-term project and that setbacks were opportunities to learn. Gathering in the church, some of the community gardening participants, Pastor Josue and his wife, Jamileth, and the NicaWorks! team, discussed how we could take a step forward with the next crop. It was really at this moment that tangible hope began to creep into the community gardening project.

The next two years of the community gardening project were full of successes and failures. Despite the challenges, including the voluntary replacement of a couple of the members, the project continued to move forward slowly. The NicaWorks! team would have to continue to remind the group to believe that there was hope, even when the crops did not turn out exactly as they had planned. As the group continued to buy into the project something began to happen- the community garden became their and not just that of NicaWorks!.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2016 and what had once been an idea was becoming a tangible expression of hope. Instead of hesitantly waiting for the NicaWorks! staff to “take care of” the project the women from the community, and their families, had become active partners in the project. After successfully planting and caring for a crop of beans towards the end of 2015, the community gardening participants worked together as a team to harvest the crop and even guard the “fruit of their labors” overnight.

Following the beans, the group decided to rent a field and attempt their largest tomato crop to date. This would mean the handful of women and their families would have to assist with cleaning out the overgrown field, preparing the soil, and planting well over 1,000 tomato plants, all by hand. It also meant watering each tomato plant by hand on a daily basis. While this might not sound intimidating on the surface, it requires filling a five-gallon bucket with water, walking the equivalent of a football field or more, and returning to the water source every time the bucket is empty. This required a few hours a day of their time and the resiliency to do all of that in the tropical heat and sun. The necessity of watering cannot be overstated as they were growing the tomatoes during Nicaragua’s “dry season”, which tends to be the best time of the year for delicate produce. No water meant dead plants and no harvest.

With little investment other than their time and energy up to that point, it would have been easy to give up and feed the narrative of hopelessness in El Canon. As they explained what it took to make the tomato project happen on one of my visits to Nicaragua in early 2016, I realized that this was not the same group of people who had joined the community gardening initiative a few years earlier. Yes, most of the faces were the same, but their mindset had changed. Hopeless, at least to some degree, was no longer their default setting. Instead their had begun to grasp a sense of tangible hope that the future could be different for them and their families.

Unfortunately, the harvest from the tomato crop was less than expected due to damage from disease. Again, a perfect opportunity to call it a day. The group chose quite the opposite. During a training meeting with Karina, a NicaWorks! staff member, the community gardening collective took their first step towards becomingĀ  cooperative by electing officers. They also started the planning process for their next project, including determining was they, the women, would invest from the tomato and bean sales.

It was a long road to get to the point where they were that day, and many challenge are still ahead, but receiving hope through tangible means has had a great impact on a group of women in a forgotten corner of an impoverished country. It is true that sometimes people just need to know someone believes in them enough to give them an opportunity to write a different future for themselves.

What started as beans ended with hearts full of hope.

– James Belt

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