With a gentle smile, her eyes met those of the adults around her. She was only about 16 years old, but joining the meeting with two ProNica directors and the rest of the Martin Centeno leadership team, this young woman held her own as a representative of the youth committee.
Her confidence was welcome and yet felt somehow out of place. In my travels around Nicaragua, young females who had grown up in the countryside often seemed relegated to near invisibility. With many nations that go through gender equality advancements, as Nicaragua did during its 1980s revolution, women’s rights principles may only reach peasant farming communities as abstractions, if at all.
But the Martin Centeno Community was rebuilt in large part by women when many of the men were called into combat. During the contra war, the original 16 families of the community fled their old village when fighting there took the lives of 2 brothers, including 18-year-old Martin Centeno.
As internal refugees relocated to a cow pasture only accessible across a temperamental river, they quickly set out to rebuild. In teams of 12 they constructed each family’s simple new shelter, the women sawing boards and pounding nails alongside the men.
The strength that the women had always had was evident, and soon they rose to positons of influence within the tiny village. To this day, women there hold key leadership roles. And the community of now 70 families holds as a core value that all people deserve equal economic, political and social rights, whether male or female, young or old. They feel strongly that when every member is empowered, the whole community is empowered.
Their principle of equality seems to know no bounds. Each year when the Martin Centeno Community requests funding from ProNica, they identify the two most dilapidated homes in their village and ask for enough money for replacement or repair, strengthening the “least of these” to strengthen the whole. Beyond these minor requests, they primarily seek financial support for the Women’s Agricultural Cooperative and the Domestic Violence Network (Oficina de la Mujer), based in the nearby city of Rio Blanco and serving the whole municipality. Together with your support, they work to pay forward their community’s success by helping countless women in the region gain food security and freedom from domestic violence.
No wonder the 16-year-old youth leader carried herself with such strength. She’s got exceptional role models, and she has all of you who believe in what her community stands for and what they’re working so hard to accomplish.
By Melissa Ajabshir, Executive Director