Nicaragua was bloodstained and battered from a half decade of war when Quakers Soledad and José McIntire moved there. Originally from St. Augustine, Florida, they brought nursing skills, and experience from Peace Brigades International and the American Friends Service Committee. On a trip to Florida to speak to a regional Quaker gathering, the McIntires’ stirring report mobilized a core group to action. Within weeks, funds were raised to purchase a Land Rover, extending the reach of the McIntires’ work in the Nicaraguan countryside.
Anchored by the Florida Quakers of Southeastern Yearly Meeting (SEYM) and a growing number of supporters across the globe, the flourishing new movement was officially named Pro-Nica. The 1985 U.S. trade embargo created widespread scarcities, reported with alarm by the McIntires. Emergency meetings were held in St. Petersburg and the ProNica Peace Shipment Alliance was born. Within months, ProNica’s first 40-foot cargo container, bursting with medical equipment, office supplies, toys and clothing, launched from the Port of Tampa bound for Nicaragua.
ProNica’s first major project partner opened its doors. The Olaf Palme Health Post was constructed in one of the poorest neighborhoods on the outskirts of Managua. It was staffed with one doctor and one nurse, both native Nicaraguans. ProNica’s first newsletter was written in Managua, then edited and distributed from Florida. The Friends Newsletter from Nicaragua announced the opening of El Centro de los Amigos or The Friend’s Center, an office for ProNica’s Nicaraguan operations.
Contra attacks, a devastating hurricane, and a massive devaluation of the Nicaraguan currency caused a temporary suspension of ProNica activities in the countryside. The McIntires’ focused on the Olaf Palme Health Post bringing water and electricity to the facility. They supplied a physiotherapist for the children’s center and breast pumps for a Mothers’ Milk Bank. They even added a playground, foliage and sidewalks to the only park in the community. St. Petersburg Quakers sponsored trips to promote ProNica’s vital projects at major Quaker gatherings and events across the USA. A Christmas container full of toys, clothing, powdered milk and sheet metal roofing was sent. Due to the generous response of supporters worldwide, the Christmas container was the fourth one filled and shipped that year.
ProNica’s “office” was a large closet at the St. Petersburg Friends Meeting House. Funds were allocated for the construction of a “Peace Room” behind the St. Petersburg Friends Meeting House, which still functions as ProNica’s stateside office. 1990 After 11 years of Sandinista leadership, President Daniel Ortega lost the election. It was generally reported at the time that the Nicaraguan populace realized the agony of the Contra War would go on as long as the Sandinistas were in power so they voted for the more pro-business, conservative Violetta Chamorro. President George H. W. Bush lifted the trade embargo.
Up to 1990, ProNica’s mission was focused on mitigating the effects of the US-backed Contra War and the US-imposed trade embargo. ProNica had been a standing committee of the Southeastern Yearly Meeting (SEYM) of the Religious Society of Friends since 1986. Had ProNica served its purpose? Most international agencies and solidarity groups were pulling out of Nicaragua. Was there a role for ProNica now that the ten-year war was over? The ProNica Committee, the ad-hoc group that had so successfully raised consciousness and funds across North America to support an impoverished sovereign nation brutalized by a U.S. proxy war, felt obliged to continue to help. They issued a statement: “We feel keenly our debt to those people who have shown us what it means to persist, to take responsibility for society, to invent the strategies for survival.”
ProNica Coordinator, Jon Roise wrote, ““Mothers can once again fret over finding shoes for their adolescent sons instead of worrying about their very survival.” 1998 ProNica Program Coordinator Lillian Hall alerted ProNica supporters to Los Quinchos’ critical work. Enough was raised to build a new carpentry and hammock workshop by beautiful Lake Granada and to assist funding projects at a new home for abused girls, Las Yahoskas. Many ProNica supporters were inspired to visit the projects they read about in the newsletters.
ProNica organized Friends Witness Tours which gives our supporters a chance to visit our partners in their communities and see, first-hand the benefits of solidarity. In the aftermath of the Contra War, the country was in a shambles. The Chamorro government focused on repaying international loans and meeting the stiff standards of the international lending organizations, which required cuts to government spending for social programs. There was hunger, trauma, massive dislocation of entire communities and many orphaned children.
In 1996 Ruth Paine, a member of St. Petersburg Meeting wrote, “We began ten years ago, a volunteer crew of defenders of human rights. We wanted to do something tangible. We now have a very effective organization with a clear mission delivering aid to very well-run projects in Nicaragua.” Ruth stepped up to reorganize ProNica.
On May 31, 2002, ProNica, Inc. became a Florida non-profit corporation, focusing on healing and peace building. Ruth Paine directed ProNica for many years, working steadily building the organization and its reputation for integrity and true solidarity. Ruth never collected a salary.
ProNica sponsored AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) workshops in Nicaraguan prisons in the 1990s and eventually spread across the country by training “trainers” using the AVP model to teach non-violence and self-empowerment. Money was raised to drill wells in communities to provide safe potable water sources. Cooperative groups of women were given funding to jointly raise poultry to earn money and feed their families. ProNica helped develop a cooperative’s transition to the production of organic sesame oil, which garnered a fair trade contract with The Body Shop. The ProNica newsletter told stories of Nicaraguan communities organizing collective responses to their post-war needs for trauma healing, feeding and housing displaced people, establishing free clinics for women for cancer screening, pre and post natal care, family planning, and counseling for the high rates of abuse and post-traumatic stress.
SOURCE: Compiled by Melissa Ajabshir from ProNica newsletters.
ProNica is still needed in Nicaragua. We support our partners in ways that large funding agencies cannot. Having a continuous presence dedicated mostly to maintaining a close relationship with our partners is a great benefit to them. We are here when funds are needed for an emergency, we promote international exchange by bringing foreign visitors to the projects, we attend our partners’ general meetings, social functions and their projects’ inaugurations, and we expose our partners to new potential funding sources. We act as conduit for grants from other sources as well. Having a personal relationship with our partner organizations allows us to better understand their everyday needs, help them find solutions to problems and offer moral support on an ongoing basis.Marc Forget