By Vicki Mariner
2016 Friends Witness Participant from Tallahassee, Florida Quaker Meeting
In early December of 2015, Jim and I boarded a plane from Miami to Managua, Nicaragua. I was amazed at how short the flight was! Just a few hours to a wonderfully different culture, language and environment. We were picked up in a van and whisked to Quaker House, a typical old-style home in a working class neighborhood in the capital city. I immediately loved the openness of the house to the tropical climate, vegetation and street life.
This was the beginning of a ProNica Witness Tour, a 10-day schedule that would take us to see many of the ProNica partner projects. Our group included SEYM Friends Pam Haigh, and Caroline Lanker as well as two other Florida women; Hannah and Tanya. Tanya had worked on many Peace Brigade missions here over the years and knew the country and its history well. Over the next week we would be sharing our stories and interests as we traveled a circuit North of Managua through the villages and countryside of Nicaragua.
But first, a little background. For that we gathered on the patio of university professor Aynn Setright who gave us a fascinating overview of the historical events and politics that shape the country today. This really helped me appreciate the struggles as well as the great courage and creativity of the Nicaraguan people. Then we were off on our tour. Our guides, translators, and all around shepherds were Ada and Ramon, long-time ProNica staffers. They planned the daily itinerary, meals and lodging and transport, answering our questions and seeing to our needs with endless good humor. They were conscientious and delightful.
In Managua, we visited the Acahual Women’s Clinic and its associated domestic violence shelter project. As many of you know, ProNica does not set up “aid” programs but instead partners with community initiatives local people have already started. This insures that the assistance goes directly to local needs and allows long term relationships to develop. At the women’s clinic we also saw the Acahaul Beauty School that grew out of the request by the women for this training. It allows them earn money, often in their own homes, as barbers and hair stylists. The next day we would share in the pride and enthusiasm of the new Beauty School graduates at a celebration hosted by the teachers and Pam Haigh, a founder and supporter. We also visited “Los Quinchos”, now a multi-location effort to help city street children with a Managua base house and several farm and countryside residences.
Over the next week we followed a wonderfully varied itinerary of meeting inspiring project leaders: rural teens creating an eco-hostel, women’s craft cooperatives, and of course, Casa Materna in Matagulpa, a pre-natal clinic and residence for rural women that is now a model for a new national program for reducing mother and infant mortality. Ada and Ramon also planned fun side-trips in between like lunch at a lakeside eco-hotel (with swimming), and a hike down to a dramatic waterfall where we walked behind the falls to a cave beyond. For three nights of our trip we stayed at a simple but very pleasant eco-hotel in the village of San Ramon called Sueno de la Campana (dream of the bell). We took our meals on the elevated dining room deck open to perfect view of distant mountains and the tropical forest around us.
We had been asked about any particular interests on our sign-up forms for the tour. Jim mentioned solar power and I put down organic farming and permaculture. Amazingly both of these were included in our travels! We spent one morning at The Women’s Solar Collective which builds solar cookers and offers training in making solar panels as well as experimenting with alternative building. Their patio restaurant also served our lunch. Another afternoon took us to the small permaculture farm of Mr. Vincent Padilla. On eight acres, surrounded by large coffee plantations, Mr. Padilla has developed a varied agriculture of pastures, vegetable gardens and fruit trees, as well as his cash crop of organic shade-grown coffee. Chickens and pigs round out the food sources and produce compost. He gave a short talk on the practices that allow such varied production on a small piece of land, and then proudly showed us his deep worm-bins and enormous compost piles. As a gardener myself, I was just amazed. Not only was the soil rich and deep but the native vegetation, insects and animals were also not excluded. A bamboo grove supplied some of his building materials and he pointed out several sloths in a large tree. We all left with packages of the excellent coffee!
On our last evening back in Managua, Ada and Ramon had arranged a little surprise for us. First we all went to the back patio after dinner to give our evaluations of the week. We gave very high marks to our guides and were asked about our favorite experiences and how the tour might be improved. When we came back up to the main living room the chairs were arranged facing a wooden marimba and we were introduced to a delightful musical family. The 12 year old daughter proceeded to entertain us with traditional songs of Mexico and Central America accompanied by her Mom and teenaged brother on guitars. The tunes are fast and lively, and this young lady played like a pro. Fortunately we caught a little of it on a cell phone video and whenever I hear it I am back in that living room enjoying the warmth and music with friends.
You can support ProNica both financially and personally. Join the August 10-20, 2016 Witness Tour, and see Nicaragua not as a tourist, but as a Friend.