Tuesday, October 30

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

Monday, October 29

I helped and participated in an Intercambio or exchange of ideas between the youth volunteers with Accion Medica Cristiana and the Municipal for Development in Boaca, Nicaragua. The youth spent the day discussing ways to improve their communities and environments. It reminded me how much a miss working with young people.

Tuesday, October 23

We Were Created for Community

AMC's land bank project, or "Los Bancos de Tierras"  aims to support communities to work together in order to get out of poverty. The banks are large chunks of land purchased by AMC and people in the nearby community may apply to be a part of the land bank. There are socios and associados and each bank has about 8 socios and each socio helps "manage" 2 associados. Overtime, as a community, the participants work to pay AMC back for the land. The community works together to grow crops, take care of animals, take care of the community, and build a latrine for each family. Also, the participants are expected to aim at achieving certain tasks/goals for example own two different types of animals (chickens, pigs, etc.), maintain certain crops, provided three meals for their household each day, volunteer each month on a bank, etc. I spent this past week working on and visiting the different land banks. Miquel and Francisco I am attempting to explain the land banks as much as I can using what I learned and experienced this week. There are 4 land banks.
1. San Benito (Esperanza)
2. Progreso
3. Nueva Jerusalem
4. La Bendicion           

1. San Benito (Esperanza)
The very first day I arrived to this area for my first time in August, we went straight away to the corn festival at San Benito and the place was filled with the families from the community. When I went this past week, the only other people present besides Francisco and I were Dona Zayda and three of her kids. Each land bank usually has a woman who is the main person in charge of managing the kitchen. If people are visiting or meeting at the land bank, usually AMC will provide a meal, which is then cooked by Dona Zayda. San Benito is located close to the rocky road passing besides the land and a large gate welcomes visitors. Francisco and I zoomed up the steep entrance on the motorcycle and as we pulled up to the front porch Elir, Dona Zayda's 12-year-old son greeted us. This land bank has a small covered front porch, which leads to the kitchen and two rooms; one room for storage and a bedroom. There is small covered walkway between the kitchen and other rooms leading behind the structure. As you exit, the first building you can see the meeting space or a covered and fenced in space. There are two latrines located a little further away from both structures. In front of, behind, and next to the structures are many, many plants. There is everything from palm trees to papaya to cafe. Francisco and I spent the day planting palm trees, pear plants, Lora de India's and some sort of vines with flowers (I always think of Jumanji when dealing with vines). Franciso and Miquel are in charge of helping to maintain the crops and plants located on the main property of the land banks. The area is sometimes used to train associados about certain techniques or good locations to plant certain plants. Before leaving Elir and Francisco led me down the path through many cafe plants and down into the wooded areas. We followed this nature trail around the back of the property and Francisco explained many times monkeys can be spotted from the path, but to my great disappointment the monkeys were no where to be seen. Our good looks probably intimidated them.  However, right before we left, we could hear the howls from the monkeys carried to us by the wind. The sound is eerie.  Finally, San Benito is also the oldest land bank and is often used as an example for the other banks.

2. Progreso

In order to reach El Banco Progreso, we parked the truck at the top of a steep, rocky hill and walked for about 20 minutes through muddy and rocky paths. Miquel opened a wooden gate and across a large open pasture sat the auditorium for Progreso. As we walked across the muddy field, Miquel pointed out the lines formed in the grass. Many times the community or socios use the land to play baseball or other large games. The only structure sitting on this bank is an open, yet covered and fenced in area where meetings are housed. Chairs for meetings are fetched from a nearby house across the open field from the meeting space. When we finally arrived to the meeting area, about 20 men and women were gathered at the land bank. I had the chance to introduce myself and share that I know God is here in the country and working with these people. Then, each person gave me a brief introduction about themselves and how long they have been working on the land bank. After the meeting, Miquel had to take some phone calls so I kicked around a soccer ball with three other young guys in the large field as the sun set in the background.

3. Nueva Jerusalem
I would say Nueva Jerusalem is the poster bank for all the land banks.  This is simply because Nueva Jerusalem has some pretty neat features. All the banks are equally important and great, but Nueva Jerusalem is just so pretty. It's also usually where groups go, if they want to visit a land bank. Once again in order to reach the land bank you must take a bumpy road, which goes up and down several hills, has several curves and leads through two different rivers. Along the way barbed wire gates need moving in order to pass through the road. As the truck nears the land bank, plants, some with blooming flowers, line the road and the road begins heading downhill. Then the road turns into the running river and right away the gazebo with a leaf covered roof and the building housing the kitchen come into sight. There is space to park in-between a small tin roofed office and a fenced in area housing several goats.  The river is heard in the background and a small waterfall exists on the land bank by a short hike down the river. I spent the day with a small group of the socios and associados re-roofing the leaf covered gazebo. Roofs using leafs need to be replaced about every 4 years. We used large palm leaves from trees related to banana plants. It was a joy to work with a small group and joke around with everyone. At the end of the day, I also sat in on a meeting with Miquel. At one point, Miquel brought up the issue of money and how as a group they are accountable for paying back AMC. He also brought up the fact there has been tension in the group and how they can best work out issues and problems as a team. I got to see some more of the tough parts for the participants.

4. La Bendicion
La Bendicion is the youngest land bank, only two years old, and the farthest away. It takes about a 45 minute ride in a truck and then either an hour hike or horseback ride to the land bank.  Miquel, Francisco, and I rode horses to the land bank and one of the local young men, Jose Maria, accompanied us on foot. I acted quite confident about riding a horse but I had a slight moment of panic when I realized really the only other time I've ridden a horse was when I was in YMCA Princess and my dad was also on the horse... I remained confident; however, and thought I've seen enough movies and heard enough people talk about how to ride a horse it can't be too bad. I did survive, although I did talk aloud often and to my horse named Satan. Yes, Satan. He was wonderful, though. The trail was really rough for him the whole time, too, with lots of deep muddy and steep slopes. I felt sad for him and they also strapped spurs to my boots but I pretty much refused to actually use them. Once we arrived to the land bank we "parked" the horses in the shade and headed into the large building on the land. Two women were working in the kitchen and they welcomed us with large smiles and kisses. After resting for a little bit in the kitchen, I received a tour of the second floor with bedrooms and a porch with a breathtaking view of the landscape. Then I went with Francisco to take inventory of the local pharmacy. The pharmacy for this new community is in two cardboard boxes in Dona Francisca's humble house. As we walked to her house, Francisco explained to me many of the socios live together in very temporary homes since the bank is so new and many people have only been a part of the land bank for a few months. Dona Francisca's house is fairly small with large palms for a roof and plastic sacks acting as walls. She gladly welcomed us into her home and as Francisco and her worked on counting the medicines, I played and laughed with the kids present in her home. Later that afternoon, there was a meeting with updates on the land bank and I had the opportunity of meeting each of the participants. They are a humble community, yet there is hope growing as the land bank grows. We decided to walk back and give the horses a rest for the day.

After this week I am blown away by the power and beauty behind a community working together to live and prosper. Each land bank consists from anywhere to 24 families (Nueva Jerusalem) to 12 families (in La Bendicion). These groups of people work hard and the growth is small, yet significant. I believe we are called, as God's children, to constantly be within our communities and "live" with one another.  The land banks are a beautiful example of God's kingdom here on earth.

Monday, October 15

I think one of the most humbling things a person can experience involves another family opening up their home to you for a significant amount of time. As an intern at University Christian Church in Fort Worth, a wonderful family allowed me to live with them for an entire summer. When I moved to the Netherlands, the Vrenken family gladly welcomed me into their home during my 3 months in Holland.  And here I am now, in La Dalia, Nicaragua, living with an abuela for 5 weeks as I learn more about Acción Médica Cristiana's ministries in this area of the country. A home is a scared place and when willingly allowing an "outsider" to partake in the home's sacredness I think something wonderful takes place.

As you enter the small town of La Dalia, go pass the only gas station, turn on a street lined with small stores, which lead to the bus station, and there, stuck between the store fronts and kiosks you will find the small gate leading to my Nicaraguan abuela's house. As you walk in the gate there are a few concrete blocks leading over the mud and dirt to the front door. My abuela shares the small piece of land with the two other houses. The houses are owned by two of her children. I have my own room and share a large bathroom with the abuela's daughter and grandson, my Nicaraguan hermanito (little brother). Also, one of my co-workers from AMC, one of abuela's sons, lives with us as well. Now, I call him Tio (Uncle) Javier. I really feel at home here in La Dalia.

My favorite room is the kitchen. My abuela's ministry to others starts and ends everyday in the kitchen. It's the place I first met her. The first night I walked in and she immediately had me sit down as she served me hot beans, rice, and tortillas directly from the pan on the stove to my plate. There is a simply wooden table with two wooden stools, a small stovetop, a large concrete washing slab, and another large wooden table. Metal pans line two walls, small coffee cups hang from a row of pegs on the wall, and in the morning sunlight peeks through gaps in the brickwork behind the concrete slab providing some light to the dark kitchen. At different times, different family members or friends come and go from the kitchen and abuela is always ready to serve with love.

As for my time learning and observing the programs, employees, and ministry of AMC's Project Matagalpa, I've already participated in so many different programs and events. The second day after my arrival, I went with Margini to the small, rural community of Granadio. Margini every few months teaches a group of "enfermeras" from the community about new topics or issues regarding health. AMC equips women from the community, the enfermeras, to help their communities with health issues and provides continuing education throughout the year. Doctors and hospitals are not easily accessible in these communities, also they are expensive; therefore, AMC wants nurses in the communities for basic health needs.

Later in my first week, I took a microbus to the community of Coyolar where I met two "prometeras" for AMC. Prometeras are young volunteers who help AMC educate and communicate to people within their own communities.  In general, I appreciate how AMC uplifts the leadership of many young people. I went with the two young ladies to the local school. They brought a beautiful mural and taught the students about dental hygiene. Dental hygiene is a big health problem for many of the communities here in the Department of Matagalpa. My favorite part, and something I actually led, involved singing a song about using a toothbrush. After teaching three different classes, I had the blessing of going with Xochil to eat lunch at her grandma's house. We sat a large kitchen with chickens and dogs sharing the space with us at different times; however, this occurrence is becoming quite normal for me while living in Nicaragua. The family makes tortillas twice the size of my head and I received a refreshing fresh fruit juice. I ate with this beautiful family and reflected on the dental hygiene program. What a simple, yet important and impactful program. Also, I love that AMC empowers young people from the actual communities to help make positive impacts.

During my second week, I went with part of the team out to the community of La Cieba. Violeta taught a two-day workshop talking about the demographics of the community and climate change. Volunteers from the community participated in the workshop and Violeta actively involved the community’s insight and opinions. Each day we served lunch to the participants. The meeting took place in the community's school and the local kids were so curious about the workshop and new people visiting the community. Some kids chose to sit in the back of the classroom and simply watch what was happening while others stood in the doorway or peeked through the windows. For a good length of time the children sat quietly and observed. It was neat thing to witness, considering the fact most kids in the United States will whine and cry if they have to sit still in a grown up meeting. Also, there are two little girls who are actually apart of the volunteer group in La Cieba and at different times Violeta would direct questions towards the little girls. Once again, I witnessed AMC bringing a community together to help their own community.

In the afternoon, after the second day of the workshop, we headed back to the AMC office where we assisted the rest of the office with preparing for the Forum, which was to take place the next day. People made copies, stapled papers, stuffed folders, and worked till about eight that night to finish up preparing for the big event. The next day the team loaded two trucks with tons of supplies and rented tables and chairs for the event. There were banners, posters, fancy tablecloths, and the AMC tent. The event took place in an outdoor auditorium at a local hotel in La Dalia. I got to help behind the secnes and see how hard the AMC team and volunteers worked to put together this forum. The Forum was aimed at the larger community of La Dalia and Matagalpa. Pastors, community leaders, and other people interested in learning about the predicted climate change for the world and for this area in Nicaragua. A little over 100 people participated and the audience was able to ask questions to a group of 3 AMC employees and 1 local pastor. Then, after each presenter shared and answered questions the participants formed small groups in order to write out actions they promise to fulfill after the forum.  There were groups for each community's pastors, CAPS leaders or people who work to help communities have safe water, young adults, people from different communities and a miscellaneous group.  A person from each group shared their intended promises. The paticipants seemed to really gain something from the forum as seen in their strong desires to actually do something with their new information. Overall, I think the Forum on Climate Change went really well and I commend AMC for the hard work spent on preparing and organizing this event.

As I adventure and learn with the AMC team in La Dalia, I carry your support and spirit with me.

Dios te bendiga!

Thursday, October 4

Spent the day in the La Dalia office today. Tranquilo day but I got a lot of STUFF done. Margini made a beautiful sign for the dental hygiene workshops for kids. Tomorrow, I'm going to observe one of the workshops. I practiced new dental vocabulary in Spanish.

Tuesday, October 2

5 Weeks in La Dalia



Today I leave for La Dalia! 

It's the same city I visited during the corn festival and my short trip to el campo. I will am going in order to learn more about the Accion Medica Cristiana project in Matagalpa. You can check out some past photos here. 

I'm excited for the cooler weather due to the higher altitude and meeting an entirely new community. It's crazy to think I will be away from Mangua about the same time I've been here. Leaving the busy, dirty city life also gets my blood pumping, because I LOVE nature and open space. I challenged myself, during training in NYC, to seek God in the happening city life and I know there is beauty within a city... However, hearing about these moments before my arrival made me the most excited about my time in Nicaragua.

The reason I'm living in La Dalia for 5 weeks is so I can be totally immersed into the program and therefore be able to better communicate and share with future brigadas who visit Nicaragua. When medical teams or volunteer groups arrive to Nicaragua, they spend a day or two, at most, in Managua, going through orientation. Then, the groups stay and work within the El Tuma & La Dalia area. My role is to act somewhat as a cultural bridge for the groups and act more as an expert on Project Matagalpa.

I'm leaving with open arms, open ears, an open mind, patience, and flexibilty. Also, I pray for a sense of awe and wonder.