Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Day Nine

8:30 Am - back in the van and traveling the streets of Managua to the Baptist Seminary (UPOLI) where  we were a week ago.  The sights and sounds of the city are  becoming somewhat familiar and some landmarks are now possible to pick out.  Our meeting at UPOLI was with leaders from the university who are very keen on expanding Restorative Justice in Nicaragua.  But we keep hearing the same theme wherever we go.  The history of this country has created a culture of violence.  It is difficult for people to trust a new approach but there are clear signs of hope!

One speaker emphasized the leadership role women are playing in bringing about some fundamental changes.  In our short time here, we too have seen women making something happen from nothing, creating opportunities, and improving their communities.

The people at UPOLI are eager for connections with others working in Restorative Justice and asked that we keep in touch with them.  A very encouraging morning.

Noon - our official debriefing with Matthew, Kevin & Cassie, and Adam and Marisa.  These folks from MCC Nicaragua have spared nothing in ensuring our time here would give us a good glimpse of life in Nicaragua.

6:00 pm - our last meal together with Matthew.  He took us to a small restaurant known for its meter long serving of beef, which I learned afterwards may have been horse meat.  Hmmmm.....

Five of us leave the hotel at 5:00 am to make our way back to Edmonton and Calgary.  Peter and Elena are staying here for 3 more weeks, and Gord is off to Panama for 10 days to visit his niece.

We pray for safe travels and are excited to share our experiences with you.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Day Eight

Ten Thousand Villages supplier in Managua

As we gathered for breakfast this morning our hearts felt heavy as we thought of this being the day of Henry's funeral. Anne, you and your family have been in our hearts and prayers, even in the midst of the busy schedule and flurry of activities we have been put through here in Nicaragua.

Our morning was spent with people from DIRAC (the Centre for Alternative Resolution to Conflict).  This is a government supported organization mandated to offer mediation alternative to court processes, civil, family, and criminal cases.  In 2012 they diverted over 12,000 cases to mediation with an 80% success rate.

At the same time, they seemed quite uninformed about restorative justice practices.  Our visit served to facilitate a conversation between another Nicaraguan woman who has been very involved with RJ training and the folks at DIRAC.  As we left, Martha commented to a couple of us, "mission accomplished!"  It seems a door may have been opened for more exploration of RJ possibilities in Nicaragua.

This afternoon we went to the cooperative Ten Thousand Villages works with here.  Yes, some purchases were made!!
After that we went to a huge market in Managua for shopping and another "taste of Managua."One guy kept coming around trying to sell the men in our group little blue pills.  Not sure what that was about!

I think we're all getting a bit tired but for the most part have remained healthy and energized.  We are grateful for this experience and look forward to sharing it when we get back!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Day 6 and 7

Sunday morning saw  members of our group being "spirited off" to various churches in Managua.  The wide variety of experiences and encounters made for interesting conversation when we got back together.  The role of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in relation to the work of MCC Nicaragua is something we have had a bit of a time figuring out.  Worshipping with them at least gives us more of a context for these conversations.

Sunday afternoon was spent relaxing at a Laguna and then visiting a former MCCer and his family on their farm in the hills above Managua.  His energy and enthusiasm for life in Nicaragua was very inspiring.

This morning we ventured out to try getting ourselves into prison.  Who knew it could be so hard.  Believe or not, even with the questionable character of some of our group, we actually failed!!  There was a sense of disbelief as we drove away and waited for the prison visitation group from Managua to meet us for lunch in Granada.  Listening to their stories and their commitment to a holistic prison ministry instilled a real sense of hopefulness.  Ideas for ways in which their efforts might be encouraged from Canada were soon being explored.

We were able to explore the Colonial city of Granada and the market in Masaya before becoming true tourists and visiting a live volcano.  it seemed like a bit of stretch to connect this to a restorative justice learning tour but we were in the neighbourhood!  As we followed our guide around the rim of the volcano the devastating power of this eruption was mind boggling.  Yet we described what we saw as amazing and beautiful.

A parallel with restorative justice began to formulate  in my mind.  So often, we get involved after the damage is done to victims of crime and in the lives of offenders.  And this damage can be immense.  In the hope and belief that renewal is possible, restorative justice creates opportunities for new beginnings and healing - BUT the damage is never undone!  The landscape of peoples lives is changed forever!

Our guide told us farmers in the area actually welcome eruptions from the volcano because the minerals in the ash actually enrich the soil. In a sense, like restorative justice practitioners, they are able to look past the destruction in the belief that good can come of it.  

And we thought we were just being tourists!!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Day Five

We ventured out of Managua to a small town called  Nagarote - the location of another mobile library project sponsored by Global Family.  What a delightful morning!  The Brethren In Christ church runs this school as well as operating a church at the same sight.  Our memories from this visit will be vivid!

Children welcomed us with curiosity and giggles as they peered through the barred windows to get a look at us.  We were then invited to join  a reading club where young children sat around a couple tables, almost oblivious to our presence as they focused on their reading.  Janet asked whether one the students might be willing to read a story to us.  Frederico proceeded to read us "The Hungry Caterillar" with considerable energy!  When done, the group broke into a little song affirming him for his effort!

Other classes were meeting as we toured around the school.  This was on a Saturday morning!  The school offers programming for children from Nagarote because many of their parents are working in local factories.  This town is in what they call a "free trade zone"  I think that's code many hours of work for $180 - $200/ month in factories which are exempt from certain taxes and labour laws.  The children end up being on their own way too much so this after school program plays a key role in the community.  It was obvious the children loved being in the school.

After leaving the school we stopped for a Nicaraguan delicacy called "Quesillos"  The best way I can describe them is they are like Nicaraguan Verenke!  Delish!!!! ( to some of us!)

Then we were off to Leon, a Colonial era city.  The architecture was incredible.  Leon is also apparently considered to be something of an intellectual gathering place.  It was the location of the Sandinista headquarters during the revolution.

Several of us toured the Sandinista Revolutionary Museum.  A few of us us even got to stand on the rooftop of the original Sandista headquarters, looking down on the Cathedral and square in the centre of town.  The tin roof was mostly in good shape although our guide did point a few weak spots for us to avoid!

The history of Nicaragua seems defined by struggle and revolution.  It felt surreal to stand in the very place of so much of this violence and unrest.

Day by day Nicaragua is becoming more and more of a real place for us.  The people we meet along the way draw us in and become part of our collective memory of a very privileged experience.,

Friday, 15 February 2013

Day Four

"Don't bring anything valuable with you - we will be going into a very dangerous part of Managua this morning.  Only one person should bring a camera and only take pictures indoors!! " These words of caution set the tone for our day.  It caused  a bit of apprehension along with an escalated sense of anticipation and intrigue for some of our group.

Our destination was the Reparto Schick Mobile Library project, sponsored by Global Family and run by the Brethren in Christ Church.  One of the pictures on the 2013 MCC Calendar is taken at this school.  The library project seems very modest.  The theft of 50 books a few months was devastating.  And yet there is a profound sense of satisfaction and accomplishment associated with the mobile library.  Literacy is improving, and use of the library is rapidly increasing.

We then heard more about the Brethren In Christ Church venturing out well beyond their comfort zone to address issues of violence and gang activity, often right outside the gates of the church.  Initially setting out to evangelize the community, church members took to the streets praying and speaking with whoever they met along the way. They shared their vision for peace in the community.  With the support of another MCC partner, the Peace & Justice Commission, they offered a safe place for young people to gather and to receive training in areas such as conflict transformation, self esteem, AIDS, etc.
Good snacks were definitely an attraction as well.

They talked about the shift from focusing solely on evangelism to creating a safer community.  Personal engagement was the key.  In extending non-judemental friendship and acceptance, the door has been opened and a community is being transformed.  The street picture is where much of the violence took place in the past.

Later in the day we found ourselves meeting with Maria, a lawyer very familiar with restorative justice in Nicaragua.  We learned that there is a government sanctioned mediation process, most typically initiated by the police.  Maria was keenly interested in the wide range of restorative programs our group is involved in and soon we found ourselves brainstorming with her about how RJ could be moved forward in Nicaragua. Her passion for Restorative Justice was inspirational.

The picture on the mural says, "Justice: where is it? I don't see it."  This picture was taken on an early morning walk.  By the end of the day we could honestly say we had seen evidence of justice in Managua.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Day Three

"Us Revolutionaries are giving our lives for our country.  What are you Christians doing for Nicaragua?" This challenge during the war in the 1980's spawned the birth of what is now known as Christian  Medical Actions (Accion Medica Christiana) or AMC. Much of our day was spent learning about the work of this organization and the deep compassion and concern they carry for the welfare of Nicaragua.  

We are  learning about the complexity of life in Nicaragua.  Injustice, poverty, the threat of natural disasters, and longstanding polarization characterize life.To speak or even imagine restorative justice without addressing social injustices is impossible. It isn't difficult to get a pretty gloomy and pessimistic picture however the human spirit, especially when inspired by faith in Christ, rises to face these challenges in the belief that new life is possible.

We were reminded that as believers we have a common language and a common purpose.  One of the pictures with the blog is of the hands of all of us gathered this morning.  These are the hands of Christ, desiring to embrace his vision for Shalom for all, even Nicaraguans!  The concept of Shalom was spoken to several times.  Interestingly, one of the presenters actually visited Bowden Institution several years ago.  She said it seemed more like a hotel that the prisons she was accustomed to.

Connections were made between Nicaragua and the US and Canada with regard to social justice issues.  For example, how would organized crime in Central America be impacted if the demand for illegal drugs from North America and Europe wasn't there?  What is the church doing in Canada to address this problem?  How are we strengthening families so young people are less likely to engage in drug use.
This stuff gets hard sometimes!

A late afternoon encounter with a local gentleman as we were waiting to go for pizza at a lovely outdoor restaurant restored a bit of perspective as he was positive about life and grateful for our chance visit.

As we gathered for our evening meal, the date was not forgotten.  Happy Valentines Day!!!!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Day Two

Why are you going to Nicaragua?  What are you hoping to accomplish?  These questions were posed to one of our group members prior to leaving for this trip. If the answers were elusive in Canada, the questions have lost their relevance here.

Matt Tschetter, the Connecting Persons program coordinator with MCC Nicaragua shared a “saying for the day” with us that resonated with many in our group.

“if you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, then we can work together”

Our second day was spent at a Baptist University – UPOLI – where we met with participants in a peace training program run by Redpaz -  Peace Network.  A group of about 20 people, mostly pastors and church leaders from all over Nicaragua – opened their last session for us to observe.  The focus of this training was “ the Spirituality of Peace”.Much of the discussion centered around dealing with burdens and hardship as peacemakers.

What stands out from this is the way in which this diverse group comes together to share, support, and encourage each other in the face of great difficulty.  We also got a bit of taste of the cultural diversity of Nicaragua as some participants were from the Atlantic region.  Many people from this region are descendants of slaves from Jamaica.  These women added a lot of pizzaz to the day!

The afternoon involved us talking about our work, responding to questions and engaging in discussion.  Why do people insist on being so gracious??!!!

The day for Peter and myself (Darrel) was capped off with attending an Ash Wednesday service at a church near our hotel.   When I asked Peter if I was now branded for the week, he responded with, “for life!".