The first meeting of Nicaragua Nexus was held at Bridgewater State University on April 28, 2012. It was an excellent opportunity for people who have been working in similar but separate endeavors to begin getting to know and learn from each other. Lunch was provided courtesy of the BSU External Affairs Division; coffee was provided by Byron Corrales, the "poet of coffee" whose farm is a regular feature of BSU study tours in Nicaragua. We watched a short video on the care that goes into what has sometimes been ranked the best coffee on the planet!
The event was hosted by the Division of External Affairs at Bridgewater State University. The day began with a viewing of the documentary American/Sandinista, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the death of Benjamin Linder, who was killed along with two Nicaragua colleagues while working on a rural-electric development project in Bocay, Jinotega.
This was followed by discussion of the many interesting projects represented by the assembled group, whose experience in Nicaragua ranges from "coming soon" to a few years to a few decades. Several of the participants are involved in different ways with projects in and around the city of San Juan del Sur, which in turn are affiliated with a sister-cities program in Newton, Massachusetts.
It was a chance meeting in the Miami International Airport a few years ago between Jean Christoffersen and myself that actually led to the creation of the Nicaragua Nexus. Each of us was heading home from a rewarding and exhausting experience with students in Nicaragua, and we began to realize that a lot of people in Massachusetts have ongoing connections and commitments in the region. At this initial Nicaragua Nexus meeting, Jean shared her experience leading groups of nursing students from Simmons College to study and serve in much-needed programs in public health. Among the many things we learned from her presentation is the value of well-made shoes as a public health measure; Jean's students would bring shoes by the dozens, maximizing their luggage allowances to provide protection against the various parasites and infections to which many Nicaraguans are otherwise susceptible. The Simmons study tours are not currently operating, but Jean also shared information about other work that she continues to do in the area with her husband Lou Fiore, a medical doctor who is leading a service trip to Nicaragua this summer. More about that work is available on the site Lowering Poverty and Disease in Nicaragua (LPD).
Sarah Wormann, president of Amped for Education, described her organization's recent success in building a new high school near the city of Granada, as well as opportunities for people to contribute funds and/or their own labor to the efforts. Chien Wen Yu discussed plans for a January 2013 management study tour that will include Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Other BSU participants (Natalie Regan, Nikki Sauber, and the Hayes-Bohanans) spoke about the study tours that have already taken place, focused on coffee but also including community-based projects for victims of the wars and other Nicaraguans with severe disabilities or injuries.
Brandeis scholar Margarett Morganroth Gullette spoke about an adult-education program that provides a rare opportunity for adults in the area to attend school, something that is otherwise impossible for people above the age of 18 who missed out on education when they were younger. She described the extraordinary commitment of the participants in the program, and asks for help in raising funds to support them. David Gullette spoke about several projects, with a common theme of promoting education and community health while reducing the environmental impact of the projects themselves. These include water filtration that can be installed and maintained locally and school building that has a remarkably small carbon footprint.
This day was just the beginning. The group will be meeting again in the autumn, perhaps closer to central Massachusetts, and hopes to include some of the additional organizations that were hoping to be involved but unable to attend this initial meeting. The prospects for continuing to support and learn from each other are quite positive. This blog will feature more details about the projects mentioned above, as well of those of other organizations that were not present. Potential Nexus members are encouraged to send me information to post on this blog, and/or to become contributing blog authors.