I’ve been thinking about a blog post written by my colleague, Rene Mendoza, and posted here last month. The title of Rene’s article was, “Can the Youth Fall in Love with the Countryside Again?” It’s a provocative idea, in that the data suggests the Nicaraguan youth see little hope in remaining on the family farm, their conclusions relying on analyses of family farm economics as well as, ironically, their own education. (My apologies, Rene, if I have over-simplified or simply missed their outlooks!) Rene goes on to offer an alternative and hopeful conclusion, one that I’ll affirm here, though for different reasons.
I’ll first need to acknowledge the “elephant in the room.” The independent producers in rural Nicaragua are, for the most part, extremely poor. They have little margin for error in their production cycles, whether the difficulties are the result of natural calamity, market gyrations or corruption. At best, farmers face incredibly difficult logistics: availability of crop inputs do not always coincide with available finances, most producers rely on mill services at other locations, the roads are often little more than unimproved paths, and transport of the harvest to a reliable marketplace can be a game of chance. So, yes, let’s acknowledge the very real and complex issues facing the grassroots producers.
Next, I guess I should recognize the “rhino in the room,” the seductive “siren call” of modern society. Though rural Nicaraguans lead lives far-removed from the technologies and industries of large urban populations, they do not live in solitary confinement. Televisions, smart phones and Internet access provide an all-too-clear depiction of conveniences and gadgets that are sleek and enticing enough to beckon even the most resistant young person, even those who are prone to remain in the countryside. It’s a call that reaches nearly all youth these days, with amazements that have names like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Google. The names even sound like a playground.
Then, there’s also the “hippo in the room,” that vast and universal gulf between one generation and the next, where the elders are seen as archaic and the youth as inexperienced children. Although Nicaraguans do not have an exclusive monopoly on this circumstance, they do endure the contextual reality of being called the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. That’s more than just a bad name, it’s a brand, and one that any new generation would not appreciate receiving from an older one.
So, locked in a small room with the beasts of the wild, is it realistic to really believe that the youth can fall in love with the countryside again? I think the answer is yes, and for reasons that transcend the presence of the beasts which prowl there. The beasts are capable of being tamed. It’s part of the reason Winds of Peace and others are there, in the effort to at least tame the wild game.
The beasts are not immortal. While their visits can be life-threatening and sometimes long, they can and do move on. What’s required is the chance to eliminate their feeding grounds: despair, lack of education and a forgetfulness.
Our partners in Nicaragua have never lost hope. Despite battles with natural disasters and man-made troubles and sometimes fickle and deceiving markets, some Nicaraguans are seemingly impervious to despair. It’s a critical matter, because where despair is denied roots, hope grows, confidence takes hold and what was once old becomes new.
New. It’s what seems to attract youth no matter what the context. The next generation is always focused on charting a new way, their own way, and even if the way is remarkably similar to the way of their elders. The education of the youth permits them to experience the countryside and its character in ways very different from their parents. Education of the youth is the fundamental building block for the progress of the country; ability to read and write and conduct basic math are the keys to doors long-closed for many in rural Nicaragua. But sometimes what the youth learn in class contradicts what they have experienced in the fields: the taskmaster of economics and the glamor of a technological revolution can quickly mask the solitude of the morning, the presence of neighbors, and the strength of community. Economics might suggest that money is made by selling off components of life, by trading what is inside them for things that will never be truly part of them. The Internet allows access to virtually everything that is fantasy and fact, but sometimes overlooking that which is really of value. The education of the youth is the essential ingredient for their development, but only when they are taught within the context of all of life’s values.
The real hope for the youth falling in love with the countryside is perhaps not so much found in the technical and operational teachings derived from their education, nor in their search to separate themselves from the known; children eventually come to recognize the wisdom of their parents. Maybe it’s as much dependent upon the youth remembering what it is that they have loved before, in the days when they climbed trees and fetched water and helped in the fields with family things. Maybe it’s in the recollection of a history wherein basic dignities of life were worth a family’s struggle, and where human compassion and decency outweighed the heavy obligations of a competitive modern life. Maybe it’s the discovery of liberation that comes from truth.
Can Nicaraguan youth fall in love with the countryside again? Yep. And maybe a good place to start would be for them to talk with those of us who actually search for a love of countryside ourselves, seeking capital in its non-financial forms, hoping to satisfy a longing for honest self-sufficiency, and to remember life in its most basic components….