Tag Archives: Education in Nicaragua

Book It

“No one who can read ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.”                         -Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens 

I finished reading two books last week, one an historical recounting of the life of Native American figure Red Cloud and the other about the worst hurricane ever to hit the U.S.   I love to read.  Reading informs my world view, piques my curiosities, temporarily abducts me from the nonsense in everyday life, makes me laugh, makes me cry.  It shapes my opinions and my character.  In fact, a love of reading was the lifeline that helped me through college, aided in obtaining my first real job, and guided my vocational choices, even to the present: in my next career, I’d like to return to performing voice-over work, reading for the benefit of others.

There’s nothing terribly unusual in that confession; indeed, most of us are creatures of the written word.  Reading is the central tenet of education, vocation, communication with other human beings and of evolution itself.  Imagine, for a moment, where civilization and the human parade might be without the ability to read.

It’s not such a far-fetched thing to imagine.  There are people who cannot read; not that they choose not to read, but that they are unable to read the written word.  They are certainly to be found in the U.S.  And I have met far too many of them in Nicaragua, frequently in the rural areas where education often may not exceed third grade due to the need for every family member to work for the family’s basic sustenance.  The need to eat comes before the ability to read.

This is the context in which “Let’s Read, Reading Is Fun!” was born and continues to grow in Nicaragua.  (I have written about the program here previously, but it continues to be one of the most directly impactful and [for me] personally satisfying endeavors that Winds of Peace Foundation supports.)  The premise is simple: get books into the hands of school-age children and thus release the inherent joys to be found in reading.

It’s easy to take reading for granted when using the skill everyday.  We read books.  We scan newspapers. We network within social media.  We send and receive e-mails.  We read menus before dining, ballots prior to voting, road signs while driving, and airline tickets before boarding.  In short, reading is perhaps the essential skill of modern living.  But in Nicaragua, books are not in great supply, so reading skills become stalled for lack of attractive and engaging materials.  I can only imagine what my own literacy might be today without help from Dr. Seuss and The Hardy Boys.  Where might you be today without the ability to read?  (Among other things, you wouldn’t be reading this essay!)

“Let’s read, Reading Is Fun” recognizes the essential need and right that is reading.  In 2017,  another 9,670 books were distributed within 313 schools.  Since its inception in 2010, nearly 54,000 children have participated in the reading program, honing a skill that forever changes who they are and what they will become.  (The full report of the “Let’s Read” campaign for 2017 and its cause and effect is posted under the Education Funds section of this website, located on the homepage.)

If you are able to read this entry, congratulations on possessing the skill to do so.  While the content written here may not shape your future or your character, what you absorb from the written word elsewhere most certainly will.  Go read a book- it will change you.  It’s a particularly good thing to know that in rural Nicaragua, those same transformations are happening.  You can make book on it….

 

Dormilona

The Bashful Plant
The Bashful Plant

While visiting a Nicaraguan farm one Sunday in September, just before the start of the Certificate Program, we hiked some of the property with the owner of the land, Ernesto, along with several of our Nicaraguan colleagues.  His is a small-but-diverse operation, where he has raised beans, corn, coffee, cattle and cacao for his entire life.  Walking the plot of land, even briefly, was a great enjoyment.  I’m always amazed at what grows in sometimes-suspect soil, and how creative farmers have to be with the logistics of five crops growing on very limited acreage.  But the plant that commanded my attention was not one planted in straight rows or intended for harvest.

As we walked to the grove of cacao trees, one of the family members bent over and pointed to a tiny plant growing wild in the pasture.  The stems of the plant were no more than an inch or so in length, with delicate leaves symmetrically extending from each side of the stem.  Though the plant was not in bloom, I was told that it boasts a beautiful pinkish flower.  The stems were all over the area, like some special ground cover that I might see in a backyard where I live.  The plant is called dormilona, sometimes called the “sleeper plant” or the “bashful plant.”  For when its tiny leaves are even gently brushed, they immediately close up like the pages in a book.  It’s a fascinating response to observe, as though the plant is either ticklish to the touch or so shy as to be physically introverted.  The leaves eventually unfold again, once they are sure that the intrusion has passed.  The experience of touching the plants and observing their response is oddly addicting.  And I had it in the back of my mind at the start of the workshop.

On the following day, the Certificate Program began with each of the 40-some participants- class members, presenters, hosts and guests-  introducing themselves to the rest of the crowd.  This is an interesting and instructive process, however routine it may seem.  For within these brief statements of “who I am,” we get perhaps our first opportunity to meet each of the individuals with whom we will be sharing an entire week.  It’s a quick gauge of personality and perspective to guide the interactions to come.

It’s not unusual for members of a group like this, in any country or setting,  to be a little hesitant or even shy about speaking up; many of us are “hard-wired” to be cautious about how much we reveal of ourselves until we’re sure that the surroundings are safe.  It’s better to venture forth slowly, lest we jump into waters way over our heads and we suddenly discover that we don’t know how to swim.  And particularly with rural Nicaraguans, many of whom have not spent much time in the presence of visitors, the tendency is to be reserved and quiet.  (Unless you’re like the ubiquitous “Juan,” one of whom seems to be in every group, wisecracking and joking from the start!)

Nonetheless, we always start with these introductions, not for the completeness of what they can tell us, but for the brief glimpses of who is in the room.  On this occasion, it’s what started me thinking about the dormilona plant once again.  It seemed to me that there were many in our group who, when their turn to introduce arrived, were clearly humbled to even offer their names,  standing in withering modesty, almost turning inward upon themselves, so tangible was their bashfulness.  I thought of fragile green leaves, folding inward for protection until threats had passed.

During the ensuing week, the dangers must have dissipated, because the Program participants opened up in ways as beautiful as those little green, flowering plants which covered that Sunday hillside.  We came to recognize each member for the capacity which he or she brought to the week.   The participants were engaged and energized, and full of the ideas that could make their week successful.  Indeed, by week’s end when the certificates were awarded, each individual was recognized for his or her own particular character and contribution, and there was nothing bashful about it.  Only a sense of accomplishment and some pride.

Working alongside the Nica participants during the Certificate Program was not unlike interacting the dormilona plant.  At first touch, palpable humility showed itself as a “folding inward” for many.  But with time, the folded arms of shyness gradually reached out to embrace what was good in the environment, to soak in the essential components of well-being, whether personal of group.  It’s a universal truth, though one that we seem to forget the next time we find ourselves among strangers.

Maybe I make too much of the dormilona and my fascination with its gentle ways.  But I have found its character enormously attractive, and worth spending my time on….

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Example

During the recent Certificate Program conducted at the foot of Peñas Blancas, participants were able to study the methodologies of Lean Continuous Improvement, a practice designed to remove waste of all forms from our daily work.  It’s a very precise process improvement technique, thus one that is not quickly or easily assimilated by most people.  As a result, teachers of this process, which really involves transforming the way one looks at everything in a new way, frequently use examples to illustrate the concept.  Our Lean leader for the week, Brian Kopas of FabCon Precast, selected examples which would be familiar to the rural Nica audience and yet demonstrative of the ideas of Lean.  One example that week stood out .

The story is of a successful conference center which, among other amenities, includes on-site lodging accommodations, a beautiful setting, exercise opportunities, and a full complement of meals for their clientele.  It’s an operation that has sought to constantly make improvements in the range and quality of its offerings, so an attempt to streamline kitchen operations and meal services seemed like an obvious initiative.

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The “Before” Diagram

The kitchen staff gladly accepted the participation of several observers from outside the enterprise, to make notes of wasted time and motion, to document actions and capture the flow of work and the demands upon the staff members.  Using the Lean tools of observation and measuring, together they created a pictorial  snapshot of the breadth of the kitchen staff work for just one meal of the day.

The visual was shocking, to say the least: each one of the colored lines in the photograph represents the travel of one of the staff members in preparation of one meal.  It turned out that the staff members were walking miles within the confines of their kitchen, and most often incurring the high mileage as a result of inefficient placement of materials or redundant movement.

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“After”

The graphic example provided an immediate blueprint for improved customer service and timeliness, less strain on the staff and better care of kitchen implements and ingredients. Upon actually seeing what a morning preparation looked like, the staff members and their outside “helpers” set out to remove as much of the wasted time and energy as they could, cleaning up the process so that it looked more like that to the right.

Granted, the travel lines were not drawn in this “after” diagram, but the open spaces in the drawing were indicative of the clean-up that was possible, all in the course of a few hours of observation, discussion, modeling and decision-making.  (It didn’t hurt that these particular Lean practitioners decorated their “after” diagram with flowers along the edges, either!)

The example resonated with the participants in the Certificate Program, partly because the topic- cooking and eating- are very familiar and important activities.  In part, they understood because they recognized what those spaghetti-style travel lines represented in the way of excess steps and the drain that such extra movements create during the course of a day’s labors.  They could identify with the notion that there is opportunity for improvement in even the most repetitive, everyday kinds of activities.

But most of all, they attendees could identify with the example because it was of their own making.  Because the example described above was one of the three Lean projects actually undertaken during our week at the conference site at Peñas Blancas.  The “students” grabbed the Lean concepts voraciously, asked questions about process steps, immersed themselves in the work of the kitchen at 5:00 one morning, making themselves part of the the morning’s business, quizzing the kitchen workers, empathizing with difficulties and frustrations likely never before observed.  When they had applied the tools that Brian had provided, they went steps further, preparing written analysis and reasoning for proposed changes, estimating the impacts and the costs of such alterations, and even adding the beauty of those wildflowers along the border of their diagram.  (I have never seen that before!)  The best example of the entire week was the one that the Nicas produced themselves.

The reality of our time spent with participants on the topic of continuous improvement methodology is that they not only absorbed the ideas, but ran with them,  embraced them as though they were hanging on to lifelines in a relentless storm.  Even as newly-initiated to Lean, they added their own signatures to the results, thereby further underscoring the notions of continuous improvement.  Indeed, I have witnessed few Kaizen projects, in my own company and of even longer duration and study, that were as exhilarating as this one.

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Preparing the Ideas Visual
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Inputs from Everyone
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Brian’s Teaching Absorbed

It’s an example I intend to use in the future, with other groups of curious learners.  And it’s one that will utterly dissolve any excuse that the concepts are simply too difficult for some folks to apply.  What a week….

 

Where’s Your Treasure?

Among the lessons emerging from the Certificate Program in early September, we heard wisdom in many different forms.  The Certificate Program, by design, has a very holistic feel about it, a compendium of thinking on topics as diverse as growing and commercializing crops, understanding gender issues more deeply, seeing the environment as a fragile home, leadership, followership, organizational and personal health, and spirituality in work.  The September edition narrowed a bit, though still rich in wide-ranging matters.  One topic struck me as particularly interesting, given our Nicaragua location and the peasant participants at hand.

In the course of our time together, we were introduced to an allegorical tale of sorts, one that was intended to stir our thinking about what matters to us, what holds value and is therefore worthy of our time and energy.  The tale is presented here:

A couple was walking down the street, when they noticed a man under a street lamp, looking for something on the ground.  As they approached him in order to help, they quickly determined that he was drunk.  But they asked him, “Sir, have you lost something?”

“I lost my gold ring,” was his reply.

The couple helped him look for a long while, until they grew tired and frustrated with the fruitless search.  The couple asked him, “Are you certain that you lost it here?”

“I am sure that I did NOT lose it here, but over there,” he said, pointing to a darker area nearby.

“Then why are you looking here?” they asked him, wondering if they had not heard him correctly.

“Because the light from the street lamp doesn’t reach over there, but only here!  Can’t you see that?” he responded in a surprised and challenging tone of voice.

The story elicited a wide range of perspectives and interpretations, all of which added insight to the tale; the attendees gave the story some serious consideration as they tried to discern its lessons.  But for me, one conclusion stood out above the others.  In short, it was the question of “where do you seek your treasure?”

It’s not a new question.  But in the rural mountains of Nicaragua, where the basic economics for living have been hard to sustain, where availability of food depends far too heavily upon the vagaries of weather and blight, and where populations might well be excused for seeking gold under seductive bright lights, I did not anticipate the consensus answer to the treasure-question that emerged.

Their first, tentative answers tended to be the seemingly obvious: the man was wasting his time- and that of others- by virtue of his irresponsible drunken condition; he  needed to understand the importance of a clear mind; treasures lost might never be found again.  Then the responses became more reflective: the man was searching in a place that would never reward him; the easy way is not always the best way; sometimes you must discover your own treasure, your own truth, by yourself.  And finally, the lessons became personal, philosophical: we too often seek that which is of greatest value in the wrong places; burdens are made easier when encountered in the light; in searching for that which we think will bring us wealth, we just may discover something else of even greater intrinsic value.

For rural Nicaraguan producers, who face some of life’s most difficult challenges, the story had become all about understanding values, where to look, how to look, how to reconcile what we might wish to be true with our actual truths.  I find myself still marveling at the honesty of their thinking and analysis of their truths.  For, it’s an easier exercise to tackle when one’s basic needs have been met and one has the luxury of contemplating things like self-actualization.  It’s a more profound conclusion to reach when it’s not just an exercise….

 

 

 

A Little Bird Told Me

Sometimes, the way things happen leaves me breathless.

At the Certificate Program conducted in rural Nicaragua during the week of September 5, I prepared for two and one-half days of presentations on the topic of open book management.  I have a long history with the subject, having adopted an aggressive open book management initiative at Foldcraft Co. in the 1990’s and having spoken frequently on the topic, especially within the employee-ownership community.  This should have been familiar ground for me.

But sharing OBM experiences at Foldcraft is a lot different than trying to teach the essential components over the course of a few days, especially to an audience which has heard little of the concept previously, produces crops as opposed to commercial seating, has likely received limited  other education of any kind, and which does not speak or understand the English language.  I confess to experiencing reservations about my ability to effectively engage and teach.  Nerves, even.

I began Monday morning tentatively, feeling the group and measuring the level of its receptivity, as I always do.  But my audience quickly calmed me down.  I sensed their partnership in this learning event immediately, a feeling of collaboration that fed my own confidence and, in turn, their own.  We took off together in ways that presenters often dream about, with interest, enthusiasm and absorption mutually fueling our energy.

This rural Nicaraguan cohort proved to be among the most interested and receptive groups with whom I have ever worked!  I had quietly hoped for careful listening and signs of eagerness; what I experienced was rapt attention and ideas being internalized even as I spoke.  They exhibited a hunger, perhaps giving example to the notion that “there must be a hunger before food for thought can satisfy the need.”

By Tuesday, my sense was that our learning together was becoming something special, a collaboration which had begun to feed upon itself, elevating to not just a good session for conceptual learning, but a memorable event that might, in fact, hold transformative capacities.  I think we were all sensing it.  And then, a little bird told me that it was so.

I had just begun reciting the tale named, “The Snowflake.”  For the uninitiated, I reproduce it here:

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a tiny bird asked a wild dove.

“It is nothing but a crystal, so it is nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the tiny bird said.  “I sat on the branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk, when it began to snow.  Not heavily, not in a raging blizzard.  But just like in a dream, without a wind, without any violence.  Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch.  Their number was exactly 3,741,952.  When the 3,741,953rd flake dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing as you say, the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the tiny bird flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for change to come to the world.”

On Tuesday, I had no sooner uttered the words, “a tiny bird,” when a hummingbird suddenly flew into our meeting room through the open door and landed, stunned, upon the floor.  I stopped talking. The participants went silent, watching this little creature in wonder.  They looked from the bird to me, as if somehow I had orchestrated its arrival at that very moment for effect.  But I was as stunned as the hummingbird and, realizing that, the class erupted in utter amazement and joy.

Yeris, a beekeeper and friend of creatures great and small, scooped up the hummingbird, cradling it as though its arrival had been a most special gift.  It remained quite still in his open hands, as if willing to share the beauty and symbolism of its presence.  It was then gently escorted from the room, to be administered a few drops of sugar water in order to revive its energy for flight.  Yeris returned to the room with thumbs up, and within minutes the intrusion was complete.

Some in the room looked to each other to understand what had occurred.  Others bore enormous smiles in realization that they had just witnessed something rather incredible.  I noticed two in the group who appeared to wipe away tears.  My own heart was absolutely racing.  When I had sufficiently composed myself, I could only ask whether the group felt blessed in some way, to which there was universal assent.  Do you believe in messages?

“The Snowflake” was intended to be but a small contribution to the week’s lessons, albeit a powerful one.  Amidst days of workshop rigors, knowledge transfer and difficult exercises, the story occupied but a tiny fraction of our time.  But on occasion, those fractions can become like the weight of a snowflake, significant in their importance and memorable for reminding us what we are capable of knowing and feeling….

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Acts of Commitment

The hiatus here over the past couple of weeks has been the result of spending time in Nicaragua, participating in the second Certificate Program for development of rural producers and their counterparts in commercialization and credit.  With so much information and context to consider, reflection and writing are crowded out in favor of absorption.  Seven days of presentations, applications, ideas, questions, analysis, laughter, sharing and learning (from one another) was consuming.

I’ve had ample time to sort out my various reflections about the week spent among the rural participants, and I’m sure that some of those images will show up here in the weeks to come.  But as I recall the week in its entirety, there is one observation that rises to the top of mind above the others.  It is the matter of commitment.

Imagine for a moment what it would require of you to leave your home and your work for six full days (eight if you count travel to and from the conference site) to attend an educational workshop.  To further complicate the matter, the work that you will leave behind will not be performed by anyone else.  It is time-sensitive work, agriculture, which will consider no excuse if it is not done on time.  It is your only livelihood.

The conference site itself is a long way from your home, a location to which you will likely travel for hours by crowded bus.  Once at the site, you will be housed in dormitory-style, rustic quarters, but the outdoor toilets are really not more than twenty-five yards away.  Access to sinks and showers is shared, so the earliest risers have the best chance at access.

These are the accommodations that will be yours for an entire week as you learn materials that are quite foreign to your experience; the facilitators will be requiring you to get out of your “comfort zone” every day.  Most of the instructors do not speak your language, so you will be receiving their information through translation.  Furthermore, the instructors are not even from your own country, so the cultural, social and educational norms they bring are not your own.  They have brought books with them, which, though translated into your language, you may or may not be able to read, given your previous educational experiences.  You know few of the other participants, perhaps just the one other person from your own business.

This, then, is the context of the Certificate Program held from September 5-10 at the foot of Peñas Blancas, home of the GARBO Cooperative.  Yet despite the need to come to terms with  inconveniences which might keep most of us away,  forty-five producers, technicians and funders attended this second gathering of organizational innovation.  Their mere presence was an astonishing testament to a desire to learn and implement new ideas in a world that, at times, is changing as quickly in rural Nicaragua as anywhere else in the world.  No one was present because they had to be; they participated in the 9-hour days of presentations and exercises because they had committed themselves to learning something new, to improving upon what they have practiced for generations, to becoming someone different.

Perhaps a part of that commitment stemmed from the presence of several unusual “teachers.”  My own face and voice has become familiar to at least some in the audience, but I was accompanied by two new faces, friends/colleagues from the U.S. who brought a unique and valuable bundle of organizational development experiences with them.  Brian Kopas is a former teammate from Foldcraft Co., the leader in our efforts for implementing Lean Manufacturing there, a continuous-improvement-by-method. one of the main hallmarks of that company’s success in recent decades.  Alex Moss is President of Praxis Consulting Group, one of the truly personal and high-values consulting firms in the U.S., and an outstanding teacher of open-book management cultures and practices.

Imagine for a moment what it would require of you to donate an entire week of your life to helping complete strangers grapple with the difficulties of organizational strengthening.  You will need to seek time off from your “real work” to make the journey.  To further complicate matters, you will receive no monetary compensation for your time and there will be no prospects of financial gain in the future from this endeavor.  You will be required to travel for a day-and-half to reach the conference site. You will be addressing an audience which does not speak your language.  Your accommodations will be modest but comfortable, as long as you don’t drink the water.

There is but one motivation to compel people like Brian and Alex, as well as the participants in the Program, and that is the notion of commitment.  The attendees were as committed to learning as any group I have encountered in the U.S. in over 45 years.  The commitment on the part of Brian and Alex, to bring their expertise to a part of the world where it is sorely needed, is a statement of faith in stewardship and sharing, an unselfish giving that flies in the face of today’s headlines of self-centeredness.

There was a lot more going on in the Certificate Program that week; I look forward to sharing it with you.  But for me, the overriding truth of the week emerged from the strength of its commitments….

 

 

Spirit

My U.S. acquaintances almost always have questions about the work that Winds of Peace undertakes in Nicaragua, and especially they are curious about the people with whom we work.  They are curious to know how they are like us in the U.S.  They desire to know whether they are happy, what rural Nicaraguans like to do in their spare time, and what they may know about those of us who live in the North.  (My answers to those specific questions tend to be along the lines of: yes, they experience happiness in some very different ways from us, they have little spare time and they know a great deal more about us than we do of them.)

During my visit in Nicaragua two weeks ago, I became re-acquainted with a woman I had met several years ago, a grassroots coffee producer and member of a very small cooperative.  She attended an organizational strengthening workshop which the Foundation had underwritten and, in fact, turned out to be one of the presenters.  I want to introduce you to Corina, because she is a composite story of who many Nicaraguans are.

Corina
Corina

When we first met, Corina and her cooperative had found themselves in deep economic trouble. But the cause of the difficulty stemmed from the fraudulent actions of “middlemen” who recognized an opportunity to take advantage of small producers who were too trusting, unschooled and undereducated in the responsibilities  and obligations of organizational success.  In that first meeting, Corina and her fellow coop members faced a likely collapse of their group; she thus faced a similar fate for her own farm.  Without the middlemen to provide market savvy and price negotiation (as well as deceptive representation), Corina felt lost.

But I recall her tenacity in addition to the shyness.  She had not spoken much in front of her North American visitor those years ago, but she spoke passionately and with defiance when she chose to speak at all.  But I remember thinking that the odds were definitely against this small-producer coop which now faced significant debt not of their own making.  Winds of Peace has made annual loans to the coop since that first meeting, and the coop has survived thus far.  But providing funds each year for fertilizers and new coffee plants is neither the road away from dependence nor the key to sustainability.

Corina and her fellow coop members have worked hard.  They have attended other workshops.  The coop has been attentive to understanding exactly what project proposal information is required of them and what donor expectations are.   They’ve been scrupulously diligent in meeting their loan obligations.  While a preference for having others intervene on their behalf still surfaces at moments, a movement toward self-sufficiency is happening.

So I was both surprised and not surprised in seeing Corina before the audience two weeks ago.  She towered over the audience, in a way that very few people less than five feet in height can; sometimes captivation comes from unsuspected sources.  She clutched a handkerchief like a good luck token, but her voice was firm and her resolution fixed on two large papers taped to the front wall.  On the pages, Corina had charted her family’s 5-Year Farm Plan.

Set aside for the moment the fact that many businesses never attempt something as progressive as a 5-year plan.  Corina, with the assistance of her husband and children and workshop facilitators,  had undertaken a detailed description of her business, including its dimensions, crops, limitations, opportunities, improvements, environmental impacts, successes and its future outlook.  There on two sheets of butcher paper was a complete strategic plan, one which in its simplicity and breadth presented her story, both current and future.

As Corina related her story, her voice grew in size and confidence. The handkerchief became twisted with emotion and conviction.  The audience, notorious for its restlessness, now sat rapt in attention, utterly astonished at both the woman and the content of her work.  At one moment, suddenly self-conscious of her standing, she looked to the workshop facilitator and observed that, maybe she wasn’t making sense and that he could explain the process better.  To his everlasting credit, the facilitator turned to the participants and asked, “Is she doing OK?”  The audience erupted into thunderous applause, matched in emotion only by the modesty in Corina’s face.  She continued, with even greater fervor than before.

By the close of her presentation, Corina had communicated details of her life which, under any other circumstance, would never have been shared.  She talked of her children and their work on the farm, after school.  She described the long hours of labor contributed by her husband, who hired out as a field hand elsewhere by day before returning home to tend to their own land.  She talked of her own unending work among the coffee plants, and how she nonetheless was able to achieve the equivalent of her high school diploma, the first member of her family ever to do so.  By the conclusion of her talk, I had a distinct feeling of under-accomplishment in my own life.

I suspect that many in the group felt the same.  At the conclusion of her presentation, Corina was surrounded by many, people seeking more information, offering their appreciation for her tenacity and strength, thanking her.  Several members of a coffee-buying group from North America sought to establish direct links for purchasing her coffee.  She may never have experienced so many photographs taken of her.  Clearly a sense of accomplishment welled up within her, and yet the demeanor of humility and reserve never wavered.

IMG_5372Corina’s example to her fellow small farmers resulted in many such family plans being drawn up that day and in the weeks to follow; indeed, they are still being created.  She had extended herself, far from her comfort zone, in order to provide a basis for others to act.  Her courage on behalf of other producers enabled a development threshold to be crossed, one that may cultivate harvests and benefits for a long time.  But I recall the day in a different light.  I will recall her performance and leadership as a challenge to my own way of life, to look at its content, its yields and plantings and harvests, its potential and its character with a greater sense of needing to do better….

 

Father Fernando, 1934-2016

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The inevitability of mortality is no solace when we lose someone whose life has transcended the usual boundaries of what it is to be a human being.  We know that whatever one’s legacy is to be, it is certain to come in time, whether we are prepared for it or not.  When we learned the news of Father Fernando Cardenal’s illness several weeks ago, there was collective hope and prayer that his time had not yet come and that he might recover to extend the remarkable legacy of his life.  But it was not to be.  Despite several rallies in recent days, Father Fernando died Saturday, at age 82, an age that belies the enormous impact of his life.

Neither this site nor this writer can pretend to adequately express what Father Fernando has meant to a world which refuses to see and people who ignore the truth of the poor.  (There are ample locations to learn of the Nicaraguan priest’s background and life story; visit them, and understand the kind of person the world has lost.)  He became the voice and patron of the impoverished, in many ways at the cost of his own vocation and voice.  Indeed, he was expelled from the priesthood for his continued educational work with a revolutionary regime which in the 1970’s overthrew the longstanding Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua.  Such was his commitment to those who possessed no voice of their own.  (And such was his commitment to his faith, that he earned his eventual reinstallation to the priesthood years later.)

His story, recounted in part in the recent autobiography, Faith and Joy, (and assisted by WPF colleague Mark Lester and Kathy McBride), is a life lesson to make even the most egocentric among us re-think our  own journeys and legacies.  But such was Father Fernando’s gift, to speak for the poor, and for the rest of us, in ways that could touch us profoundly.  I met with Father Fernando on four separate occasions.   I can share without shame that upon each occasion, the passion of his words and the depth of his dedication to “the small people” prompted tears-  of joy, of admiration and of self-reflection.  For Father Fernando, his calling was crystal clear: “I cannot accept that people live this way.  As a human being and as a Christian, I cannot accept it.  It has to change.”  I found it an impossible perspective to refute.

Even at his age of 82, it was still too soon to say good-bye to a life of such inspiration.  We needed more of him, more words of hope and perseverance for the poor and more words of encouragement and for introspection among the rest of us.  We all conduct our life journeys with too little of either, and now one of the important instructors of our consciences is gone.  Take a moment to learn who he was.  His loss begs for for prayer and remembrance….
Mi esperanza... Fernando

(“It is my hope that the young people return to the streets to make history.”)                                                           -Father Fernando Cardenal