Category Archives: Visioning

Iguanas on the Wall

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Surprised to see iguanas at school?

With the emphasis on education during my recent visit to Nicaragua, we had the pleasure of re-visiting the Association of Women Builders of Condega (AMCC).  AMCC is a non – profit organization whose main purpose is to promote economic, political and ideological empowerment processes to young and adult women from Northern Nicaragua, to enhance the basic conditions for the exercise of their full citizenship.  It’s quite an undertaking when one considers the context of the education, the circumstances of most of the students, the nature of a very patriarchal Nicaraguan society and cryptic attitudes about women, their roles and their capacities.

“Young women are better off staying at home.”

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Ready to Learn and Work
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Stay at Home? Why?

 

 

 

And, oh yes, at the same time the school is providing a very hands-on technical education for their students, teaching practical construction and building skills and demonstrating the latest technologies in use of earth materials.  And their results are stunning in both attractiveness and quality.  A visit to their site and walk through the grounds where the students work hands-on provides a clear picture of what these very young students can achieve.

“Women don’t do well in trades work like carpentry or electricity.”

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Well Enough?

 

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Carpentry and Electricity Included

 

 

In addition to receiving practical vocational training, these students are also immersed in the science of environmentalism. They are taught concepts in the making and use of earth building materials, installation and use of solar energy, efficient land use and building projects that are adapted into the AMCC campus after their completion.  My own preconceptions about the use of adobe as a construction material have changed rather dramatically since my visits here!

“Earth materials like adobe aren’t durable enough or attractive enough for serious construction.”

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Attractive Enough?
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Durable Enough?

 

 

 

But as is nearly always the case in Nicaragua, the greatest values are to be found in the people engaged in the process.  In some cases, it’s the presence of students in a curriculum that they likely never dreamed about for themselves.  Sometimes it’s the story of a student who excels in a field of study to the extent that she remains at AMCC as an instructor to other young participants who can identify with her easily, and from whom young women are at ease in following her lead.  And there is always the guiding presence of the founding generation, those whose vision and persistence and passion have blended together in a force of determination on behalf of young people’s lives throughout the area of Esteli and city of Condega.

“Young Nicaraguans  today have little ambition or drive to succeed.”

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Collaborative Work
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Stay Out of Their Way!

 

 

 

AMCC is helping their young students to recognize who they are, what they can become, that they are a part of their environment, and that they are stewards of those surroundings.  Regardless of what may be said by “others.”

Working within the education arena of Nicaragua, we find that there is much to worry about with regard to student development in the country.  Student access, student retention, availability of materials and adequate teacher training are just some of the challenges facing the country, which has slipped during recent years in comparison with the other Central American nations.  But there are also islands of hopefulness in this great sea of needs, and walking the grounds at the AMCC campus offers a rare glimpse of what could be….

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When We Learn

I caught a segment on the news today that captured my attention. The piece had to do with the issue of memory loss and whether there are practices we can use to slow down the seemingly inevitable loss of memory that afflicts so many of us.  The discussion included several lifestyle factors which can affect memory strength: exercise, sound nutrition, sufficient sleep, stress control and mental stimulation such as encountered in learning something new.  This last category is the one which struck me with special impact.

I’m not sure how many retirement-age people seek out new fields of learning in their later years, but I suspect that it’s a significant number.  It may not be learning in the sense of a new language or taking up a musical instrument- as suggested in the story- but some retirees are inclined to delve into topics that they never had the time to explore when working vocationally.  The availability of extra time is simply too valuable to leave unfilled.

And what gifts such opportunity provides!  In addition to mental and memory sharpening, learning can  launch the acquisition of new skills, discovery of new outlets of expression, permit an unfolding of a new worldview, and further enrich lives that may have previously been thought to be static.  Even new careers are launched from the base of educational re-birth.  As long as the energy and desire to learn are present, transformation can happen, and at any age.

The recognition is a happy one for someone like me, on the upper fringes of middle age (whatever that is).  But following a week in Nicaragua during which our emphasis again was education development, such awareness exposes an uncomfortable inequity, another one of those troubling realities which has seemingly few avenues for redress and yet massive consequences to us all.  For in Nicaragua, like many other developing nations, access to education is limited, at best, and at every age.

 At the time when Nica children are most eager and receptive to the lessons of life from the neighborhood academy, they are all too often denied entry.  Too many are needed by their families to work in order that living necessities can be met, or they are unable to access a school with books and teachers, or they cannot afford the niggling costs of a uniform and materials.  As a result, rural Nicaraguan children have very small chances of remaining in school past the third grade, and the statistics are not improving. Another generation of so many uneducated children is an enormous burden that the country simply cannot absorb successfully, no matter how strong the optimism or how deep the denial.

Hearing from the StudentsLast week, WPF visited  the  Fe y Alegria vocational school in Somotillo, located in the far west corner of the country.  Like so much of the country, it’s a remote, rural sector, featuring high heat and ever-higher winds, few opportunities outside of “street” jobs, and a place where kids have few chances to learn much about their lives and what they could be.  In fact, most of them come from destitute families or no families at all; the street is not only where they work, but where they live.

The Somotillo Technical School is an oasis in this context, where children ranging from pre-school to high school can be exposed to the possibilities in life, away from the streets.  Young people are introduced to trades like welding, furniture-making, sewing, baking, electricity and computers.  (In one class, I inspected this computer made by the students from old parts.  Could you do that?  On my best day I could not.)  Handmade ComputerAs importantly, they are taught life skills, things like respect and healthy relationships, personal hygiene, lifestyle choices.  But most importantly, the kids are given the chance to absorb what they crave: learning and self-actualization.  Melby, perhaps as old as twelve, said it for himself: “I have done baking from my lessons in

Melby Speaks

the class and it has allowed me to sell and generate a little money for my everyday needs.”  With no one else available to do so, this free school- the only free technical school in the entire region- is helping Melby to learn the basics of self-sufficiency.

Our world requires all the collective knowledge, innovation and insight that we can possibly muster and the under-education of our future generations might be one of the most self-defeating postures ever assumed by humankind.  Issues of poverty and justice, climate change and energy, war and peace, demand intellect and vision beyond what we have at our disposal presently.  The answers to the great dilemmas of humanity may well lie in the untapped mental fertility of those for whom education is a great unknown, a process only to be dreamed of, or perhaps even feared, but never to be personalized.  The notion is frightening enough to conjure a particular vision of Hell, where humans there discover that they had all the answers to life itself within their collective grasp, but failed to see them due to their own shortsightedness.

Truth and irony abound in this education tale.  The truth is that the capacity for learning- indeed, the love of learning- never goes away during our lifetimes.  It may become dormant for lack of use or opportunity, but it is as central to our beings as the heartbeat itself.  The irony is that while most in this country have endless access to even the narrowest fields of learning, we tend to take such privilege for granted and are  willing to forego such capacities in favor of less dynamic pursuits.  And meanwhile, many of the young children of Nicaragua are desperately seeking even the smallest chance to advance their understanding of the world around them. It creates an immense imbalance, one that would seem worthy and capable of address, if we were collectively motivated to do so.

Leave it to a week in Nicaragua to teach me a new perspective.  I am grateful for the gift of life-long learning, a gift intended for all….

Intensity to Learn

 

 

 

How Far Can You See?

IMG_4884Spend any time around an ocean beach or any huge body of water and sooner or later someone gazing out over the water will be asked, “How far can you see?”  It’s an inevitable question and one which the beachcomber invariably cannot answer.  How far is that horizon, anyway?  Can you see what’s there?

We humans can see about 3 miles into the distance, before the horizon disappears with the curvature of the earth.  We can also detect a galaxy 2.6 million light years away, to a time when the first galaxies formed.  With the barest of light, we can see in the dark.  Our eyesight is a remarkable sense, indeed.

There’s another category of sightedness that begs the same sort of question, “how far can you see?”  It’s the view forward, what we can see or anticipate for the future, and what that portends for our current circumstances.  Understandably, we tend to be less accomplished in this effort, because what we endeavor to see is not yet physically visible.  So we do our best to impute, deduce, and imagine.

Many entities try to see, with varying degrees of success.  Within the communities of Nicaragua, leaders often pretend to see bright opportunity for their constituents, when the real view is only one of self-aggrandizement or patriarchal gatekeeping.  For its part, the U.S. government is afflicted with a malady which prevents its elected representatives from seeing much beyond the end of the day; it virtually defines short-sightedness.  Some business leaders work very hard to see into the future, though for many their acuity dims after about one quarter on the calendar.  Fortune-tellers would have us believe that they can see the future with clarity, but I don’t think they do much better than the rest of us.   Unfortunately, too many of us simply hope that the future will be as we might wish it, without working to shape it.

The reality is that in order to “know” the future and create a means to it, we have to be pretty clear about what is happening at present.  That work is more difficult than it sounds, as we tend to fall prey to factors like misinformation, data that makes us look different than we actually are, shorter-term motives and even egos.  If we start from a point of obfuscation, the chances of shaping a realistic future direction are very slim.  But knowing the truth requires self-honesty and discipline, characteristics that are cultivated through courage and practice.

Unfortunately, most of us lack sufficient courage or practice  to express openly those shortcomings and mistakes that have impeded our sight.  Since it isn’t a comfortable or easy thing to do, we don’t practice it much.  And that lack of practice, in turn, renders us less courageous, less open to understanding our truths and being able to use them as the basis for where we’d like to go.  It’s a vicious circle that ever-lessens our ability to see what might be.  And without such vision, we limit where we can choose to go.  We simply can’t see that far.

Later this Spring, a certificate program for cooperatives will be taught in the rural reaches of Nicaragua.  The program will be more than a week in duration, as rural producers will come together to learn holistically about seeing a future of their own making, to create the conditions and circumstances which can better allow those visions to become reality, to open their eyes to their own truths.  Like staring into a bright light after an immersion in darkness, there will be discomfort, disorientation and maybe even even distress.  But like the gradual adjustment our eyes make to that bright light, the emerging views will become clear and free from the drowsy effects of the dark.  And the courage, the practice, the habit, of far-sightedness just may take root in people eager to see further than ever before.  (I’ll be sure to write about the process in April, after the workshop has been completed.)

Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to keep asking the question of myself, “How far can you see?”  It’s one of those introspective probes that just might help me prepare myself for the future….