Category Archives: WPF partners

Shock and Awe, Part 1

The term “shock and awe” as I have come to know it over recent years has had to do with U.S. military might and the almost unbelievable precision and impact that human ingenuity can bring to warfare.  Yet I have recently returned from another visit to Nicaragua and, specifically, the Genesis Cooperative at Ciudad Sandino.  This is the spinning plant which has been in the making for several years now, its physical plant unfolding gradually as the women (primarily) members built this place of business from the ground up (see the photos on this site under Women’s Issues- Genesis Cooperative).  During my visit there two weeks ago, my first in several months, I experienced a brand new sense of shock and awe, and one that makes the military meaning of the phrase paling in comparison.  For what I encountered was, indeed, shock and awe nearly beyond description,  in this instance for an expression of human will, vision and achievement like few others I have ever experienced.

If you look at the early photos posted on the Winds of Peace site, you will get at least a sense of the scope this project has encompassed from the beginning018 , even if only in the physical facility that has been built.  The edifice is a marvel, an incomprehensible undertaking by women and men who possessed little in the way of construction know-how, almost nothing in materials, little money, and virtually no experience in the ways of creating a business or a building.  The ground was prepared by hand.  The post holes were dug by hand; the cement girders placed in those holes by hand. The cement was mixed by hand.  The steel rebar was twisted and formed by hand.  The cement flooring was mixed and laid by hand in four-foot sections.  Take a look at the building in this adjacent picture and envision what has gone into its creation, by hand. Knowing what was required of the inexperienced, unschooled participants makes its accomplishment even more remarkable. 

The impact of this project has been magnified in the face of economic and political times which have not reflected the best of human motives and aspirations; we have become numbed, in many ways, to the destructive outcomes of wars and greed and their legacies for the future.  But here, here is a tangible reminder of what the human will is capable of achieving in the best sense: a collaborative perseverance which exceeds even the imagination.  I have sufficient experience within Nicaragua to expect the unexpected from these rural teachers, but nothing quite like this.

The spinning cooperative is not functional yet.  The women await the arrival of the spinning equipment 021making its way from South America.  Their efforts are now on hold, as they are forced into patient waiting for the final pieces of this immense puzzle.  Even in the shadows of their magnificent building accomplishment, the women continually seek work to improve their future operation: on the day of my visit, several of the board members were busily excavating behind the building, preparing for the plumbing needs of their plant.  There is no pay for this, no compensations, no remunerations that they can take home for feeding the family.  Those resources have to come from their real jobs, when they can find such, undertaken during other parts of the days!

I have written about the women of Genesis Cooperative here before, and it won’t surprise me if I do again.  But there is nothing redundant about the spirit and resilience that drives them in ways that you and I can barely fathom.  Every day is a challenge against the odds and so who knows when cotton might be spun in this place.  But I I know this: the shock and awe that I have seen on the television screen each night over recent years is full of death and destruction.  The shock and awe of Genesis Cooperative is full of hope and help, dignity and drive.  They are not without their conflicts and “bad days,” but they represent the better part of who we all are.   Indeed, it is the type of shock and awe which we all need more of.

If you might have an interest in supporting these women in any way, please visit www.jhc-cdca.org, the organization that has helped these women come together. (Click under “worker-owned cooperatives” to see more about Genesis.)  It’s a chance to personally experience a healthy shock and awe….

Biting A Hand That Feeds

vilchez[1]One of the truly unanticipated things to have evolved in Nicaragua over recent months is the strange case of the “no-payer’s movement.”  This is a relatively small but vocal and visible group which has begun protesting against the Microcredit Finance Institutions (MFIs) which took a risk and loaned money to them.   Citing what they see as unfair loan terms and usurious interest rates, the movement participants even received a boost from President Daniel Ortega when he exhorted them to take their protests off the streets and move to the offices of the MFIs.  Sensing administration support, the protesters became more confrontational in their demeanor, in one case even firebombing one of the MFIs. 

This has had the immediate impact of some MFIs pulling out of Nicaragua for the safety of Mvt no pago CSJ[1]their people and their funding.  Naturally, it didn’t take too long for the government to realize that it was alienating a fairly important source of funds within the country, and it began the attempt to attract some of the departed organizations back to Nicaragua.  The President spoke publicly once again on the topic, this time to encourage all borrowers to make good on their debts and to thereby demonstrate the country’s attitude toward meeting its obligations.  The movement receded for a while in the face of this about-face from Mr. Ortega, but it never went away.  Now it has surfaced with a vigor which is intimidating and worrisome.  Their protests prevent employees from gaining access to offices while keeping customers away from sourcing assistance.  If the local police are present at all, they seem indifferent to the activities.

It’s a counter-intuitive movement, this backlash against some of the very institutions which have provided the greatest amount of financial help to some of the highest-risk borrowers.  It may be fueled by outsiders who seek to undermine any and all financial institutions, or by those who simply sense an opportunity to avoid repayment of a debt.  But whatever the genesis, it’s a potentially crippling movement which can only hurt the already difficult circumstances of the rural poor in Nicaragua. 

In response, a consortium of twenty-four finance providers working within Nicaragua published the following statement in both of Nicaragua’s major newspapers on September 22.  Their sense of confusion and concern is evident:

COMMUNIQUE FROM THE INTERNATIONAL PROVIDERS OF FINANCING FOR MICRO AND SMALL ENTERPRISE

ASOMIF[1]We, the economic and social development institutions who provide financial resources for the strengthening of urban and rural micro and small enterprises in Nicaragua, including private investors, international banks, international NGOS and foundation, are watching with enormous concern the ongoing deterioration of the investment climate in the country, because of the actions undertaken by a small group of debtors know as the “non payers movement” who are attempting, through measures of force that alter the public and constitutional order, to NOT honor their commitments made to the financial institutions (banks, microfinance organizations) that are benefiting more than a million Nicaraguans in the countryside and the cities.

We urge the Government of Nicaragua, the National Police, the Judicial Branch and the other organizations ensuring social peace to redouble their efforts to protect respect for the judicial order, provide security to the officials of the financial institutions and their installations, and to protect the rights of all citizens.

We reiterate our commitment to continue the support offered for the economic development of Nicaragua and we join our voices to the clamor of the affected entities and their responsible clients, asking the State to ensure legal security so as to not put at risk the flow of financing for this industry which has benefited so much the most needy part of the population throughout the years.

Managua, Nicaragua, September 22, 2009

 

Winds of Peace was not a co-signer of the statement since we were unaware of its development.  But in following up with the authors of the article, we have affirmed both our concerns and the seriousness of the movement.  And now there is said to be a legislative bill coming before the government which would tightly control the activities of MFIs, effectively driving them out of the country.  While there may be very small chance that it passes as law, the initiative is further basis for concern.  Undoubtedly, we have not heard the last of this movement and its implications….

Worth the Visit

One of the sites I visited last week was the Buculmay Cooperative, an outgrowth from the Women’s Council of the Indigenous People of Jinotega.  I’ve written before about how abused these women (and some men) were at the hands of the unscrupulous Board President, but take a look at where the coop is now!  They are in the middle of a pig-raising project financed in part by the government, and they are on track to become a model for this activity!  From less-than-obscurity to state-of-the art livestock, and with all of the recognition and self-esteem that such progress brings.

 Nica August 2009 032 Nica August 2009 033

It’s one thing to develop a vision of what you want to become and a mission to specify how to get there.  But it’s another thing altogether to bring those concepts into reality, especially when you’re at the bottom of the pile socially and economically to begin with.  But with patience and a belief in the “rightness” of their independent walk, the Buculmay members are doing just that.

  

   

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From organizing themselves into a coop to learning the basics of collaborative work, as was happening in the above sessions, the members have been eager learners on their own behalf.  Some of the rudimentary business plans they created on their very first attempts were as good as some I’ve seen in mature corporations!  It was during this training session that the government became aware of the unusual extent of education that Buculmay was experiencing.  As a result, the government approached Buculmay with the proposal to manage the pig project!

 

Nica August 2009 047 One of the means by which this project is being funded is through the members’ own contributions, made possible by the crops that are raised and sold (yes, in addition to developing the pig-raising enterprise, these folks have “real” live, too).  Availing themselves of better seeds and fertilizers (not chemicals or GMO stuff), they have vastly improved their harvests.  Just contrast the corn crop in the foreground- grown under traditional means- with the field in the background, using newer methods and more indigenous inputs.  The volume difference is overwhelming, and these women are not necessarily farmers!  This could be Iowa corn!

 

Nica August 2009 036 The residence quarters for the Buculmay pigs is not some ramshackle sty.  With technical and construction advisors provided by the government, this modern facility features gravity-fed self-watering apparatus in each stall, grated floors for automatic removal of wastes, a bio-gas facility to capture waste product gas for fuel, four separate electrical sectors for energy efficiency and more.  Here you can see the installation of the main waterline.

 

Buculmay Coop August 09 I’m no pig farmer, but I know organization and efficiency when I see it.  Subsequent buildings to be constructed in Phase 2 of the project will allow separation of the animals according to maturity and need.  Note Julieta on the left, President of the Buculmay Cooperative and a lynchpin in their development.  With justification, she showed us the facility with extreme pride, undoubtedly recalling those dark days several years ago when everything seemed lost.  She did not imagine this!

 

Nica August 2009 054 This good-bye photo captures only a portion of the membership, but the image is in stark contrast to the group with whom we met those several years ago, who wondered how they might survive socially, economically and in every other way.  They stand taller, their smiles are wider and even the surroundings in which we met are brighter.  There is certain satisfaction, I suppose, when members of your community now seek you out to ask about membership in your coop, and the adversary who has oppressed you is now quiet in the face of your earned status as a credible and important entity in the community. 

Buculmay means “the place where corn becomes ground.” Basic.  Honest.  Of the earth.  It’s evident that this collection of courageous actors is true to its name….