I had the exceptionally good fortune to be traveling within Nicaragua a couple of weeks ago, visiting partners and new sites and learning all over again from them what it means to be resilient and of good spirits. Those lessons are hallmarks of my visits over the years, and I find myself infused each time with new energies and resolve as a result. It seems as though every conversation, every dilemma, each visit has the capacity to both drag me down and pick me up on the basis of the particular circumstances encountered. One of those circumstances last week stood out in an immediate and compelling way, so I share it with you here.
One of the entities which we have funded over the years is NITLAPAN. As an adjunct organization of the Central American University (UCA), they have conducted more research and exploration about development in Nicaragua than anyone else. It specializes in research on and creation of new local development models and methodologies. It promotes concrete development initiatives by providing financial and non-financial services to small rural and urban businesses, especially those of women and young people. Their alter-ego, the Local Development Fund (LDF), has established branches throughout a large share of the country to service such needs and in the process has become a trusted source of support by rural Nicaraguans. It’s an effective organization, one that’s having an impact across the country, and therefore one that we have felt good about supporting.
Recently, NITLAPAN undertook a project of technical support to a very remote community, Santa Maria de Wasaka. Their project is one of accompaniment and teaching, providing the rural community members with basic gardening inputs and training so that the participants can create a more favorable position from which to feed themselves and their family members. Since Winds of Peace had decided to help underwrite the costs of the project, it seemed like a logical destination during the week’s visit.
Now, when I mention that this visit took place during the tail-end of the rainy season in Nicaragua, you might imagine gentle, warm rainfall over the canopy of a tropical rain forest. But often, the rainy season brings sudden deluge to the land. And if the downpour occurs at the end of the season- when the land may already be saturated with previous rains- then the result can be catastrophic in scope. Such were the conditions encountered as we drove the truck along the path to Wasaka. A bridge over the river- questionable for automobile travel on its best days- was essentially wiped out. The river itself rushed quickly, still swollen from a downpour several days past, precluding any attempt at driving through it. Walking the rest of the distance proved to be our only remaining option; we shouldered our packs and set out to hike the remaining mile and a half or so.
A hike in the rural sector is often a valuable thing for me, a nice break from the hours of sitting that we do. It provides a chance to experience the countryside up close, to linger over beautiful vistas and, all-too-often, to fully absorb the primitive conditions in which many rural residents find themselves. It brings the circumstance of the rural countryside to life, for better or for worse, and creates a perspective that is difficult to come by in any other way. The way to Wasaka required forty-five minutes of walking, observation and reflection. The path wound up and down the hillsides, still wet and puddling from the recent rains, closed in on both sides with deep forest growth which provided privacy for most of the inhabitants residing there, a route beautiful and mysterious and vaguely unnerving from what lay hidden in the depths beyond its edges.
Many of the project participants had gathered for an afternoon training session as we arrived. They gathered around a large pot, boiling from the heat of an open fire. Several women stirred the contents of the pot. It reminded me of a community stew, and in a sense, that’s exactly what it was. NITLAPAN technicians were teaching the secrets of an organic insecticide, one that could be reproduced at a fraction of the cost of chemical treatments and that would be far safer for both the gardener and the environment. As intent as the participants were, they paused in their afternoon classroom to acknowledge and welcome us. One after another of the members offered their salutations and explanations of the lessons being taught this day. But they shared more than that, as well. They reflected on the difficult events of the preceding three days.
We had entered a place of terribly mixed emotions. Fears lingered in the aftermath of flash flooding from several days before. Sadness shrouded the community from the loss of a small child, drowned in the fast-moving water which had engulfed much of the area. Frustration arose from economic loss, as the sudden flooding destroyed many of the new gardens which had been the focus of their training and efforts. Intensity was born of a need to learn faster, to improve know-how and production; it was on the face of every person we encountered. As was hope and determination. “I felt very sad this morning,” one woman confessed, “but then I met up with this man (the NITLAPAN technician) and he helped me feel hopeful again, he said that we could start over.” “We thank God for the chance to learn and improve our gardens,” said another. “My garden is completely washed away, but with the help of these men (NITLAPAN technicians) I will start again.” “We hope this will not be your last visit here with us. When you come again you will see something beautiful,” promised another.
Of course, we had already witnessed something beautiful there in the hills of Santa Maria de Wasaka. Some might call it spirit. Some might prefer the idea of resiliency, others characterize it as determination. Whatever label is given to that community chemistry, it deserves our notice. The people of Wasaka are not unique. They are not some sort of idealized “noble poor,” seeking sympathy and admiration for their plight. They are simply doing their best. Everyman. These are people trying their best to come to terms with circumstances that could render the strongest of us weak. And yet they persevere, pick themselves up after a knockdown, look for the rising sun the day after a storm. The people speaking with us were holding each other up, emotionally and attitudinally. And in the process, they modeled for us the best that the human psyche can be: humble, loving, stewards of the earth, unwilling to give up, being strong in the face of great obstacles. I recall wondering to myself whether anyone could say the same about me.
I shed a tear on the drizzly walk back to the truck. It was for me. I was protected by the dark, hidden from the others as I contemplated myself both dragged down and picked up all in the course of a short afternoon….