Dear Harold

Winds of Peace co-founder Harold Nielsen passed away one year ago, on November 11, 2013.  We thought a remembrance of Harold would be in order, in addition to a reflection on what has transpired during the past year.  The following is dedicated to the memory of both Harold and Louise, and their presence in the life of the Foundation- a presence that we miss daily.

Dear Harold:

Seems like yesterday that we said good-bye.  In fact, it was one year ago today.  It’s hard for me to believe that Winds of Peace has another year of experiences since we last spoke.  I thought I’d give you an update on how things are going, what we’ve encountered and what might lie ahead.

You’d be disappointed to learn that our government continues to pretend that the economy is healthy following the great recession.  It has continued to drive deeper into debt, print money as a salve and create statistics that have almost no semblance of reality.  It really has been, as we used to observe, a case of “the emperor’s new clothes.”  It has made the management of Foundation funds an uncertain activity at best.  Sometimes markets can be anticipated in their movements; manipulations cannot.

Speaking of government, I’d have to report that Nicaragua continues to transition into a one-party autocracy that continues to tighten its grip on the country.   The democratic structures remain in place, but pretty much in form only.    It’s pretty hard for Nicaraguan people to obtain justice when everything is tied to party affiliation.  Lots of funding agencies from around the world have left, meaning that our presence has become even more important than before.

We’re finishing up a year that has been pretty good in terms of work with our partners.  The coffee cooperatives have faced their usual litany of difficulties, some weather-related, some systemically difficult and others due to organizational dysfunction.  (I’m afraid that we still encounter so-called “leaders” whose only desire for leadership is self-aggrandizement.)  We continue to seek partners who understand that only through full transparency and member participation- women as well as men-  will they achieve the “strength in numbers” that will best ensure their collective success.  Just as in the U.S., who would have guessed that opening the books and encouraging people to look out for their own well-being would be such a tough sell?

We’ve undertaken a great deal more research than even a few years ago.  Our collaboration with colleagues in Nicaragua has provided insight and direction with regard to our funding impacts, especially in our work with the rural cooperatives.  It feels more like we’re following a map to our destination, supplied with the realities of historical and cultural roadblocks that exist along the journey.  I know how much you always valued objective information in your decision-making, and we have more of that than ever before.  I wish you could read some of the website blog entries posted by our Nica sources!

Our partners have responded well in honoring the loan repayments they have promised, and our rate of default is still less than 2%, even after the recent years of coffee plant damage due to the coffee rust plague. That rate is still pretty amazing, given the lack of credit experience for most of our partners  and the uncertainty of peasant producer life.   And most of these organizations have, indeed, worked to implement a true cooperative spirit of engagement.  Do you remember the funding we authorized for translating The Great Game of Business into Spanish?  One partner coop not only received the book with interest, but even proudly referenced its application some months later when we met.  It’s having an impact.

You will certainly remember several years ago, just after Louise passed away, and you talked about wanting to do something significant in a new arena.  When we proposed a focus on improving the education opportunities, you endorsed the initiative immediately.  Well, just this year alone we have underwritten scholarships for candidates in the Master’s Degree in Teaching at the University of Central America (UCA) in Managua, funded teacher training and evaluation initiatives at IDEUCA,  supported vocational and technical training at AMCC and Fe y Alegria, sponsored the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and disbursed funds for the purchase of library books for elementary kids across Nicaragua.  I don’t know exactly how many students or teachers we have touched, but it’s in the thousands.  You wanted us to do something special in Louise’s name; I think we are doing that.

Our work with the Indigenous has been more difficult.  These original peoples continually struggle with a desire to maintain their traditions and culture, against a temptation to succumb to political party influences and money, as I mentioned above.  One of our longest Indigenous relationships is undergoing just such an upheaval currently.  It looks more and more as though we may part company for the time being, until and unless they can regain their footing on behalf of all of their people.  But you know all about making difficult decisions that nonetheless trouble the heart.

The Indigenous youth cooperative is still functioning with openness and a refreshing embrace of solidarity.  But  even the youth are being pressured by outside sources to reflect the party line in their activities.  Hopefully, their observations of party influences  have given them with a sort of negative modeling of how not to organize and interact.  I hope they can hold fast to the instinctive notions they have about collaboration.

I hope you’re still feeling patient with the development of the Synergy Center.  Mark and I continue to strategize and explore possibilities with a wide range of education institutions.  We’ve met with quite a few people from around the entire country to describe the opportunity and potential benefits for both a U.S. university and people in Nicaragua.  I think that many of our contacts intuitively sense the value in establishing cultural and educational bridges with Nicaraguan students and rural populations; it can be truly hands-on learning and life-changing interaction.  I’m having another discussion with several educators in the Twin Cities on December 4, so don’t count the idea out yet!

Well, I have to close for now and post this letter.  In signing off, I want to reaffirm that we take very seriously the development legacy that you and Louise entrusted to us, to promote  economic, social,
and environmental just relations for impoverished Nicaraguans. Your vision of a more just and peaceful existence  is still driving our actions and objectives.  Your passion for that still drives our own hearts.

But make no mistake about it, Harold, we miss your insights and wisdom every day.  I look forward to the next time we have the chance to sit and talk about human nature….

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