Back in Nicaragua

23 January 2019


Back in Nicaragua – January 2019

When JustHope Founder Leslie Penrose and her husband Steve stepped off the plane in Managua, Nicaragua, a few weeks ago, they didn’t know what to expect. Granted, they had been there hundreds of times before over the course of many years, but this time was different. It was the first time they had visited Nicaragua since unrest began back in April.

What they encountered was both uplifting and heartbreaking. “Things are calm, but people are still scared about the future,” Leslie described. Many foreign organizations have pulled out or been sent packing, but JustHope put its head down and continued the course. Taking a cue from the leadership committee ACOPADES on the ground in Chacraseca, we chose to stay apolitical to protect our organization and our staff. While there are many unknowns for Nicaraguans, Leslie remarks that JustHope provides a level of normalcy for staff and partners.

“The fact that JustHope is functioning gives people hope even if they aren’t connected to our programs.”

Take JustHope’s music teacher Abimael Uriarte for example. ACOPADES appreciates his consistent presence in Chacraseca, as it reminds people to stay strong. Leslie explains, “in Nicaraguan culture, music is their heart and soul. It gives them strength and hope and represents who they are.”

In the absence of U.S.-based staff and partners, JustHope’s Nicaraguan staff has risen to the challenge of sustaining its programs in Chacraseca and La Flor. Executive Director Jennifer Payton purposely opted to give them a great deal of autonomy. “They are the experts now, and they feel good about having sustained projects through this challenging time.” As Leslie and Steve visited with staff and surveyed work, they saw a sense of pride in staff that wasn’t there before.

One of the many challenges JustHope has faced is wrestling with what justice means in this context and how to best stand in solidarity with our partners. “We don’t have all the answers,” Leslie admitted. “You have to get past expecting resolution. Justice is a way, not a destination.”  As much as we would love to jump in to “fix” things, we recognize the importance of taking a step back and allowing them to figure it out themselves.

“When we solve other people’s problems, we take away their creative ability to solve their own problems.”

Jennifer speaks of there being an educational component in this experience, going from theoretical understanding to the practice of collaboration and mutuality. “When we hear that the people in La Flor are in need, it’s hard not to jump in and solve it for them. If they’re hungry, we could airdrop food to them, but what happens next month? And the next month?”  It took two months to come up with a solution for how our partner groups who work with La Flor could contribute in that isolated community, but we think we’ve found an option that provides assistance without creating dependency. Instead of sending hand-outs, we assisted partners in supplying seed and fertilizer to at least 15 farming families in La Flor to ensure a bountiful harvest in coming months.

The amount of hope and optimism present in our partner communities is encouraging, to say the least. There is an astounding level of resilience. For example, most of our microcredit loan recipients are now the only source of income for their families. Their family members have lost their jobs, but these entrepreneurs are working with us to continue to pay on their loans. We have had to be flexible to retain their dignity, but they haven’t missed any payments.

Another example of hope is Juana, who works at the Ferreteria (Hardware Store) in Chacraseca. Even though there hasn’t been money to pay her salary, she opens every day because she knows that simple act gives hope to the community. And even though university student Eddy, who is studying to be a nurse, has been unable to secure an internship for his degree program, he still chooses to go to class each day, where students practice what they can on each other rather than give up.

These inspirational examples remind us to remain hopeful and spur us to continue to do what we can while the country figures out what happens next.

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