NANDAIME – Valentine’s Day in Nicaragua is as much about friendship as it is love. Before the day was out, we would be finding both.
Nandaime is a quiet town of 40,000 residents – 20,000 in the so-called “urban area” – located south of Masaya. It fits the form of many other Spanish colonial towns built around an open square with the municipal building on one side and a church on the other.
In a country where people are continually in the streets, there were few people about town until the local high school emptied of the first shift on the day at about 11:30 am.
Education is a challenge in Nicaragua, and the local high school accommodates the local population by teaching three different groups per day in consecutive shifts.
You also notice that water runs through the streets of the town, turning into a significant flow on the street where the Oscar Arnulfo Romero Community Centre is located. Nandaime cannot afford a sewage system.
Navigating anywhere in Nicaragua involves having the bus driver stop from time to time to ask for directions. There are no street signs in Nicaragua, so the instructions usually involve driving a certain distance until you hit a landmark, like a gas station or a children’s library. The tourist map of Managua is mostly marked by landmarks to help the uninitiated find their way around. Our first guide suggested that there was a time when the metal on the street signs was put to better use by the locals.
With U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” ringing in our heads, we arrived to a warm reception at the Romero Community Centre.
Founded in 1989 by a Quebec Missionary who goes by the nickname “Santiago,” the Centre serves the children and youth of the region. The centerpiece of the operation is a community radio station operated by the youth. Each day it broadcasts from 6 am to 6 pm – the hours recently shortened due to the high cost of electricity.
On this day the station is undergoing renovations – a second floor is being built so the youth of Nandaime can branch out into video production. The funding is coming from another development agency in Canada.
Radio Nandaime is run by the community for the community and often out in the community as they set up for remote broadcasts. News is broadcast twice a day – at 6:30 am and at noon. The youth are quick to point out that they focus on issues of importance and avoid “bloody” news – stories that involve violence.
All the music played on the radio is Nicaraguan – you won’t find Bono wailing about the lack of street signs here. However, the community does get the opportunity to choose which music is played during a regular call-in program.
Another show, “Youth Ready To Jump” deals with news and issues specific to youth. The idea is to spark discussion among young people to promote solutions for the problems they identify.
Today we heard a campaign ad urging people not to throw their garbage outside when it rains.
The show “Maracas” showcases talents in Nandaime from interviews with artisans ranging from painters to dancers.
When we emerged from the station, a number of youth were in the centre’s open air theatre waiting for us. One by one they presented us with our own maracas, each carved with our names. Like the show, they view maracas as a symbol: the instrument carries a variety of seeds inside, much like the talents in their own community.
The Centre is much more than the radio station. There is a theatre group that produces plays about pressing social issues. There is a dance troupe. Young people learn skills such as hammock-making – a source of stable income for many in the region.
Lately students have been learning about the value of citizenship. That includes becoming better informed about their own rights and responsibilities toward their community. It is also about capacity building – starting with the importance of self-esteem in a region where losing hope is all too easy. One student told us that after the citizenship program he decided that he wanted to become part of the national police to be able to help people.
Young people are encouraged to come up with a life plan, including a strategy to accomplish their own projects, whether that be at the centre, among family, or by pressing for change at the municipal level.
During the day we attended lectures about the economic life and history of Nicaragua. We heard a veteran of the Contra war talk about the battles he engaged in, including the one where he stepped on a mine and lost his leg.
While the day needed no finale, we got one anyway as we joined an audience of community members for a special performance of theatre and dance.
Horizons of Friendship has been the only development organization to make a long-term commitment to the Centre. When Horizon’s Patricia Rebolledo gets off the bus, she is hugged by young people who are bursting to see her. Many of the individuals who presently run the Centre started there as young children. They have come of age under this partnership with Horizons. It’s hard to imagine what the youth of Nandaime would do without it.
Nicaragua has difficulty retaining the involvement of the international development community. The government has set its own terms on how involvement is supposed to work, which brought it into conflict with numerous international non-governmental agencies. Many European NGOs have decided that they want to focus closer at hand in Africa rather than Central America.
After a surprise presentation by the children and youth celebrating Horizons' 40 years, Patricia vows that Horizons will continue to be there for the children and youth of Nandaime. She then thanked those present who have supported Horizons, including members of the labour movement.
The fate of these children and youth has been forever changed by the work done at this centre. We were truly impressed by the thoughtfulness and caring of the young people we met there.
With the Harper government increasingly cutting its ties to groups like Horizons, it may be time for progressive organizations in Canada to realize they too have responsibilities outside our own borders.