The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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April 2018

Hope and Justice for Nicaragua

Ayla Lepine

In February I went to Nicaragua with the Amos Trust, a small London-based Christian charity supporting international social justice initiatives. I could not have done this without the generous support of anonymous benefactors in Hampstead Parish Church, and look forward to talking more about the trip with you when I arrive. I promise not to preach about Nicaragua constantly, but I will be delighted to share what I learned about justice and hope in this beautiful, inspiring, and challenging country.

We worked with a local Christian NGO, CEPAD, who support a rural region known as the ‘Dry Corridor’. We visited seven of the poorest villages working together on a five-year project to start organic farms and gardens, improve access to clean water, train women as community and conflict resolution leaders, teach skills in local government advocacy (and beyond – one woman we met took her funding application all the way to the UN and was successful!), and to improve infrastructure including electricity and healthcare.

Our UK group was invited to assist communities with what they most need now: water conservation. We helped to dig small reservoirs, learned about growing food, and even built a rock bridge across a river (but only when we realised that where we’d been invited required crossing in a significant current – we offered to build and cross simultaneously and inevitably got completely drenched!). The people we met were strong, warm-hearted, wise, determined, and weary from daily struggle. In each place, we saw signs of potential and transformation. We also saw severe poverty: families unable to send children to school or ensure good nutrition; health problems caused by polluted water; and no access to transport.

In La Concepcion, we stayed overnight to share a meal, test our piñata skills, and learn more about daily life. Our hosts, Rosa and her daughters, explained that after a long drought a storm had torn through the village, destroying what little people had. When we visited, things were improving. Rosa showed us her garden created with CEPAD’s training: bananas, mangoes, pineapples, a vast hillside planted with green peppers, and coffee in her own backyard (which really got us going the next morning). By the end of the CEPAD programme, participants like Rosa have skills to grow 19 different types of fruit and vegetables and to teach others. She told us, ‘if I’m not sharing what I’ve learned, I’ve accomplished nothing.’

Rosa’s daughter wants to be a GP and was studying at a weekly secondary school, but had to stop due to lack of funds. It is several hours’ journey away but her only option, when she can afford it. She is now a CEPAD-trained community leader, working with teenagers to support and guide them, making a difference as best she can. In every village, we heard stories like these. In every village the welcome we received was profound and the hardship we saw broke our hearts, strengthening our resolve to listen and learn together and to be directed by their vision for progress.

In the 1970s, the Sandinista revolution brought new ways of integrating liberation theology with community life. Those beliefs (and indeed Ortega’s government) are still present today. Messages of Christ’s hope and freedom offered by theologians like Ernesto Cardenal and women of the revolution remain active within many. A strong focus on empowerment sustains both the Amos Trust and CEPAD. Every evening we prayed together using words from the Nicaragua Campesina Mass, written during the revolution:

With your great sacrifice
you made new people
for liberation.
You are risen
in every arm outstretched
to defend the people
against the exploitation of rulers;
…I believe in your ceaseless struggle,
I believe in your resurrection.

Each member of the UK Nicaragua group is now fundraising for the villages’ water project. At Pentecost, the curate of Hampstead Parish Church is invited to nominate a charity for the parish collection. Jeremy has asked me to do this even before I’m ordained, and on May 20 the collection will go towards helping these communities. Rosa and all the people I met will directly benefit and continue to grow in hope as we walk alongside them towards a better future.

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