Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Shop of My Hope Video

Video of La Tienda Mi Esperanza

Three years ago I sat with a handful of HIV positive Nicaraguans who had one goal - to establish the first official HIV self help group in the Occident Region of Nicaragua. For over a year individuals had been meeting at CISAS (a public health non-governmental organization) to talk through their problems, counsel one another, and collectively protest any abuses at the hospital. Together we planned radio commercials and designed banners to bring awareness that HIV positive individuals were meeting near weekly at CISAS to start a self help group.

The vision and drive originated from three HIV positive individuals who had varying life experiences. The following year I would return for World AIDS Day and see Maria, one of the founders, give a public declaration on her rights as a woman living with HIV. She, along with the president of a German NGO, the German Ambassador and CISAS would sign their vision into reality. The group was official and had its first funding grant to start an office and begin an income generation project.

The group struggled at first to get traction. The members were unaccustomed to having, accounting and allotting funds or working with specific titles of President and Vice President, which are elected two year positions. However, after reorganizing and creating the position of Treasure, this last year the group started "Tienda Mi Esperanza" (Shop of my Hope). When a product is purchased, 50% of the sale goes to the member that made the item and the rest goes back into the group for materials and supplies. This short video below will introduce the shop, the products, and give you a better feel of the sights and sounds.

(Editorial Note - María, founder and ex-president, plays an active role teaching members how to hand make bracelets and necklaces. Her help was vital in the bracelets order I made, which will be a topic of an upcoming blog.)

Next Blog - A Learning Experience: Using the Order as a teaching tool

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Rwandan in the City for Christmas

Three days in NY/NJ for the first time - What to do and what to see?!

I returned from my trip to Nicaragua at 1am yesterday full of stories, videos and pictures of water projects in the rural countryside and income generation projects by the HIV/AIDS group I’ve worked with through the years. They are inspiring, insightful and informative but won’t be featured until the coming weeks. There are several reasons why, including Christmas travel, but a main reason is a special guest. A guest that I hope you’ll help me welcome with ideas.

When I was researching in Rwanda, a Jesuit named Pierre Cornielle Namahoro welcomed me to the country with open arms. He became a teacher and a friend willing to discuss the history, politics, and culture of his homeland. I would meet his younger brother Jean Luc during one of our road trips into the countryside. Given my propensity to interact with locals and start games for kids, Jean Luc became part translator and part photographer. The children quickly multiplied as the “Muzungu” (Whitey) started juggling and tossing balls to be caught.

Now it is a year and a half later and Jean Luc has been studying engineering and telecommunications at the University of Arkansas as a Presidential Scholar – a joint program by the US and Rwandan governments. He is visiting my family in NJ for a week – mostly to spend Christmas but also as his only chance to see New York City.

Yesterday coming out of the airport he was introduced to snow and was so taken by the “cold ash” that we went sleigh riding at night with my younger siblings before an authentic Italian dinner. Let’s face it Arkansas’ ethnic food can’t hold a candle to NJ and NY. For dessert we had a snow ball fight and my sister taught him how to make a snow angel.

So here is the question! If you had a few days in New York City and New Jersey what would you suggest are can’t miss things to do or see?! Pizza? Chinese food? Street Vendor hot dogs or chestnuts? Hot cider? An I Love NY winter hat? Let me know what's memorable for you. Below I have our itinerary… please leave your remarks, ideas, suggestions as comments – Thank You!

Museum of Natural History
Central Park
Times Square
KNICKS Game (my Christmas gift to Jean Luc)

Ground Zero
United Nations Tour
Rockefeller Center & St Patrick’s Cathedral
Metropolitan Museum of Art??? (good idea or something else?)

Statue of Liberty
Ellis Island

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rise of Pentecostalism (Field Notes from Nicaragua)

I will be working on this theme for a larger piece, as much of my previous and first research in Nicaragua focused on the cross sections of theology, reproductive education, and poverty. However, it can be stated that within the last few years there has been a noted increase in Pentecostal churches within the historic center of Leon - a location where nearly each corner has a cathedral dating as far back as the 1800s.

Through the years I've noted that on trips into the countryside and rural communities, evangelical churches apppear to be the sturdiest and newest buildings. Many of these chruches are built by religious or service delegations from the United States.

The chruches are nothing new to me. The location is. Leon is a colonial city built around the central plaza of the Cathedral. Built by the Spanish in 1747 this Cathedral is second largest in Central America. At one corner of the plaza what used to be a public theater has recently been transformed into a Pentecostal church (see above photo). If that is not evidence of change, one of Leon's largest night clubs (located a mere 4 blocks away from the Plaza) has been reborn into an Evangelical church.

The rise of pentecostalism is a topic of conversation with everyday Nicaraguans. I think the deeper reason as to why the change has been occurring is the more interesting story but there is one thing for sure. I hope they scrubbed the night club's floor real well before starting the renovations.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

La Tienda de Esperanza

The First "Order" for León's HIV/AIDS Self Help Group

Five of the last six years I have found my way to Nicaragua, the largest and poorest country in Central America. What started as a research project as a sophomore at Fairfield University turned into a self conceived summer internship that changed the path of my life. This larger story of transformation and discernment will be featured in a piece I am putting together for What I want to get across (less than 10 hours from my flight) is why I am returning this time.

My summer internship in Nicaragua introduced me to a world I had not personally known. One of the projects I was assigned to work with was logistical and planning support for the city of León’s first ever HIV/AIDS self help group. I had never known anyone with HIV/AIDS let alone work with someone. Yet, on my first day at work I was brought to the hospital to meet María, the catalyst behind forming a group. María’s struggle to triumph is one I featured at my World AIDS Day presentation last week at Fairfield University. It merits its own entry and will be saved for another day.

A year after first meeting María her dream of the first ever HIV/AIDS self help group became a reality. They received a grant from a German non-governmental organization that officially cemented a joint HIV/AIDS self help group that bridged to cities in Nicaragua’s Occident region. From three individuals the tally at the inauguration, which I attended, was near 35 members. Within the last year the group has grown to 70 and started “Tienda de Esperanza” (The Hope Shop). It is an income generation project that addresses a major human and development need – a job.

I have been keeping tabs on the HIV group. Last March when I acted as a field aide for the research team from Fairfield University I brought students to meet the group members and, of course, become customers. I myself bought a few colorful bracelets that my sister wears all the time. Handmade with multiple colors and metal designs I know the bracelets are catchy enough to the eye. Yet the relatively new shop has had some difficulty building a market given their non-touristy location. Therefore, I have started the wheels turning on the first commissioned order for a product made by the group.

It is a process and learning experience for both myself and the HIV/AIDS group, but the final product will be sold at my speaking engagements. It will be a great connection since María and the group are often featured in my examples of individuals and groups creating hope in their community against seemingly endless odds. I look forward to sharing photos and videos of the process these coming weeks.