March 2014 Update
Dear Friends of Rio del Cambio
My trip to Nicaragua in February was so successful and full of activity and news, that I have decided to put out 2 newsletters. This one will focus on the developments in the Education Program and other existing programs. The second, that will be out shortly, will focus exclusively on the building of the new Education Centre. (If you are a Facebook follower, we invite you to visit Facebook/riodelcambio to see a gallery of pictures of our trip.)
As I stated on Facebook, I am excited! Doug and I both felt and witnessed a noticeable shift in the attitude and nature of the partnership that we have nurtured over the past 3 years with the people of Citalapa. The villager, both young and old, are beginning to really embrace the possibilities for change in their lives. They are excited, engaged and eager to listen and learn new ways to improve their health, their crops, their earning power and their education. I believe we are developing a relationship that is truly built on mutual respect and trust, not charity. Each of you has helped to make this model of assistance a reality!
The Rio del Cambio Learning Program (grades 1-6) has a 2014 enrolment of 77 students including 7 new students entering grade 1, and 6 new students from the community. This means we have 3 classes of approximately 25 students each – an impressive increase since the original class of 26 in February 2010. The Learning Program is a tutoring-style program that focuses on reading, writing and math. It is endorsed and encouraged by the local public school principle and teachers. We work together whenever possible in the best interest of the children.
As a result of this co-operation and dedication, the village of Citalapa has 37 students in high school with an almost even split of males and females. Again, an impressive increase since February 2010 when the numbers was only 2 males. The grades of the students leaving grade 6 are now more than adequate for them to function and even excel in the high school environment. A few girls have left high school to be in a relationship and have babies, but one girl, Alyeris age 18, has decided to return to high school attending on Saturday and Sunday. Her baby is now 8 months old and her mother and the women from the surrounding homes have graciously agreed to care for the baby in her absence. Alyeris is very excited to be heading back to school. This is a significant break from tradition and one to be celebrated.
We somehow, found the time to photograph every child in the Learning Program and those going to high school – all 114 of them. I will be sending out new Sponsorship Photos over the next month. I believe we now have 14 students that are still in need of a Sponsor. The cost is just $75 for a full year for either an elementary or high school student. This pays for teachers salaries and school supplies, plus the $12 tuition fee and a new knapsack to carry their book during the 7 km walk to school for the high school students.
A Day at the Beach
To celebrate the achievements of the children during the past school year, we once again took them to the beach for the day. We anticipated about 180 but had to hire a second bus last minute to accommodate almost 260 men, women, children and babies.
It was a perfect day! Sunny and clear, the water was warm, and Rosa and her helpers served everyone a chicken stew with perfectly cook rice (over an open fire!), plantain and beans. For most of the villagers, this was the first time in a year that they have had chicken or a day at the beach!
Women’s Sewing Co-operative
The Women’s Sewing Co-operative that Rio del Cambio began funding in October of 2013 now has 12 women and one teacher who meet 2 mornings a week for 2 hours. Most of the women had no prior experience but were willing and eager to learn a new skill. They began their instruction by learning to cut patterns for skirts then sew the PAPER patterns together. The women were very excited to show Doug and me their handy work. Gradually, they progressed to cutting old men’s t-shirts and making skirts for the younger girls.
I spent a day in the market in Managua and was able to buy about 50 yards of material for skirts as well as zippers, buttons and thread. The women were pleased and began practicing on the material immediately. Ultimately, they would like to be making all of the needed skirts and bloused for the girl’s school uniforms in the village. In time, they envision supplying uniforms to the surrounding communities as well.
Doug and I were very impressed with the growth and actions of the members of the Farm Co-operative. They elected an organizing Board, including a Treasurer who kept impeccable records of exactly what each of the 23 farmers received from the Rio del Cambio program during the 2013 year. They then tallied the amount of product used by each farmer in relation to the success of their yield. This varied depending on the size of the land available to each of them. The amount owed back to the program by the farmers varied from $32 to $380 depending on the amount of seed used, and the amount of herbicide and pesticide needed. In total, the farmers owed the program approximately $1800.
They were organized, prepared and willing to payback this amount by giving 100 pound bags of corn to clear their debt. Doug and I decided to reduce the debt owed by each farmer by half, and give each farmer 2 bags of fertilizer for the next planting FREE instead of just one. We also gave every farmer a new machete (just $5 in Nicaragua) as a gift for their efforts and commitment to the Farm Co-operative Program. Weather permitting, this means the farms could possibly produce twice as much product after the next growing season which in turn, will provide their families with a greater household income and financial stability. This group of men and women are quickly becoming the cornerstone of leadership in the community. They are the first to volunteer, lend a helping hand whenever needed, embrace new ideas and are truly setting an excellent example for their children and grandchildren.
I was serendipitously introduced to Moringa in Nicaragua. Moringa is a plant native to Nicaragua but had lost its presence over the past few generations. It is organically grown and processed into oil locally but more important, is the nutritional value of the leafs. Moringa is a fast growing tree that produces leaves that are high in vitamins and minerals AND protein. It can be eaten as salad, made into a tea to treat diabetes, applied to the skin to treat burns, is anti-bactieria, anti-viral, anti-fungal and helps to kill parasites. It grows into tall hardy stocks that can act as fence rows to keep animals out of garden areas and needs a minimum of water to survive. Too good to be true we thought! But the farmers had childhood memories of the crop and were more than willing to plant the free seeds provided to us. It will take about a year to see the true benefits of the plant but they are hopeful and determined to give it their best shot.
Thanks to a donation by the Barrie-Huronia Rotary Club last spring, the water system in the village is functioning well. Also, as part of this donation, new drinking fountains and wash stations have been installed at the public school. There was also enough money to refurbish and re-roof the school washrooms. These are all a welcomed addition to the school. The children now have a cleaner and safe school environment as a result of this very generous donation. Thank you Barrie-Huronia Rotary Club!
I would also like to thank the Barrie Police Service (Kelly McBride) and CIBC Run for the Cure who donated a large duffle bag of new, large sized t-shirts. These were left over from an event and when asked if we could put them to good use, I quickly replied Yes!. I am thrilled to say the women in the Sewing Co-operative each received 2 new white t-shirts with pink writing. The t-shirts instantly gave the women a sense of unity and pride…and a clean t-shirt of which they have none. The balance of the grey shirts were given to anyone that volunteered at the new Education building work site. More about this in the newsletter to follow…
Doug and I took 4 large duffle bags filled with clothing to the people of Citalapa. All of the clothing was graciously donated by people from here that carefully cleaned and sorted through their clothes that no longer fit their children or themselves. Several asked family and friends to do the same. Much of it arrived at our doorstep ready to go. We are always looking for gently used summer clothes and sandals. Also, baseball caps and large print children’s books are always popular. It is our plan to open a library in the new Education Centre in the next year or two.
A second newsletter will be out in the next week explaining the process and progress of the building of the new Education Centre. Sponsorship pictures will be emailed to all sponsors over the next month. Thank you to every one for your ongoing support, encouragement and generosity to Rio del Cambio. You are truly making a significant difference to the lives of the people of Citalapa.
Kari Williams and everyone from Citalapa