SST AT SEVENTY – First in a series about a visit to Nicaragua
The plane banks and my granddaughter, Geneviéve, and I look out the window. We are eager to get our first look at Nicaragua. We see mountains, valleys and a several large lakes. In a few minutes we are down and waiting to exit into the airport at Managua where my daughter, Lisa, is waiting for us. I have a hard time convincing myself that I am really here in Nicaragua, a place I had never really thought about visiting until a couple of months ago.
It all started when my husband, Tito, suggested that I spend some time in Nicaragua with Lisa who is the Library Director at Goshen College and would be co-leading a group of students on a Study-Service term (SST) in Nicaragua. It is part of the course requirement at the college and provides students with opportunity to experience life and service for 12 weeks in another culture
Lisa has a taxi waiting for the hour trip to Jinotepe. My first impression is that there is a lot of similarity to Mexico and Guatemala in scenery, vegetation, housing, countryside and towns. Later on I will come to the realization that there is a greater poverty here than in the other two countries.
On Tuesday, May 12, I join the students to hear the speaker Fernando Cardenál, a Jesuit priest, who was involved in the Sandinista Revolution. He has written a book about the Revolution, (Junto a mi pueblo, con su revolución), but he starts his talk telling about how he came to be involved in it. He describes living in a community of Catholic brothers in Medellin, Colombia in 1970, situated in a very poor neighborhood. Seeing the extreme poverty he came to the belief that ignoring the situation was insupportable and he must help bring about change. He took an oath before God to spend his life working for justice. This promise changed his life.
After returning to Nicaragua he decided to join the revolution even though it meant taking lives because the evil that was the Somoza government was so diabolical that it would take force to combat it. Because of his efforts he was given the name Justo.
Although I am not sure I agree with that decision, I am still moved by his commitment to putting his life and future on the line for right. At one point the Catholic hierarchy tried to have him excommunicated. After the Sandinistas were successful they appointed Fernando to be to be Minister of Education and asked him to be in charge of the National Literacy Crusade. From March to August of 1980 all schools were closed and over eighty-five thousand young volunteers worked to bring literacy to the majority of the population over 10 years of age who were illiterate. The literacy rate for this group was reduced from 50 percent to 13 percent during this time. The crusade won Nicaragua the 1980 Literacy Prize for the best program of its kind from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
However, Father Cardenál also tells us how the US- supported contras attempted to undermine and reverse the revolution, by targeting social service organizations including schools. In all 130 teachers plus many other professionals such as medical personnel and technicians were killed.
It is fascinating to hear history that I can remember, being retold by someone who was part of it. It is also painful to face again the knowledge that my own country worked actively to destroy the revolution and the Sandinistas. I believe that we as a nation have much to answer for. Father Cardenal leaves us with a challenge. “What does God want me to do? To work for justice I must speak the truth, no matter what. I believed that Jesus was telling me to do that. You only have one life, live it intensely, try to do something of worth,” are his closing words.
The next day I begin to read the book, “Nicaragua, Living in the Shadow of the Eagle,” fourth edition, written by Thomas W. Walker. It begins with an interesting quote, “I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” Mark Twain, October 15, 1900. It will provide an immense amount of information about the history, present and future of Nicaragua.
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