February 2018 Nicaragua trip update

It is over a week since we came back from Nicaragua. Getting re-accustomed to Europe always takes a moment – the clock has to readjust itself, and we have to get used again to the winter chill and the rural quiet in our little corner of France.

It is now 12 years since I first visited the country, and many things have visibly changed in this time: one of the most significant developments is the vastly increased number of cars, not just hefty 4×4’s but saloon cars and little runabouts. The roads have improved too, and big swathes of the country once more or less cut off are being opened up by having a drivable road to get to them. There are more housing developments, more restaurants, more shops. There are more tourists – I counted 5 huge tour buses parked up in León one day alone, and the menu for these tourists is colonial architecture and lunch – which has a lot more to offer in town than just rice and beans these days.

But other things don’t change: thin old horses pull carts along main roads heaving with freightliner trucks and trot along valiantly amongst unruly city traffic, street vendors weave the traffic in towns with water sachets and peanuts in baskets or buckets on their heads, old yellow chicken buses adorned with prayers roar and grumble their way across the country. Shacks line the roadways out of the big towns, and out in the countryside a family will just as easily be living in a hut made from black plastic thrown over reclaimed timber and tin sheeting as in a wooden house on stilts or one made out of roughly rendered cement block. Kids still run around with no shoes on, and fighting cocks still inhabit the dusty yards of rural bars. You don’t need to get too far off the main drag to understand that progress and development are all relative.

The Mayagna Fund has managed to keep going the last two years with donations from friends and family, and from well wishers unknown to us who have heard about and been impressed with the work. We thank them all, and as usual on return from a visit to the country we’d like to update you all on the use of the funds. A detailed account will be submitted to the Charities Commission in due time.

In the autumn of 2017 we were a bit concerned about the level of funds, and Kate decided not to join us but to add what would have been her personal cost of travel to the fund – which boosted it by quite a lot in the circumstances! Generous Christmas donations boosted the fund even more, and we set out with roughly the same amount in the bank as in previous years – just short of £6000. The sterling/dollar exchange rate however means that the same amount is worth a bit less on the ground. HSBC which has long been the handling bank for the fund has made life a bit difficult recently by deciding unilaterally to close the account: the main reason for this seems to be that the account was too small for them to bother with. It may also be that they consider Nicaragua to be a risky country in terms of money laundering. We are currently in the process of transferring the account to another bank.

We decided reluctantly to drop two of the organisations that we have previously funded and to concentrate instead on the organisations least likely to receive any support from any Nicaraguan government initiatives or receive much from other charitable funders. We asked all the people we visited for a list of their other funders as it is important for us to establish how significant our own contributions might be. This revealed that for the three smallest organisations that we help we are a major part of their funding.

We gave out the dollar equivalent of £1000 in cash this time – less than usual, but once the new bank account is established we will be able to continue staff and materials funding and possibly increase it instead. This involves regular payouts over the year.

Visits in January/February 2018 were as follows:

Cecamo: This group of women continue to run a women’s refuge and provide legal, educational, emotional support for women who have suffered domestic violence. They receive only very sporadic financial support. We gave them a donation which they will use for basic maintenance – electricity/water/phone/stationary. A volunteer team provides psychotherapy and family therapy and helps women prepare the dossiers they need to bring a legal case to court. Quite a large part of the vision is educational – an attempt to modify a general indifference to what constitutes violent behaviour. Even those women who find themselves victims may see violence as being normal and are as much in need of education as the rest of the family and the authorities who deal with this kind of behaviour.

Aspanicasole: This local group provides support for children who have cancer as well as their families in the León area. They have established a play area on the front porch of one of the volunteer helper’s house and provide play and occasional outings as well as small financial help to the poorest of the families. They receive very little financial help. We gave them a donation which they are going to use primarily to repair the wooden porch enclosure and fix the roof, and some will go to help individual families. They would like eventually to build a toilet for use by the children who come to the playspace.

Barrilete: The main focus here seems now to be on preschool children whose mothers and/or fathers make up the small army of street vendors in León, or who work away in Costa Rica. Over a hundred children use the centre, and most have lunch there. A small number of children are still based there permanently. The Barrilete does get some other funding but immediate cashflow seems to be quite a problem, and the donation we gave will be used for food. Throughout the year we will be continuing to fund the mamasustituta who takes care of the residential children at night, and if funds allow we will also pay for an educator.

Colectivo de Muralistas: This organisation not only undertakes the restoration of the revolutionary murals, but particularly undertakes murals which advertise social and health programmes as well as educational and cultural activities. Julio, who runs the colectivo, is also branching out into drawing and painting classes – for enjoyment but also for personal development and expression. There is little opportunity for this in formal education and it is a particularly valuable tool for helping girls and women improve their self esteem. Our donation will go towards materials for the classes – many of the children who come are too poor to contribute or bring anything of their own, and we will continue to fund the materials for his mural projects during the year.

Los Quinchos: We went to to the Finca (the boys’ home) and saw lots of progress here with the gardens and the farm, and the biggest joy of all was meeting up again with a young man we first met on the garbage dump in Managua, when he was helping kids there make hammocks – an ex Quincho himself he just graduated in social work from the university in Managua this January. Some of the Los Quinchos funding from other sources is being reduced or stopped as of 2018, which means that the organisation as a whole from now on will be focussing on the children who are the most vulnerable – those with addiction problems as a result of social deprivation from a very young age. (The youngest resident is 6). Los Quinchos is the sole organisation which is doing this kind of work on a residential basis. The Mayagna Children’s fund has been helping Los Quinchos with one project or another since 2008 and we will continue to fund one of the two nurses and the first aid kits which are used across all four of the Los Quinchos centres.

Those of you who have been contributing for many years to the Mayagna Children’s Fund will realise that Mamalicha (midwife) and Gustavo Herdocia (surgeon) are not on the above list of visits or donations for 2018. Mamalicha was gradually retiring when we last went to visit her, and it was a pleasure to see that she had recognition from the mayor and her local community and is portrayed in the new hospital murals about childbirth. Her work is being carried forward and is supported by a quaker group Juntos Adelante. Gustavo is part of a larger organisation called Nicaplast which is supported internationally. We are pleased to have been able to contribute to both of these this in the past but this year felt we should concentrate on smaller, less regularly funded organisations.

One of the real benefits of registration with the Charities Commission has been Gift Aid, which allows the fund to recoup tax which would otherwise have been paid by the person donating. This is managed for a small fee by Charity Checkout. This system will be continuing through the changeover to the new bank account. Some of you have decided to make regular monthly payments, and this is immensely helpful to us in regulating outgoings for staff salaries throughout the year. You can continue to make individual or regular payments to the Mayagna Chidren’s Fund using the donate page from this site.

As you know, we pay the travel and accommodation costs of our visits to Nicaragua ourselves – your money goes into the fund and directly to the organisations above. We thank you for every penny of it – it goes to make the lives of a lot of women and children a lot less precarious and a lot more valued.

February 2018

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