By Anna Klaptocz
This summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to Nicaragua as an International Citizens Service volunteer with Progressio. It was the Parish’s prayers and donations that made my fundraising and trip possible, and for that I am extremely grateful. This is a blog I wrote for Progressio which I am posting here to give a flavour of what life was like in Nicaragua, and to reflect on a very important international day: the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
‘The poor are always with us’; look on the news to see the displaced in refugee camps, pass a homeless person in the street, open emails to find another campaign desperate for donations to end poverty. It’s easy to think that poverty, defined as the severe lack of material possessions or money, will be a stain on human consciousness forever. Luckily, there’s no room for this kind of pessimism every October 17th, which marks the UN’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The theme for the day this year was: ‘Moving from humiliation and exclusion to participation: Ending poverty in all its forms’.
So why this theme? The word that really stands out to me is ‘exclusion’. Exclusion traps individuals in a cycle of poverty. Often, what can result in an individual’s extreme poverty in the first instance is discrimination based on a simple social characteristic, such as their creed, ethnicity, a disability or sex/gender. Being ‘poor’ adds to this social stigma with its own stereotypes: that person must be lazy, unclean, untrustworthy etc. This means that breaking a cycle of poverty is like trying to climb a ladder without rungs: employees refuse to employ, neighbours refuse to support and even governments fail to reach out.
When I was on my ICS placement in Nicaragua, I was surprised to find how many women were single mothers. In some cases, their husband was working away, for instance building the new, smooth road running from the capital or working in a city. However, in other cases, women had been abandoned by the child’s father upon or even before the birth of their child. This was what happened to Sandra, a twenty-year-old mother of two, a friend and a fellow volunteer. Sandra was fortunate to be surrounded by people who cared for and supported her. She lived with her parents and was most definitely fully involved in village life. In El Bramadro in general, single mothers were well integrated into the community. However, 1/3 of women in Nicaragua will be single parents at some point in their lives; other stories I heard from my host mother Epifania confirm that not all fatherless families are as lucky as Sandra’s. The traditional ‘machismo’ (aggressive masculine) attitude prevalent in Nicaragua results in poverty-inducing exclusion for many women, especially those living on their own with children, in a society devoid of a public welfare system. In agriculture, legal and cultural codes still make it difficult for women to own land; employment in physical labour in ‘granjas’ (farms) is also impossible. Luckily, local organisations are fighting to overcome this.
ASOMUPRO (the Association for Female Producers), an NGO operated and staffed purely by women that works in 8 departments in Nicaragua, has partnered up with Progressio to help benefit the communities of Parcila and El Bramadero. Whilst they work with both women and men to help alleviate poverty, one of their key goals is to allow women to be less dependent on men and thus less vulnerable to poverty without them; in this way aiding the breaking down of poverty through social exclusion. During our time in El Bramadero, we constructed 17 Eco-Stoves and 4 Eco-Ovens. Being the second to last cycle, this meant we got to see how these stoves and ovens are helping all beneficiaries, including single-parent families, who were some of the first beneficiaries of these projects back in the summer of 2015. Both reduce wood consumption and the emission of harmful smoke hugely, meaning less back-breaking work chopping wood, and healthier lungs for mothers and their children.
The Eco-Ovens have made it easier for the female bakers of the village to sell their ‘rosquillas’ (traditional biscuits) and ‘pan’ (bread), by reducing fuel consumption and speeding up baking time. By making household tasks easier for women, ASOMUPRO and Progressio have helped to free up time and money for women to carry out their own enterprise, such as running a shop or becoming an active member of ASOMUPRO themselves. By putting women in leadership roles, activities like these help to break down gender stereotypes and reduce the chance of female social exclusion.
This small example of female empowerment in rural Nicaragua is just a microcosmic example for what overcoming social exclusion would mean for the eradication of poverty. Battling caste systems, racism, gender inequality, homophobia and religious discrimination will help re-include whole groups into communities and thus help them become a healthy part of the economic system. There is clear hope that we can chase out poverty, and overcoming exclusion is a good place to start.
(See http://www.un.org/en/events/povertyday/ for more information and http://www.progressio.org.uk/blog/ics-blog for more information on the wonderful work Progressio ICS volunteers continue to do)
Previous comments to Anna's article in St Pius InPrint:
9/11/2016 02:56:09 pm
So inspiring and uplifting. Well done Annaly
17/11/2016 11:53:21 am
I am so glad we have people like you and your fellow volunteers who see a need and do something about it.
24/11/2016 12:30:08 pm
Great to see and hear of Progressio's work. What a tragedy it is closing down next year. God bless you and all you do. Peace and joy.