Spring 2020 Newsletter
Message from the Co-Presidents
We are all in this together.
We have heard these words spoken over and over during the last few months. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is profoundly affecting the whole world, we know its impacts are felt differently. We have seen some of the inequities on the news: long lines at food distribution centers, the difficulty of home schooling for students who don’t have internet access, millions who are out of work, and the desperation of those who are homeless or incarcerated. And that’s just the beginning of the story in the USA.
Many years ago, Sr. Margie said, “When the USA has a cold, Central America gets pneumonia.” That analogy certainly is true as Nicaragua faces COVID-19. The government of Nicaragua has chosen to downplay the severity of the situation, falsifying numbers and encouraging large gatherings. The government has mandated that schools remain open which applies to the Cultural Center of Batahola Norte. The Center must comply with this order to maintain its certifications.
As we have seen many times in the past, the Center’s management team has risen to this latest adversity. Because the government is not giving them any information, the team has turned to the World Health Organization and neighboring countries for guidance. They have developed protocols for cleaning the Center, social distancing, reducing staff hours, and prioritizing the curriculum. Workshops were held to educate the staff and the community about the virus, as well as preventive measures like frequent hand washing. The Center reopened after its Easter break with all this training and the protective measures in place, but student turnout is very low.
Only time will tell what the impact of COVID-19 will be for Nicaragua and our dear friends at the Center. We are sending them information from our Center for Disease Control, reassurance of our financial support, and our love and prayers. Please add your prayers to ours.
Sue Keefe and Pat Berning
Celebrating the Center’s 37th Anniversary and 20 Years of Twinning with IHM
On March 3rd, 1983 the Center’s beloved founders, Sister Margarita Navarro and Father Ángel Torrellas, came to the Batahola Norte neighborhood to transform the lives of many people. Thanks to their legacy, they achieved altruistic alliances to promote education and empowerment in the community. One of those alliances was the twinning partnership with the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish that is celebrating 20 years of supporting the Center through Christian fellowship.
The 37th Anniversary was a day full of joy at the Center. Staff visited each class, sharing cupcakes and expressing the significance of these years of serving the community. It was gratifying to hear from students about the joy they feel for belonging to the Center family and about their dreams and achievements.
A student from the computer course said, “…the Center has meant a lot for me, not only for the classes, but also for the emotional support that people here have given me.” Likewise, a college student mentioned, “Coming to the center was the best decision in my life. I do not know where I would be now, but I thank God I am here and that I have this support which is a huge opportunity for me and my family since I will be a first-generation college graduate.”
United in the Prevention of COVID-19
The health crisis generated by the novel Coronavirus pandemic has reached Nicaragua and its effects have already been felt at the Center. Therefore the Center has been proactive in monitoring the situation and has elaborated a Plan of Action and Response for COVID-19, which establishes different levels of alarm focused mainly on taking care of the life and health of people.
The Center has also put in practice advisable actions provided by the expert organizations in health issues such as the World Health Organization (WHO) including limiting gatherings to no more than 15 people and practicing social distancing. These measures aim to protect the physical, emotional and mental health of the Center’s staff, students and the Batahola and Acahualinca communities. Some of the activities the Center has participated in are:
- Deep cleaning and sanitation in the Center buildings and offices.
- Scientific workshops led by a medical group expert epidemiologists in order to understand, prevent and cope with COVID-19.
- Campaign with staff and students on hygiene and best practices for prevention of COVID-19.
- Individual self-care activities such as painting and drawing
- 400 hygiene kits made up of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer for the community.
- Virtual art classes sent to students through WhatsApp
Currently, everyone is dealing with constant fear of becoming ill. For this reason, it is crucial that the Center continues providing activities focused on emotional and mental wellbeing while also taking precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19. As the situation is constantly changing, the Center is committed to continually reevaluate how to best serve the community during this difficult time.
Friend of Batahola: Mary Pommert
I met Sr. Margie in 2001 when she came to Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, to lend a hand in the parish garage sale. For 15 years, the proceeds from the annual sale benefitted the Cultural Center of Batahola Norte. Only months after this picture was taken, Sr. Margie died of cancer. I had hoped to have a long friendship, because I had heard so much about her magnetic spirit and devotion to the poor, especially the women of Nicaragua.
My husband, David, our two children, James and Katie, and I have all visited the Center, changed by the shared experience. I visited the Center with my sister, Melissa Auvil, and two other IHM parishioners, Bob Sanker and Jim Vorwald. When we returned home, we felt a desire and an obligation to help the students we had met and decided to start Project Education at IHM parish. Project Education, a student sponsorship program, has been going strong for 15 years.
Many years ago, Sue Keefe, current co-president of Friends of Batahola (FOB), and also a parishioner at IHM, tapped me to see if I would edit the FOB newsletter. I accepted and served as editor for ten years. Like Sr. Margie, Sue is a force of goodness and a tireless advocate for her beloved family at the Center.
Over these many years, I have been blessed to be in the company of so many strong and courageous women connected to the Center. Their individual stories of overcoming hardship—including political upheaval and now the COVID pandemic, is a testament to their resilience, strong faith, and the tremendous courage it takes to better their lives through education. May the Center’s mission and work continue forever!
Integrity Program: Always Preventing Violence
A workshop on emotions with boys of Project Education led by the Center’s psychologist and facilitator, Marvin Cajina.
This year the integrity team started with a steady pace of activities focused on strengthening the Center’s values such as respect and openness to change. This first workshop was targeted to teachers of different vocational, technical and artistic courses for strengthening knowledge about the Center’s mission, vision, values, and policies to protect children and teenagers’ rights. The coordinator of the Violence Prevention Program, Gissell Falcón, also led a workshop on the same topic for parents and guardians of students involved in Education and Art & Culture Programs.
A workshop on self-esteem and self-awareness with girls of Project Education
Different age groups of Project Education scholarship students participated in workshops on gender roles, self-esteem and identifying emotions. These topics are important in making sure the Center is a safe and welcoming place for everyone. The hope is that students and parents will take these lessons and values back home to have a ripple effect in their families and communities.
Student Success Story: Fiorella Ramos
Fiorella has always been a joyful person, she smiles wherever she goes. Fiorella’s mother said that after her first child was born, she had made the decision with her partner not to have more children. But Fiorella arrived unexpectedly at a special moment to fill their home with light and joy. Her mother works as a nanny and Fiorella always accompanies her.
Fiorella heard about the Center through the girls her mother used to take care of. These girls were studying music at the Center, and this sparked Fiorella’s interest to take dance classes. Since her mother could not afford to pay for dance classes, she applied for a scholarship to make Fiorella’s dream come true.
Fiorella was also one of the first students to sign up to participate in the project “Creating Networks of Women Victims of Gender-based Violence” sponsored by the Sisters of Precious Blood. She attended the first workshop, eager to learn. This space allows her to interact with her peers by painting and playing games while also being free to be herself and express her feelings and opinions. During this time, she learned about self-esteem and about the importance of loving herself. She said “…everything is wonderful, I feel like I’m discovering a magical world at the Center. I am happy that soon the whole group of girls will come back to the workshops and together will be able to learn more and more.”
A Call to Action: How You Can Help
In this time of crisis and extraordinary need, we are asking for your help. Please consider making a donation to make sure the Center continues to thrive during and after COVID-19. Our staff and students need your prayers and support more than ever. Thank you!
Friends of Batahola is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. 97% of all donations go directly to the work of the Center.