Spring 2015 Newsletter
Message from the Board
Each year when I visit the Center, I invite people to come with me. I understand that being “friends” means fostering and renewing relationships. I especially love the women on the Center’s administrative team, and I love hearing their stories. Coni, whose casa I stay at when I visit, comes to mind. I remember her saying that even though her little house is only a few feet from the Center, for years and years, she’d watch other women going into the Center for classes but thought she wasn’t smart enough to learn. It’s what she believed about herself from childhood. (It’s what most women have believed about themselves before coming to the Center.)
Once Coni attended her first sharing circle with other women, she made the great liberating discovery that she was not alone in the way she felt, the very same discovery that every woman in the group has made at the Center: that she is smart and capable and has great worth, especially when connected in community. It’s beautiful to see these daughters of God coming into their own.
This issue shares stories of two women, two shining stars, Nercy and Leonor, who, like Coni, have also learned that they are smart, capable and worthy. Their lives have been enriched through education and relationships, and now they’re enriching others’ lives. Paying it forward. This is the beautiful mission of the Center that Sister Margie, my fellow Sister of St. Joseph, friend, and co-founder of the Center, wished for each of us to continue.
Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ
Speaking English Can Mean the Difference Between a Good Job, a Poor One, or Even None at All
Our English students are dedicated to bettering their lives.
A recent visitor to the Center enjoyed watching Friends of Batahola volunteers, Erika Coe and Kelsey Schrock, teach their English classes. He later wrote, “English can mean the difference between a good job, a poor one, or even none at all.” Students at the Center benefit doubly because it is one of the few places in Managua where students will learn English taught by native speakers.
Student Duyni Romero said, “If you have computer skills but don’t know English, you’re at a disadvantage at finding a job or receiving better pay. Today, many companies that are hiring come from different countries, and even if the work isn’t based in English, all of the technology used is in English. It’s particularly important that we are being taught by native English speakers, especially in terms of practicing pronunciation. That’s something other places cannot offer.”
Other students echo similar sentiments, saying they are learning English to increase their monthly incomes to support their families. Employment at a local call center requiring English-speaking skills is considered a privileged position for many young professionals, paying as much as $500 U.S. dollars a month. By comparison, public school teachers and nurses earn about $175 U.S. dollars a month.
Twenty-five students, ranging in age from 16 to 52 are currently enrolled in the Center’s 10-month English course. Erika and Kelsey know how important learning to speak, read, and write English is for their students, and they are passionate about teaching, joyfully putting in many extra hours of one-on-one tutoring.
Friends of Batahola: Charlie and Mary Ann Antrobus
By Sr. Sandra Blanchard, CSJ
As the Cultural Center of Batahola Norte continues to grow through the support of many loyal supporters, we are happy to honor one of the original founders of the Friends of Batahola (FOB) Mary Ann Antrobus, along with her husband, Charlie. Steadfast is the word that best describes their shared commitment. Coincidentally, I was recently reflecting on Psalm 25, Verse 6, which speaks of God’s steadfast love. Words such as compassion, kindness, faithfulness, and generosity describe God’s relationship to His people. Mary Ann witnessed God’s love as she served as treasurer of FOB for 10 years (2001-2010). She continues to serve on the Board and is especially active today in its work in the Baton Rouge area.
In addition to serving as treasurer, Mary Ann speaks lovingly of “treasured moments” from her many visits to the Center: mornings of shared prayer with the staff, Retreat Days, visiting classes, participating in beautiful liturgies, enjoying presentations by the students, celebrations where good southern food was sometimes prepared by her own hands, and late evening sharings on Coni’s porch. But perhaps the greatest “treasured” memory was, and is still, witnessing young people growing up to become part of the administration or teachers at the very Center that served them so well.
To Charlie, a retired engineer from Exxon Chemical, we recognize his loyal support of Mary Ann. Both Charlie and Mary Ann have opened their home so graciously to many Board members and to many visitors from the Center. We pray that the positive spirit of Mary Ann and Charlie will continue to inspire others who likewise are being called to follow the ways of the Lord.
One Very Excited Scholarship Student
One of our young Project Education scholarship students was so excited about having her student profile picture taken that she showed up for it in full princess attire! Project Education students take classes at the Center and attend grade school, high school and even college.
Time for Joy and Celebration
Happy 15th and 10th Anniversaries
Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioners make an annual visit to the Center as part of its ongoing twinning relationship.
This year is a landmark year for the special relationship that exists between the Center and Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio. This year marks 15 years of the twinning relationship between the two communities and 10 years of the scholarship program, Project Education. God is indeed good!
15 Years as Twinning Partners
When members of an IHM Just Faith group were looking for ways to extend their outreach efforts, they focused on their relationship with the Center’s co-founder, Sr. Margie Navarro, who had been principal for one year at IHM’s elementary school. In 2000, IHM and the Center signed the first official twinning covenant. Recently, the Parish Council at IHM renewed the covenant. Since 2000, over 250 parishioners and youth from IHM and local Catholic high schools have visited the Center, and 17 staff members from the Center have visited and spoken at IHM and area schools. IHM parishioners support the work of the Center through ongoing individual prayer, prayer services, and fundraisers, including an annual garage sale and luncheon and a Shoes for Success program.
10 Years for Project Education Scholarship Program
The student scholarship program, Project Education, began after a group of IHM parishioners visited the Center and brainstormed ways to sponsor students at the Center who couldn’t afford the cost of education. Their ideas and dreams quickly turned into action and today, 10 years later, 1,990 parishioners have supported the education of 2,388 students and teachers at the Center.
The Friends of Batahola send a heartfelt thank you to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish for many years of walking in solidarity with the students, staff, and teachers at the Center. By working together, you are extending hope to all you help.
What Our Scholarship Students Are Doing Today
Nercy Mercado was a Project Education scholarship student who is now working as an Assistant Accountant for an engineering firm. She began taking computer and cashiering classes at the Center and later received another Project Education scholarship to attend college. Her job allows her to support her extended family. Nercy’s grandmother raised her and her siblings, after their mother died of cancer when Nercy was four years old, and her father left Nicaragua in search of work. Nercy says she can’t imagine what her life would be like without the Center and the scholarships.
Leonor Lopez was a Project Education scholarship student who is now a lawyer working full time giving legal aid and support to women who face domestic violence in the Jorge Dimitrov neighborhood. She said, “I can say without a doubt that the Center has given birth to fundamental changes in my life. I have grown a great deal, and I have learned a lot about community service and the importance of giving back. This process of growing as a woman and person has led me to a place in which I hope to be an agent of change and empowerment for others, and, in a special way, for the women of my community.”
Natural Medicine Class Changed Student’s Life
Professor Roberto Ferguson teaches the popular Natural Medicine course each Saturday afternoon.
Natural medicine has always played an integral role in medical care in Nicaragua, and the Center is one of the few places in the country that offers a formal course. This year 45 adult students are enrolled in Professor Roberto Ferguson’s Saturday class which covers basic anatomy, taking vital signs, therapeutic massage, diagnostics, and phytotherapy which is the study of medicinal plants.
Roberto Martinez Torrez enrolled in the class because he has diabetes and wanted to improve his health, as well as the well-being of his family and community. He said the course changed his life completely. He and another alumnus of the class currently make 20 products, which they sell at local fairs and markets. There are many common ailments and uses for medicinal plants, including for herbal teas and soaps, remedies for indigestion and acid reflux, and leaves and tree bark to make natural creams for skin problems.
Some students taking the class hope to grow gardens so they can use their own plants to treat family members. One student plans to study psychology, hoping to treat patients both on a physical and emotional level. As for Roberto, he is now enrolled in a computer class at the Center and plans to use his newly acquired technical skills to support his small business.
Online Extras: Donate to our Work Without Spending an Extra Dime!
There’s an exciting new way that you can support the work of the Cultural Center of Batahola Norte. It’s through the Amazon Smile program. All you have to do is nominate Friends of Batahola as your chosen charity, and Amazon will donate 0.5% of every qualifying purchase you make on its site to us. There’s no extra expense to you and a small but significant contribution to us. The only requirements are that you have an Amazon account, that you do your shopping at http://smile.amazon.com (instead of going to the usual Amazon.com website), and that you nominate us as your chosen charity.
- Go to http://smile.amazon.com (or Google Amazon Smile) and sign in using your Amazon account.
- Type Friends of Batahola in the charitable organization search box.
- From now on, do your shopping on Amazon as you normally do – just remember to use the Amazon Smile address instead of the usual Amazon address. You may find it useful to add http://smile.amazon.com as a bookmark/favorite in your browser so you remember to use this address.
Online Extras: Ohio High School Students Plan Summer Trip to Center
For the fourth consecutive year, Archbishop McNicholas High School students in Cincinnati, Ohio, will travel with faculty members and members of Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) parish in Cincinnati to the Center and to the rural Nicaraguan town of Cusmapa.
The group will be led by Sue Keefe, an IHM parishioner, an active member of IHM’s Social Action Coordination Commission, and a Friends of Batahola board member. Archbishop McNicholas Director of Campus Ministry Jeff Hutchinson-Smyth and theology teacher John Norman will also accompany the students. They said the annual trip is designed so that each student experiences solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, as well as embracing their own spot in the global community and as children of God’s one human family.
To prepare for their trip to Nicaragua, the 14 students will participate in a two-day Journey to Justice Retreat sponsored by IHM. They will visit the Su Casa Hispanic Center in Cincinnati which serves Hispanic/Latino immigrants and is supported by Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio. While at Su Casa, students will meet immigrants and hear success stories of several families served by the organization. The students will also attend Mass as a group at IHM.
In June, they will travel to the Center where they will spend four days with the students and staff at the Center in solidarity and partnership. They will devote their time to reading books, making arts and crafts, and playing games and sports with the children. There is a strong connection between the Center and Archbishop McNicholas High School because Sister Margie Navarrao, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, began Archbishop McNicholas High School and is also a co-founder of the Center.
During the second half of the trip, the Cincinnati students will work with Fabretto, an organization striving to better the education of students in the small rural town of Cusmapa. While there, the high school students will volunteer at a school, painting and working in the garden.
Online Extras: We are Growing!
The Center is growing! Thanks to generous donations and a major grant from COSUDE, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Center is in the midst of a major construction project. The new addition will include a rehearsal space for our arts groups, a storage area for instruments, bathrooms, study kiosks, and expanded office space. The project will eventually include a new stage and sound system in the main performance area. We hope to inaugurate the addition in June. Watch for more details in the Summer 2015 newsletter.
Here are a few “under construction” pictures. We’re excited to unveil the final new addition this summer!