Summer 2014 Newsletter
What does the term “leaving a legacy” mean to you? You’ll read what it meant to Noel Pedrotty in the Friend of Batahola article. Noel was a joyful, giving person who is no longer with us, but her joy and hope will live on at the Cultural Center of Batahola Norte (CCBN) because of her legacy gift. Her gift will be used in future renovations to enhance the space for the stage and performance areas at the Center, bringing joy, hope, music, dance, and the Sacraments to the people of Batahola. What a great way to be remembered!
As you will also read in this issue, the Center is constantly accompanying students on their journeys of education, supporting those students who are living in violent situations, working toward ending the cycle of violence, supporting children with youth activities, and hosting delegations from the U.S. Our new International Communications Liaison, Joe Connelly, is hoping for more delegations to visit the Center, including adults as well as students from the U.S. You would be most welcome!
So, I challenge you to consider leaving a legacy to Friends of Batahola as Noel did, seeing all the ways your gifts help those in much need at the Center. Thank you for your continued support and generosity.
Center Responds to Increasing Gender Violence in Nicaragua
Center staff support Massiel’s family during the trial with a banner reading: Nicaragua, don’t stay silent because when you are dead and buried you can’t do anything.
Since its founding over 30 years ago, the Center has continuously responded to the evolving needs of the Batahola community which often reflect broader social problems facing Nicaragua. Violence against women has been a constant during this time, but recently the most extreme form has become a focal point: femicidio. Femicidio, or femicide, is defined as the killing of women or girls specifically because of their gender. This is a new term to many Nicaraguans, but it has become a familiar one that is seen in the headlines nearly every week. Most incidences of femicide are credited to the machismo or patriarchal society that has existed in Nicaragua for centuries. The majority of the murders are domestic violence cases, husbands or ex-boyfriends who kill their partners due to jealousies or objectification. In the first half of 2014, there have been 42 femicides. Managua has suffered the most with nine women murdered this year alone. In the past seven years, three residents of Batahola Norte have been victims of femicide, with two murders occurring right here in the community.
In the midst of this crisis, the Center’s Violence Prevention Program, which started in 2010, has worked to support students at risk of violence with education, advocacy, and emotional support. Yet, as the problem takes on greater dimensions at a community as well as national level, with support from the Congregation of St. Joseph/Generous Promises Grant Fund, the Center has organized to expand its reach.
On the evening of June 5, the Center invited community members to engage in a conversation about the causes and effects of gender-based violence and what they can collectively do about it. The meeting was attended by Batahola residents, Center staff members, community leaders, representatives from other community organizations, a local police officer and victims’ family members. In just a short time, participants presented many ideas for how to change this pattern of violence, but the main theme that emerged was mutual support and solidarity. Daykel, the sister of femicide victim Massiel Serrano Benevides, spoke at the meeting and urged people to recognize patterns and cycles of violence. She said, “As much as you can, try not to isolate the person living in violence, show them that they have support. When Massiel died, the police and family showed up, but the community remained silent.”
Although the forum addressed serious and painful issues, it also brought hope that gender violence affecting the Batahola Norte neighborhood can be stopped. The forum ended with each attendee promising to bring another community member to join in the conversation during the next meeting.
Friend of Batahola: Noel Pedrotty
When you talk to someone lucky enough to have known Noel Pedrotty, the word “joy” will pop up in the first sentences spoken. Her dearest friend, Susan Skach-Bejarano, describes Noel as “a sunflower personified. She radiated joy and sought the sunlight that empowered her joy.”
Noel’s connection to the Center goes back to the earliest days of the twinning relationship between Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Sr. Margie Navarrao, co-founder of the Center. Noel hosted Ileana Zuniga and Milades Salazar from the Center in 2000 when they visited IHM with Sr. Margie. Noel was fluent in Spanish, so she frequently served as a translator for Center visitors when they came to Cincinnati to spread the good news about the work of the Center. She was deeply committed to the empowerment and education of women and children. She was a generous donor to the Friends of Batahola (FOB) during her lifetime.
After losing a courageous battle with cancer in 2013, Noel left a legacy gift to FOB. Susan views Noel’s gift as an “opportunity to empower the continuation of efforts of some of her dearest friends involved in the work of Friends of Batahola.”
Noel’s legacy of joy and generosity lives on in her two daughters, Briana and Erin, who are following in their mother’s footsteps of helping those most in need.
Joe Connelly Joins Staff
Welcome Joseph Connelly, the Center’s new International Communications Liaison. Joe has been living in Nicaragua since 2006 and worked for many years as the Study Abroad Facilitator for the Center for Global Education. While a student at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, Joe studied abroad in 2004 in Nicaragua where he participated in a month-long homestay in Batahola. He graduated from Siena with a degree in Religion. Joe and his wife, Eliett, recently welcomed twin girls, Claire and Grace, into their family.
About his work at the Center, Joe said, “This is a space that is filled with life, hope, joy, and dreams. I feel so blessed to work with such an amazing staff of Nicaraguans who are so dedicated to their work and the mission of the Center. These first six months have been inspiring and transformative. I hope to be able to share the beauty of this Center and its work with people both near and far and to help the growth of our ever-expanding network of the Friends of Batahola.”
Several generous Friends of Batahola donors stepped forward to cover Joe’s salary which allows for the continuation of this important staff position.
Ten-Year Strategic Plan Underway
Since the fall of 2013, the Center has been creating a new strategic plan that will guide its vision for the next 10 years, thanks to a special gift from Friends of Batahola. One of the fruits of the process has been the Planning Committee’s identification of two types of values that are at the heart of the Center’s work: “Values that capture what we desire for the world and ourselves, and operational values which guide our actions and the development of our capacities. In the first group, we chose the values of social justice, family, and respect for human rights. The operational values are respect for people and nature, openness to change, and teamwork.” In future newsletters, we will share more about how these values will be incorporated into the work of the Center. The committee asks for your prayers, as it begins to put the plan into action!
Student Spotlight: Carolina Morales
“If I change, I can change my environment.”
I first came to the Center 16 years ago to apply for a scholarship to take the cosmetology class, but because of the situation of violence that I was living in, I could not keep coming to class and dropped out. I didn’t come to the Center again until two years ago. I was terrified that they wouldn’t give me a scholarship because of dropping out so many years ago, but once again they had faith in me.
This time I completed the course and became a certified stylist. To make money, I have worked selling snacks at my children’s school. Last year, I offered to give free haircuts to the kids. Through that, I met some women interested in learning cosmetology and was able to get permission to use space in the school to start giving classes.
Through the Center’s cosmetology class, I was invited to a workshop at the Center about gender violence. I was curious and went. Now, I attend the weekly groups. We spend that time sharing our experiences, but we also learn about gender violence, oppression, and femicide. We accompanied the family of a femicide victim to the courthouse to protest for justice, and we also marched with thousands of other women on International Women’s Day. In the group, we work on self-care and self-esteem activities, and we support each other in defending the rights of women who want to leave the cycle of violence. Si cambio yo mismo, cambio mi entorno. (If I change, I can change my environment.)
At the school where I teach, I dedicate the first 15 minutes for the women to share what’s going on in their lives. There was a 13-year-old who came by the class a lot and confided in me that she was being abused by her uncle. She also had an abusive boyfriend. One day she just stopped coming. I searched the neighborhood for her, but she has disappeared. I believe her boyfriend took her to another part of town, so she would lose contact with her family. I still search for her. I hope that we can work together as women to put a stop to situations like this. I was helped when I was living in violence, and I owe it to myself to use my experience to help others.
International Children’s Day Celebrated with Youth Festival
The celebration of International Children’s Day in June is always a big deal at the Center! This year, the date was extra special as it coincided with the annual visit of students from Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) parish and Archbishop McNicholas High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Members of the Arts Promotion group organized a special Children’s Day Festival which focused on promoting the Center’s new operational values (respect for people and nature, openness to change, and teamwork) with children from the community. The festival also included collaboration with Mission Bosawas, a network of young people working to protect the environment and indigenous rights in Nicaragua.
Festival activities included themes of recycling, protecting the environment, current problems for the Bosawas nature reserve, and the importance of living out our values, with special emphasis on gender equality and non-violence. After learning about some of the Center’s key values, children were encouraged to paint their expression of these values on a cloth mural. IHM and McNicholas students helped paint animal and nature-themed designs on children’s faces. Everyone enjoyed displays of recycled art and a painting exposition with environmental themes created by the Center’s young drawing and painting students.
High School Students Reflect on Their Immersion Trips
Each year in June, Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Parish and Archbishop McNicholas High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, sponsor an immersion trip to the Center for Cincinnati area high school students. Sue Keefe, a Friends of Batahola board member, a parishioner at IHM, and a close friend of Sr. Margie Navarro who co-founded the Center, has led these student trips for the past 12 years. IHM and the Center have had a twinning relationship since 2000.
Below are the inspirational and transformational reflections of three students who made the trip to Nicaragua and the Center in 2013 and 2014.
St. Ursula Academy
After going to Nicaragua for a week I can honestly say that my life will never be the same. Coming into the trip I did not know the profound affect it would have on me; I thought it would be pretty fun. I would meet some new people, and I hopefully would avoid getting sick in the process. However, by the end of the week, I came to realize that issues we face at home transcend borders. As a student at St. Ursula, we often talk about women empowerment. After visiting the Cultural Center in Batahola, I have come to see that this is a global issue. The Center provides an opportunity for women who have been victims of domestic violence to begin to support themselves and their families. It is the stories of these women that have changed my perspective on the relevancy of social issues. It is not just a problem we face in Cincinnati or even the United States but throughout the world. This trip has done more than just change my outlook on our world. It has also inspired me to want to spend a longer period of time volunteering in another country. I one day hope to become a doctor, and, after spending a week in Nicaragua, I now see myself spending an extended amount of time in a third-world country doing medical mission work. This trip has helped me to see paths I never knew existed, ones that I hope to follow. I know that my life will never be the same because of this trip.
Archbishop McNicholas High School
As I've grown older, I've developed a plan for my life. I would go to a respectable college, study business, and graduate. I’d get a nice job, have a nice family, live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and have nice things. I never thought about anything other than this straight, set path that I, and others, had created for myself. This trip to Nicaragua has changed everything for me. It has introduced to me a completely different lifestyle and forced me to re-examine my goals. As Father Cardenal explained to us, happiness is service; not necessarily the hard, physical labor sense of service, in which you are providing something tangible. The idea of accompaniment is also an important form of service: just being there. Maybe service through accompaniment is the kind of life that is meant for me.
On the trip, countless experiences were incredibly touching. However, there were two earth-shattering events for me. On our last night in Casa San Juan, after Mass, Erika and Kelsey came back to eat dinner with us. Once we were finished eating, they talked about their own experiences and journeys. Kelsey was in my lunch group, and I had been with her a lot throughout the week. I felt like we were somewhat similar, both of us being raised in the Midwest in a middle-class family, being athletes and having a good sense of humor. However, her speech struck me. She said she came on a short trip and fell in love with the Nicaraguan people and culture. She talked about not getting caught up in the “American Dream” and wanting to consume, consume, consume. Both of these were relatable and spoke to me. It was almost like I was the only other person in the room and we were having a one-on-one conversation. Hearing all of this from another person instead of just thinking it myself was very powerful.
Our last night in Cusmapa with the big reflection was very emotional. At the end, Mrs. Keefe left us with a quote: “Do not think of changing thousands or even hundreds of lives. Just think of changing one.” During meditation at the tower, I sat on this idea. It was a dark, stormy, cloudy night. I looked up and could barely see the moon. As I looked closer and took more time to examine the sky, I could start to make out faint little stars. Here, in God’s presence, I made a connection. The moon was that one life. The stars were the other lives that could be touched in a ricochet, rippling effect, once the first is reached. Each star, each life, could be changed one at a time. In that moment, I decided that I was meant to be there, and that I would be back.
Archbishop McNicholas High School
Understand (verb)—When you are in your host mom’s house having lunch and you realize that her daughter that speaks some English isn’t there today so you have no way to really communicate with her and you get scared that you won’t be able to say goodbye adequately because this is your last day but somehow you manage to understand her Spanish and she takes a guest book out and asks you to write her a letter and you see tears in her eyes and you know that this is an adequate goodbye and you promise to send pictures and you understand what it means to communicate with someone without saying a word.
Wisdom (noun)—When you are in a small group with the employees from CCBN and Roberto, the natural medicine teacher, is introduced to you and all throughout the discussion he makes only two comments, but they were both the most profound statements that you have heard ever and he turns to others very intently and you understand what it means to absorb more than you give out. Respect (noun)—When Father Fernando Cardenal is giving an hour-and-a-half talk right after a delicious lunch and it’s the hottest part of the day but you’re not even tired because he’s talking about his life in a way that really makes you think and it’s intense and for some reason you feel like crying but you don’t and when it’s over you realize how old and frail he really is and you didn’t notice it before because he was so young when he was telling his stories even though he had to use a translator and you understand what it means to actually make an impact in the world.
Hope (noun)—When you sit in on Gerardo’s art class and he announces that this is an activity where you write about your dreams and hopes for the future so you write about wanting to be an engineer and travel a lot but then he says that we are going to share them and he puts you in a group with eight other little kids who only speak Spanish and you attempt to explain your dreams and they mildly understand and they tell you theirs but it’s difficult to understand because they talk so fast so you just nod and the conversation falls quiet but then one boy asks you where you want to travel and suddenly everyone is telling you about where they want to visit and all the cold and hot and sandy and wet and dry places that would be wonderful to visit and you understand what it means when you share yourself with someone to open them up to themselves as well.