Winter 2019 Newsletter
Message from the Co-Presidents
The two of us have been friends for many years and our mutual commitment to the Center has been a wonderful blessing which has brought us even closer. When we agreed to take on the role of co-presidents, the Center was prospering, enrollment was good, the staff was growing, and we were excited to have a Nicaraguan as the Center’s director.
April 18 Changed Everything
Then April 18th happened and life as we knew it in Nicaragua and at the Center changed. It was no longer safe to be out at night so all of the Center’s programs ended at 4pm. Enrollment dropped drastically so the curriculum was adjusted. Delegations no longer visited so communication with the outside world became more important. And naturally, this turn of events impacted the financial situation so adjustments to the Center’s budget were made. New programs were added to meet the needs of the staff and students, including crisis management, how to stay safe, and psychological support. New safety equipment was installed, such as cameras. Security personnel were hired and communication procedures were developed.
Desperate to Help
Back here in the States, the Friends of Batahola were desperate to help. We launched an immediate fundraising campaign to alleviate the Center’s financial crisis and to buy new equipment and add personnel. Thanks to our very generous donors, YOU, we raised over $40 thousand. We had weekly prayer services and worked with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and other concerned partners, to raise awareness of events in Nicaragua. We have maintained constant communication with the Center to monitor its needs and offer support.
The Center has felt our solidarity and is grateful to know we are standing with them, during this most difficult time. In February the Center opened for regularly scheduled classes, despite lower enrollments. In addition to its regular curriculum, the staff believes it is important to be a beacon of calm and stability, a place where the community can come and be safe.
A “New Dawn” Takes on New Meaning
Over 35 years ago Sr. Margie and Fr. Angél arrived in Managua, Nicaragua, to the neighborhood of Batahola Norte. The 80’s and 90’s were also difficult times in Nicaragua. A revolution, war, and natural disasters took a toll on the economic and social fabric of society. This did not deter Sr. Margie and Fr. Angél. They had faith and hope in God and the people. Neither can we be deterred…we have to stand by the Center, staff, and community, now more than ever! They need our financial, spiritual, and emotional support to continue the amazing work of fulfilling Sr. Margie’s dream of a “New Dawn.”
Peace and Blessings,
Pat Berning and Sue Keefe
An Update from the Center
We Remain on High Alert, but We are Open
Our Nicaragua has not been the same since April 18, 2018. From that fateful day, we have witnessed more and more murders, unjust imprisonments, closure of non-governmental organizations, censorship of the media, and persecution against human rights organizations.
The economic impact of the violence indicates the loss of millions of dollars since the crisis began. Companies have closed due to political tension caused by the violence. This, along with fear, sadness, and indignation caused by the crisis, has resulted in an increase in unemployment and massive emigration.
The Center is committed to human rights and social justice. While we remain on high alert, we continue to sponsor activities to safeguard our building and to promote the physical and emotional well-being of our children, youth, and staff. We must take care of ourselves and strengthen our close circles of trust. We are protecting our safe spaces here at the Center, in order to have a tiny bit of control over our environment.
At the Center, we have been focusing on values that express what we want for Nicaragua and for ourselves: social justice, integrating marginalized groups, and caring for nature, all within a just and egalitarian social structure where all share the benefits and responsibilities equally.
Nicaragua has always been strong, rising from the ashes as a phoenix. The people have an indomitable patriotism. They are tough and dignified. It is a land of lakes and volcanoes. Like the words of a traditional Nicaraguan song express, we ask God to give a light to this people who love living in Nicaragua so much.
A mural in memory of Nicaraguan students killed since April 2018.
Friends of Batahola: Pat and Jim Berning
The Center won over my heart when I first traveled there in January 2001. The friendships that began deepened during many subsequent trips. I have traveled there as a nurse, immersion participant, and a Friends of Batahola (FOB) board member. Jim traveled there twice. Both times he used his skills as a hearing technician to fit hearing aids for folks in the rural areas of Mulikuku and Managua, including Batahola. Just ask Jim about these experiences and you will appreciate how deeply they have affected him. We also were very fortunate to take five of our grandchildren with us on three separate trips. Our relationships with our dear friends at the Center have enriched our lives in ways we never could have imagined.
We were so fortunate to meet both Sr. Margie and Fr. Angél before their untimely deaths in 2001 and 2002. It is their strength and vision which continues to inspire our commitment to the Center to this day. I only have to close my eyes to see them surrounded by the Batahola community, and I am filled with hope. It is Margie’s and Angél’s faith and hope that keep me hopeful, even during this very difficult time in Nicaragua. Margie and Angél started the Center with nothing, during another time of crisis, and had faith in God and the people, building the foundation of the amazing community the Center is today. The Nicaraguan people have come through so much and remain determined to make a better life for themselves and each other. We have to see them through this crisis. So how can we give up!
Currently, the Catholic church, the Nicaraguan people, and the international community are working to affect peace in Nicaragua. The Center is doing its part by providing a safe and supportive space for its students and staff, where they can come to share, learn, and grow, even in this uncertain time. As an FOB board member for many years, and as a past and the current co-president, I pray we can do our part to support, advocate for, and walk in solidarity with our dear friends, so we can all see Margie’s vision of “A New Dawn” realized.
We pray each day: Loving God, hold the Batahola community in your hands, keep them safe, give them wisdom and faith. And inspire us on how best to support them.
Pat and Jim Berning
College Students Share Their Thoughts on Living with Terror
Despite the constant fear that Nicaraguans have been enduring since April 18, 2018, their desire for the freedom to carry the national flag, sing the national anthem, or just be a student remains strong. Four university students express their feelings below about Nicaragua’s 10-month-old political crisis. For safety reasons, the students do not wish to use their names or show their faces.
“The political crisis that started in April is too frustrating and stressful for me,” says a 20-year-old psychology student, body shaking while recounting the horrors of the previous months. Some of my friends had to leave the country, and one friend from my neighborhood was murdered with a bullet to his neck by the paramilitaries during the Mother’s Day march.”
After more than 500 people were killed, thousands wounded, and 600 being held as political prisoners, the government imposed a sense of normalcy on the country. Public universities resumed classes, and some students returned to their classrooms.
“I returned to class for two reasons, the first being my mother. I can’t ask her to live with the stress of me rebelling against the regime. Secondly, my family is in a difficult economic situation. I’m the first one in my family to go to college, and I felt very pressured to go back and continue studying.”
The political crisis has affected the emotions and feelings of every single person in Nicaragua, most especially young college students who no longer have hope in the future and are depressed by the lack of freedoms.
“It’s been a long and painful process: the crisis, family problems, and my friends’ exile have all affected me emotionally. The Center has provided me with a lot of psychological support because I can’t sleep. I’m always nervous, and I cry over everything.”
“It’s illegal to use our national colors,” a law student said. It’s illegal to carry a white and blue flag. If you say, “Free Nicaragua,” they can put you in jail or kill you.”
The university students interviewed wished to remain nameless and faceless, in order to protect their safety.
Meet the Center’s New Assistant to the General Coordinator
Hello! My name is Claudia Morales. I’m a 25-year-old Nicaraguan. I’m a sociologist and a researcher. Since I was very young, I have been interested in social issues that are prevalent in my country. For that reason, I studied sociology in college. I wanted to better understand various social complexities and use critical analysis to help create positive social change in Central America.
In the few months that I´ve been a part of the Center’s team, I have felt that I´m in the right place where what truly matters is peoples´ physical and psychological integrity.
A Call to Action: How You Can Help
In this time of crisis and extraordinary need, we are asking for your help, in order to keep the doors of the Center open to our students and to people in crisis in the community. Please consider making a donation today in the enclosed reply envelope. Our 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.
Helping Students Process Powerful Emotions
Since the political crisis began, the fearless and devoted staff at the Center has had to redirect its activities to better tend to their students’ emotional needs, providing psychological, social, and artistic support. Here are some comments made by staff members who are working directly with students:
- “Since April, we’ve been focusing on ways to give students a safe space to breathe during the crisis. We host workshops focused on self-care, how to handle emotions, and guided meditations.” (Gender-Based Violence Prevention Psychologist)
- “There’s a lot of feelings of frustration and despair, especially by college students who feel that they have no future. The adolescents are filled with sadness and rage, while the younger children are notably sadder. The adult women are very worried about their families and their finances, due to high unemployment. There is a lot of despair.” (Psychologist)
- “Our 2019 theme is Accompanying You in Healing. We want to accompany the children because there’s so much pain, death, and loss.” (Art and Culture Coordinator)
- “Our goal is for the Center to be a safe space for all the children.” (Manager)
Workshops are conducted to help students express their sadness, fear, and despair in a safe way and in a safe environment.
Online Extras: Our Students Succeed
Despite the ongoing crisis in Nicaragua, the Center remains open and brave students, like Virginia Arce, attend classes, unwilling to relinquish dreams of an education and a better life.
People with goals succeed because they know where they´re going. Virginia Arce knows exactly where she’s going in 2019. She and 20 other students from the Center graduated from the Basic Adult Education course last November. Because of financial and family struggles, Virginia had never before been able to pursue an education and instead dedicated herself to caring for her siblings.
Years later, her son would convince her to accompany him to the Center which had just given him a scholarship. Upon touring the Center, Virginia was intrigued by the sewing courses but was hesitant because she lacked one of the necessary prerequisites: an elementary school diploma. Not one to be deterred, however, she found the perfect solution and signed up for both Sewing and Basic Adult Education.
“It was a little difficult in the beginning because the two classes are at the same time on the same day. I talked to the Formation Coordinator, and she suggested that I spend half of the class in one course and the other half in the other,” Virginia said.
With persistence and dedication, Virginia successfully completed her elementary school degree and now has set a new goal to get her high school diploma. In the long run, she dreams of working as a cashier or in information technology.
“Virginia said, “I always say that if I had studied when I was younger, I would have studied computers and bookkeeping. Although I know it’s going to be challenging, I want to continue studying, find work, and be independent.”
Virginia Arce, a woman with a vision.
Online Extras: Center Celebrates La Purísima
La Purísima an 11-day celebration devoted to the Virgin Mary, takes place between November 28 and December 8. December 8 is the celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, La Purísima. Mary is the patron saint of Nicaragua. During these days, people gather with their family and friends to pray and sing to the Virgin. The songs, fruits, candies, and toys create an atmosphere of joy that grows over the days. On December 4, the Center celebrated La Purisima with a musical concert that featured the Àngel Torrellas Choir. Many members from the community gathered together to honor the Virgin Mary.
The Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, is the patron saint of Nicaragua. In light of the recent violence, this year’s celebration was most sacred.
Online Extras: Cierre Cultural: An End-of-Year Student Presentation
The Cierre Cultural is an end-of-year presentation where students get to proudly show off what skills they’ve learned: the cooking class makes food, art students display their creative work, the dance class performs, and music students sing and play their instruments.
In 2018, the presentation was held on the International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day. Because of the violent political environment in the country, the Center decided to emphasize that art is a means to heal, believing that art is a socio-educative, playful, and recreational tool that allows students to build their identity, augment their self-esteem, learn new forms of expression, and to feel safe.
The dance group students are excited to perform at the end-of-year Cierre Cultural 2018.