Sunday, 19 May 2013

Visit to Trocaire in Nicaragua and afternoon with their partner organisation Impulsivo

Nicaragua is the poorest country in Latin America after Haiti and with more than 4.4 million people living on less than 2 dollars a day, Nicaragua presents the worst poverty situation in Central America. It is the fourth country that I cycled through where Trocaire are involved and last Wednesday I visited their office in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital.

Trocaire has been supporting local partner organisations in Nicaragua since 1978 and their current programmes support over 30 partners working in four key areas; governance & human rights, a sustainable livelihoods programme that support poor rural communities to improve their food security, disaster risk reduction programme and finally a programme aimed at supporting the prevention of gender based violence which is all too prevalent in Nicaragua. Trocaire’s programmes are focused in parts of the country (Pacific and North Central) where there are high or severe poverty levels. These zones are predominantly rural and where agricultural production was severely affected by the civil war in the 1980s.

When we met in the Trocaire office Ronie, Zoila and Carlos talked Rowan and I through some their projects in more detail.

Zoila, Rowan, Ronie, Carlos and Billy

Rowan (thrilled with his Trocaire sticker), Billy and Ronie
In the area of Disaster and Risk prevention they explained to me how they work to set up local committees to coordinate relief efforts, get radios into some of the more isolated rural areas that get effected by natural disasters, educate children in schools about natural disasters and steps they can take, and also encourage isolated communities to communicate better with their municipalities. Nicaragua is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters (earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods and landslides) and in the last 20 years has been the 4th most vulnerable country in the world for extreme weather events.

In the area of sustainable livelihoods Trocaire work with poor communities by helping and educating them how to produce different foods to eat and sell and in turn help to improve their self esteem. Maize and beans are the most common foods in Nicaragua and traditionally the staple of the poor.  They work with communities to grow additional foods such as tomatoes, bananas, yuca and casaba to complement their diet and be less reliant on one or two food stuffs. 

In the area of advocacy Trocaire work with communities and partner organisations focusing on local participation of grassroots communities in political process and decisions that affect them, helping to change the reality of the community. A very real problem in Nicaragua is the dominance of the large political parties and strong government control over local structures that works more for the benefit of the government or political party than for the local communities. Over the past few years grave concerns have been expressed about the shrinking political space and the increasing control by the executive over state institutions. The Nicaraguan judicial system, the Supreme Court, the Electoral Supreme Court, the Ombudsman and the Comptroller General have all been severely criticised as a result of many controversial resolutions and decisions linked to the interests of the two big political parties. The government has tried to silence critical voices by controlling international NGOs and national civil society organsiations through the implementation of new procedures that are intended to regulate not only the administrative and financial aspects but also political aspects of NGO work and especially in areas of advocacy, citizen participation, government transparency and accountability. Nicaragua is said to have the most unfavorable political, economic and social context in the region because of the political and legal restrictions and attacks on organisations for their affinity or lack of affinity to the FSLN, Sandinista Front for National Liberation (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional)

Trocaire work with local partners to help communities so that they feel empowered and can see the difference that the communities can make themselves.  A recent example was in the municipality of Posoltega where the government wanted to build a school in a community where there was a low child population but there was a nearby area with a high child population without a school and the local organisations succeeded in lobbying the government to change the school location. 

The fourth and final area on which Trocaire focus in Nicaragua is a programme aimed at supporting the prevention of gender based violence. In Nicaragua, relationships of control and domination by men over women prevail. Gender based violence (GBV) is extremely high in Nicaragua, with one out of every 3 women having experienced GBV. In order to combat the high levels of violence against women on 26th January 2012 the Nicaraguan Assembly passed the “Comprehensive Violence Against Women Act” – this new law recognises “femicide” (femicidio) and other forms of violence against women as criminal acts. Femicide was described to me as the murder of a women because of her gender. The awful example quoted  was where a Canadian woman who was only 3 weeks in Nicaragua working for an NGO went out to a nightclub and was then raped and murdered by the taxi driver when she tried to get home. The main argument by the defense lawyer was what was a woman doing out on her own at midnight. This poor woman was killed because of her gender, it is considered fine for a man to be out at that time but not a woman.

Later I spent the afternoon with Impulso a partner organisation of Trocaire’s that works with victims of gender based violence in Laureles Sur one of the poorest neighborhoods on the outskirts of Managua. Laureles Sur is a ghetto that was established in 1990. As part of the peace agreement to end the civil war fighters from both sides were promised land if they laid down their arms. These were nearly all rural people from the countryside who fought on both sides of the conflict, they were all dumped into this small area with no electricity or running water. Not used to city life most of the inhabitants main experience was of working the land and war so needless to say it's a neighborhood that suffers from extreme violence. To be honest I was slightly apprehensive when the guys from Impulsivo told me where I was going for the afternoon once I had heard that background to the area.

Impulsivo was founded by a group of people from the community who came together. Rowan and myself were made very welcome for the afternoon into one of the groups of brave women who were undergoing therapy after all being the vicitms of GBV. It was an incredible opportunity to meet these friendly women who made us feel very welcome.

A diagram of how Impulso works within the whole community
Impulsivo runs a 5 year programme for the victims of GBV, with the first 2 years focused on councelling the women and helping them to come to term with their experiences. The remaining years are to train them in different techniques to be able to help other women and train them as councellors and legal advisors. Training would include such things as knowing the law, to help a woman who has been raped in preserving evidence and counseling.

Trocaire, Impulsivo and other partners main focus is on trying to prevent Gender Based Violence by changing attitudes and society. This is obviously a very long term process that involves the whole community not just the victims. At a community level they work with women, men and teachers and then at a municipal level they work with the police, court system and public prosecution office. A survey was done in 2010 where 52% of the women in the programme had faced GBV that year and last year in November 2012 there had been a reduction of 30%. The programme is obviously having positive effects and long may that continue but in a country that has experienced a recent civil war and violence against women is still all too prevalant this will be a long process, I wish them well.

Having seen it first hand yet again, I was incredibly impressed by the work Trocaire does along with their partner organisations here in Nicaragua.
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