Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When you can take money from rich people...

Dr. Don Coffey
It has been 36 years since the Jubilee House Community was formed and began working with the poor first in the U.S. and then later in Nicaragua.  When we started in both places we didn't know squat and we have learned by trial and error and listening.  Some our most important lessons came from a seminary professor many years ago…Dr. Don Coffey.

When I was in seminary lo those many years ago, Don called me in for an appointment to talk about  my part in forming a community to work with the poor.  Don said, “I am going to give you two pieces of advice.”  I was stunned, because in our counseling courses Don always steered us away from the temptation of giving advice but instead he insisted we should listen; therefore, I listened all the more attentively.

Later Don served on our Board of Directors when we created and operated shelters and to the two pieces of advice he added a third.  We all listened then and here are the three bits of advice:

Photo by Eric Matheson Gruen
The first piece of advice is You can always kiss one foot but never kiss two.” 

This sounds a bit silly but surprisingly it has been a valuable measuring tool for us over the last 36 years when we try to find funding for projects that benefit the poor and when to give in to outside demands and when not to.  “If we do this, are we kissing one or two feet?” we have asked each other over and over again, and if the answer is “two” then we don’t do it.  This simple statement has steered us from many potential disasters and has helped us retain the need for dignity and integrity of the poor.

The next piece of advice came in the 80s.  During a Board meeting we were discussing whether to take money from Martin Marietta, a weapons production corporation, for our shelter work and taking that money felt an awful lot like kissing two feet to us, but Don’s reply was, When you can take money from rich people and give it to poor people, do it!"

Asking for money for this work is difficult for me.  I really have to take a deep breath and plunge into it like diving into cold water.  In one such recent situation, I was reminded of Don’s advice when I apologized to a wealthy friend for asking for funding.  The friend quoted back to me what he had heard Mike say, “When you can take money from rich people and give it to poor people, do it!” 

Don gave us good advice on what to do and where to draw the line…the last piece of advice is on how to stay sane.  In his office in 1979, Don said to me,Remember God’s time is not your time.  God says “I am going to break that boulder and then He sends a drip, drip, drip, drip…in time that boulder will break, but not in your time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., said  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  We as a community believe that the boulder of injustice and poverty will break…not in our lifetime…but it will break.  As long as we keep participating in bringing justice and ending poverty, we are moving towards justice, though it seldom feels that way.  We find that hope in the drip, drip, drip of kindness, love, and justice.

Thank you, Don.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Alternative Mother's Day

Mothering starts early here.   
 40 to 45% of all pregnancies are to women 14-19 years old  (in the US it is 4%).*
Girls having babies.  At our clinic, we have a program to support new mothers. We have volunteer health promoter “godmothers” who together with our nurse Martha and full time health promoter Jessenia follow the babies until they are one year old while they support the mothers, who as you can see from above need support.   They visit the new moms to promote breastfeeding, weigh the babies and check up on development.  Each of the participating pregnant and new mothers receives a handmade bag with supplies.  
In the 3+ years we've been running this program, we've consistently had 40 women in the program.

Mothers need support.  On this Mother’s Day, support your own mother.  Tell how much you love her and appreciate her and help her do all the work she has to do.  And…

One Mother to Another…this Mother's Day give a gift in honor of your mother to the Nueva Vida Clinic’s new mother support program.  Donate $25 to the program in honor of your mother and we’ll send her a beautiful e-card. 
Happy Mother’s Day, Moms!
*Nicaragua has the highest teenage birth rate in Central and South America; the US has the highest rate in the industrialized nations.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy Day of the Worker

As a child of the Cold War and Erskine College alumni…May first had two main images for me.  

When my daddy was in college and seminary at Erskine, I can remember going to the May pole dance as a little girl. Beautifully dressed young women taking ribbons and ducking and bobbing - very gracefully, of course - around the May pole.  This dance came from the European times of the fertility rituals.

The second most vivid image was the “scary, bad communists” showing off their military might.  In the early 1900s Socialists in Europe piggybacked on the already celebrated May First of past fertility rites and pushed for that day to be instead the Day of the Worker in recognition of the Haymarket affair that happened on 4 May 1886 in Chicago.
The Soviet Union quickly embraced May 1st as the Day of the Worker and in my childhood it was a day to show their might.

May 1st is recognized round the world as the Day of the Worker with national holidays, parades, demonstrations, and even today in a few countries a show of military might.  Many of us from the U.S. have no idea what Day of the Worker means…because our own Labor Day has come to mean barbeques, parades, a day of rest, and the end of summer.

The Haymarket demonstration started as a peaceful demonstration protesting the police killing demonstrators who had marched previously on May 1st.  That day had seen massive demonstrations in many industrial cities in the U.S. demanding the 8 hour work day with no cut in pay instead of the work day being 10 hours paying $1.50.

Most of us have forgotten that many of the rights of workers around the world came as a result of our own labor history, our labor movements, and our labor unions…we have forgotten the blood that was shed.

We forget that much of the progress for workers originated in the United States by workers demanding rights…minimum wage, safe work environments, limited hours, child labor laws, vacation time, etc.  We have ignored our history and though other countries like Nicaragua have taken on the call for fair labor laws, our workers are losing ground.

In Nicaragua there is a minimum wage that rises with inflation (still very low), workers have a month’s vacation, receive an extra month's wages at the end of the year, women have 3 months of full-pay maternity leave, workers have paid sick leave and an employer cannot fire an employee while they are sick.  And if an employer lets go of an employee, the employer is required to provide a severance package.

After the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979,
one of their first pieces of art in Managua was a statue of the worker.  As you can see, he is a powerful figure.   He stands there full pride…claiming his own rights.

After the Sandinistas were voted out of office and Nicaragua went through a period of neo-liberalism that almost broke the nation, one of the presidents…a former Somoza youth, Arnoldo Alemán...commissioned another statue to the workers' right across the street from the first.  As you can see these workers are bent, beaten and broken.

I fear that this second statue is a better representation of the today’s workers in the United States…the country that in the 1800s led in workers demanding fair compensation for their blood, sweat and toil.  It breaks my heart.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

El Niño: 2015 Second Year in a Row

Within the last week we have learned that the world is looking at a second year in a row of El Niño, the weather phenomenon of the warm Kelvin wave moving west to east across the tropical Pacific.  I don't pretend to be a climatologist or meterologist so I listen to those who are and try not to panic.  Why?

Last year little Nicaragua had the worst drought in 32 years because of El Niño.   2014 was the hottest year recorded.  This year is predicted to be even hotter. 

The last time the world experience two years in a row of El Niño was 1998, the hottest year in the 20st century with the deadliest hurricane of the 20st century, Hurricane Mitch.  Hurricane Mitch left
Hurricane Mitch
Honduras and Nicaragua with nearly 11,000 dead, over 11,000 missing and 2.7 million homeless.  Nicaragua is just now recovering from it, though families still grieve the dead and missing.

The general trend of warming of the earth's surface is considered by the vast majority of scientists to be caused by the greenhouse emissions that are being pumped into our atmosphere…and this pumping is a result of humans' use of machines, agriculture, and the way of life of those of us who are consume much more than the poor.  There are scientists that say there is no turning back only slowing down the trend of the raising of the
mile wide tornado
GLOBAL average temperature, the rise of the ocean’s temperature, the melting of ice caps and glaciers, the rising of the sea level, and the increase in droughts, tornadoes, and category 5 storms.

live…those who have little to no safety nets.

The United States, my home country, has been one of the highest producers of greenhouse emissions in the last century and a half (see below for current producers).   

It is amazing how little responsibility we as a nation have taken remedy the crisis, let alone acknowledge that we have a grave problem.  Recently two states, Florida and Wisconsin, banned state employees from discussing or working on climate change.

Obstructionists like those in government, these states, and corporations have this bazaar notion that they can do whatever they like within their own boundaries.  It is their property, their nation, their business, their profit…their space.

If the rest of the world could send these obstructionists to their rooms and close the door…let them make a mess of their own space…then that would be one thing, but we live together not in the same house but in the same room on
this rock flying through the solar system.  There is NO "your" space and "my" space…there is only OUR space and WE all need to have a say in keeping OUR home healthy and livable...especially for those suffering the most.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Race Traitor

I was a white girl that grew up in the South (U.S.) in the 1950s and 60s.  Racism was an integral part of my life though I did not feel the brunt of its insidiousness… I was white.

Racism is everywhere…everywhere.  The CEO of Starbucks wanted people to talk about
racism…over a cup of coffee.

Here in Nicaragua, the land of coffee, most of the people are different shades of coffee color from con leche to negro, there are though a percentage of the population who carry the lighter skinned gene from Europe.  These people are valued.  Doors open for them.  They win the beauty pageants.  These are the wealthiest people and the most successful.

I and my family carry that European gene.  Doors open for Mike more than they do for César.  We are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt from those in power.  People always thought our boys were so beautiful…well, they were…but not more so than all the brown boys and girls running around. 

One example of this white craziness happened when Joseph was born.  The obstetrician and pediatrician came to our home for the birth and assured Mike I was in good hands because they were European…Mike said, “I thought you were Nicaraguan.”  “Yes, but…um…well, you know.”  Mike said, “I know you're racist.”  

Racism is not prejudice…though that can be a part…racism is one group of people exacting power over another because of the color of their skin.  Racism is a part of us...and we, who are part of that system of power, need to begin to:
  1. Recognize that racism is truly embedded in us, our families, and our communities and not just “pooh-pooh” it away because there do exist some people of color who have achieved power like Pres. Obama as our president;
  2. Acknowledge that the color of our skin has allowed us more access to power than to those whose color is different;
  3. Own the fact that racism is alive, well, and eating away at the health of the majority of the world…those who are  desperately poor are predominately people of color, wars are waged on predominately people of color, and the imprisoned are predominately people of color;
  4.  And all of the above means that we must actively work to give up our power.

In Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963, some of the harshest words he spoke were to white moderates.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dialogue is all well and good.  Having active conversations on Facebook is enlightening but…but…it is time for us, white folks…us, of European descent…to change.   

In the words of a friend of ours, Mab Segrest, we must choose to be like her and become race traitors, because – I think – the most insidious aspect of racism is that we who have the power lay the burden of change on those who already have little power and are struggling to survive. 
Jesus said we must give up power…we must become servants…he put the burden of change on us.

It is time to put our vote, our voice, and our actions with all those people who have the skin color of coffees…time to move to the other side of power.