Monday, December 22, 2008

Purísima -- The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

During the month of December the people of Nicaragua are celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, called Purísima, which is by far the largest holiday in the country. The celebrations are loudest on the 8th of December during the Gritería,or Shouting, which is a bit like Christmas caroling and Trick-or-Treating rolled into one. Families show their gratitude for miracles that the Virgin Mary has granted them by setting up altars to the Virgin in front of their houses. Neighbors come to the altars, sing traditional songs to the Virgin, and then are given gifts – they go from altar to altar, often filling sacks with their bounty.

I am always so humbled by this extreme show of generosity, often the poorest neighborhoods give the most – and most practical – gifts. Families save all year to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary. Throughout the year they buy as they can: woven rattles,wooden noisemakers, plastic containers, soap,. bowls, buckets. In early December days are spent in preparation: making chicha (a sweet corn drink the color of Pepto Bismal), ginger candy, nacatamales and cookies; buying sugar cane, nancite fruits, oranges and firecrackers. On the 8th of December a table is put out in front of the house and covered with a cloth. On the table goes a polished statue, or a gold-framed picture of the Virgin Mary hovering with celestial angels. Around the image white baby’s breath flowers are arranged with candles, tinsel, balloons, and the whole altar, sometimes quite elaborate, is framed in palm fronds. Sacks of gifts are hauled out and placed near the altar, along with buckets of chicha-filled bags, fresh nacatamales and fruit – many times whole rooms of the house have been occupied by these gifts. By evening, the men of the families are ready: at 6 o’clock on the dot, they light the mortar launchers and fireworks pierce the air at once, all over the country. It sounds like a war zone. Then mariachi and brass bands start up, and groups of families weave through the streets carrying sacks, stopping at each altar to shout “¿Quién causa tanta alegría? ¡La concepción de María!” “Who causes so much joy? The conception of Mary!” ¡Que viva María! ¡Que viva!

Then each group, paused before the altar, sings traditional Purísima songs to the image of the Virgin Mary, as the family with the altar begins to pass out gifts. Those who have received good fortune and even miracles show their gratitude to the Virgin Mary through their generosity to Her people. It seems to me an entirely appropriate way of showing thanks – by giving with wild abandon to all those who show up on our doorsteps. -- Becca

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mike a finalist for Opus Prize!

We are pleased to announce that Mike Woodard was a finalist for the Opus Prize. This award is given annually by a different university chosen by a family foundation. Spotters are all over the world nominate people for this prestigious award for humanitarian work in faith-based entrepreneurship. The Opus Prize awards one million dollars to the winner and one hundred thousand dollars each to two finalists.

You can read what they wrote about Mike and see the video about him at:

A committee of business people like Bill Gates, Sr, and the James D. Sinegal, CEO of Costco chose the three finalists unanimously. Afterwards three student/professor pairs from the university go and visit the site and get to know each finalist. The university hosts the awards ceremony. Seattle U did a terrific job so that the award would be a good reason to inspire their students. It was a 3-day affair and the ceremony itself was held in Seattle’s Symphony Hall…and it was full (2,500 people).

All three people were indeed inspiring. Mike challenged students and leaders to deal with the poverty in front of them as well as letting go of their wealth and giving it to the poor. As only Mike can, he brought laughter as well as tears in his talks, Maggy brought joy and Krishnammal brought urgency.

The other finalist was Krishnammal Jagannathan and the winner was Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse . Krishnammal has worked with the Dalit women(we may know as the Untouchable Class) in India for over 40 years. Maggy was witness to a massacre by her tribal people the Tutsi of 72 of her co-workers and friends, the Hutus. She then set up a house for orphans that started with children she paid the killers not to kill. It has since spread over the last 15 years to include thousands of orphans. These women are remarkable and we are honored to have Mike in their company.

Many have asked, “What will you do with $100,000?” Our standard reply, “We have spent it 5 times over.” Krishnammal in her acceptance speech said she still needed to build 10,000 houses before she died (at least $200,000) and Maggy said, “Where is Bill Gates… I need $18 million!” Work with the poor never ends and there is always, ALWAYS more and more to do. -- Kathleen