Monday, November 24, 2014

Top 20 Countdown #8: Emergency Aid to 12,000 Refugees

Counting down to #GivingTuesday on December 2nd, we’re highlighting the CDCA’s accomplishments over our 20 years in Nicaragua. Follow our countdown in this blog, on Facebook and Twitter. Help us keep doing more by giving $20. Our goal is to raise $20,000. 

In October of 1998, the deadliest hurricane of the 20th century hit Honduras and Nicaragua: Hurricane Mitch.  Lives were lost, families were torn apart, people were homeless…and the safety net provided by the government then was full of holes…if hanging at all.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), were left with most of the responsibility of the emergency aid and many of the organizations one would expect to be right in the midst of things were frequently absent

The largest resettlement camp was established in two cow pastures about a mile down a dirt road from us.  1,200 families were moved, given two 2x4 boards and a big piece of black plastic and told here is your new home…there was to be no going back to the Managua lake front where they had lived before.  The mayor named the permanent resettlement camp Nueva Vida…“New Life.” 

At that time, we were such a small organization: César, who was then our community promoter; Rogelio, our construction genius; our mechanic Maestro; one housekeeper/cook for delegations; and us: Pat, Kathy, Sarah, Mike, and me…we were few, but all of us started working with these refugees.  Donations poured in.  Volunteers came from far and wide…medical and non-medical.  Bucknell University sent a delegation of 36!  And that summer, Becca came as a volunteer college student. 

Nueva Vida was settled in stages as more people were relocated.  Working with those areas, we first helped the refugees identify the leaders among them…then - and only then - were we able to address their enormous needs.  We distributed food, clothing, and lavanderos (concrete wash stations).  Our medical volunteers held clinics and treated patients in their tent homes.  Other volunteers helped build temporary housing and dug latrines and grey water catch systems.  We gave out saplings…tens of thousands of them.  The trees in Nueva Vida are now gorgeous.

But these refugees were not the only people who suffered…the farmers lost all their crops from the flooding and flash flooding.  Jeremy and Lloyd as well as others from Once Again Nut Butter came and worked with the sesame farmers to prevent them from losing their land because of the debts they had accrued in planting, and to help plan what to do next. 
With the Ananda Marga organization AMURT in Managua, we also went to remote places hit hard by the flooding…people were starving and in bad need of medical aid.  It was heartbreaking.  One man told our good friend, Kalyan, that he did not want food because he could not eat…he had lost all 63 members of his family in a terrible mudslide killing over 4,000 people… his children, grandchildren, wife, aunts, cousins, in-laws…all of them. 

Here we were - this little organization - and we soon became the showcase for USAID.  Even though they did not give us one penny, we did take USAID’s temporary housing kits, which they had donated to the Red Cross, and with the community put those houses up so fast the Red Cross could not keep up.  By then, the refugees were living in mud…the rains had come again.  Members of U.S. Congress came to see the houses and the work we did. us?  Why could we act so fast?  The reasons are just a few:
•    We are small and we are flexible.  Because the CDCA is supported by many givers and little or no foundation grants, we are able to do a U turn when the need is greater elsewhere.
•    We work with the community which helped us make sure we were working with the people who were getting the least aid.
•    We listen…which helped us then to respond in the best way we could, and it also led us to start the clinic, the sewing cooperative, and other projects.

•    Finally, we will work with just about anybody - including USAID. As one of our seminary professors told us, “When you can take money from rich people and give it to poor people…do it.” -Kathleen