Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Die With Your Boots On

Mike, with his boots on, working hard at the sesame plant.
“So you’re going to die with your boots on, then?” 

We were talking to a delegation of volunteers in the dorm, many of whom were long-time friends of Mike and Kathleen and Sarah’s, and they’d asked a question that was concerning them: when and how are you going to retire?

Mike had answered, saying that he expected to work until he fell over dead, because “there’s still work to be done, whether or not we’re tired.”

As the one of token young people on our team (just barely 40, thank you very much!), people often ask me about the future of the CDCA – of the work, of our intentional community. Generally, I’ve been content to let things work themselves out as they will, but after Kathleen very nearly did fall over dead two years ago, we got a glimpse of what the work was like without Mike or Kathleen while Sarah, Pat, Kathy and I scrambled to keep things going. Suddenly, I felt the need for a better plan. So late last year I did a thing that everyone in our community dreads: I called a meeting.

Although most of us detest meetings, once we get to the nub of a problem, we are actually very good at opening ourselves up to unconventional solutions. We asked ourselves, “What’s most important to you about the work we are doing?” “What are the hardest things to do?” “Where do you want to be in five years?”
Sometimes our spaces get really, really crowded with volunteers!
When we began to talk about our volunteer program – both long term individual volunteers and short term delegations – we agreed this work is important: it allows us to educate folks from the global north (mostly U.S.) about realities here in Nicaragua, to help them to see their home country in a different light, and potentially sends them back with eyes wide open, ready to make change in their home countries. The potential for transformation of volunteers is exciting, and we believe this work is worth doing. 

The problem is this: working with short-term delegations requires an immense amount of energy and is something that all of us and our staff do ON TOP OF other work. We are not as young as we once were, and we are tired, so we don’t have the energy to do the program justice. We get impatient and grouchy, which is not fair on our volunteers. 
We can put up with LOTS of people constantly in our house...

It seems like volunteers have always been an integral part of our lives and work: from the time the JHC ran shelters in the U.S., to the earliest days of camping out along our house hallway Nicaragua, sharing our bathroom, eating meals on our porch, and throwing down on the work together, we have sometimes eaten, slept and breathed volunteers. Volunteers have built the first, second, and now third clinic buildings, the women’s sewing cooperative, and the spinning plant. They’ve made concrete blocks and slabs, poured floors, and dug countless latrines and miles of trenches to bring water up to El Porvenir. They’ve treated patients, visited them in their homes, pulled teeth, sewn people back together and saved lives.

...But after 40 years of it we start to go crazy! 
Every one of the crazy, wonderful volunteers who has come into our lives over the years deserves our attention, our compassion, our encouragement. 

But increasingly, we find ourselves without the high energy required to work with a volunteer delegation. Speaking just for me, I am pulled in many different directions with work, community and family, and too often where I cut corners, shorten sentences, and am left with little patience, is for volunteers.

Because of this, we’ve decided to make some changes which we hope will be positive for all of us, volunteers and staff alike.

Firstly, Daniel is working with us this year. He is working with our volunteer coordinator to take care of all things related to volunteers, to improve our program – not just the volunteer experience, but tapping into the potential for transformation within our volunteers. Daniel is also doing all the paperwork required for volunteer doctors and donated medicines to come in to the country, meaning that our VC Autumn is free to concentrate her energies on the groups.

The CEPS space is nice...

Secondly, we have found a local organization in Ciudad Sandino with a great physical space – private rooms with en suite baths and real beds! – and we are beginning to host our groups there. This organization, CEPS, is located right between the market and the park, near the police station, which means it’s safe and groups can more easily interact with the local community than they can from our Center.
...REALLY nice!

Groups are staying at CEPS, doing talks there, and eating breakfast and dinner there with Autumn. Lunch is still with us back in our dorm, so we get to see folks, chat and catch up, and answer questions. The physical distance isn’t much, but the difference for us is great: after 23 years, it’s finally possible to have a quiet night off, even if there is a group in-country. 

This week, we’re starting the 3rd step: we’re moving our office into the International Training Facility, aka the Building Formerly Known As The Dorm. While we continue to host long term volunteers upstairs, the bunk room is being turned into an office. The front room will be a meeting area and will continue to be where groups eat lunches. 
The ITF...soon to be transformed!

As we make this change, we’re also planting a living border, a dense row of plants along the backyard between the house and the ITF. The entrance to our new office where all our business will now take place, will be the Industrial Park gate next door. This means that there will now be, we hope, an attractive little crowbar of space to delineate work from home, a little bit of room for us to catch our breath.

We hope these changes will make it possible to transform many, many more lives before we die. Some of us might even slip off our boots occasionally… -- Becca