Visit to Atlantic Coast

Visit to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, April 2012

Four Directors of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation traveled to Puerto Cabezas (Bilwi), Nicaragua to participate in the 2nd Encuentro sponsored by the Bapawat Cooperative, the Pro-Moskitia Foundation and the Pastoral Council of Bilwi. The four directors were: Father Melesio Peter Espinoza, Casta Calderon-Haren, Dina Rivera Fagoth and Philip Mullins. A fifth Director, Amalia Dixon-Humphrey, was expected to attend as well but her departure from California was delayed and she was not in Bilwi during this time period.

On April 17, 2012 the group attended a meeting of Pastoral Council in the old San Ines Convent in Bilwi. In attendance were Father Melesio Peter, Bishop Kenneth Bushey Law, Rev. Brandan Macario, Lic. Jimmy Chang, Rev. Silvio Diaz, Rev. Hector Marley, Rev. Cora Antonio, Lic. Samuel Mercado, Rev. Amilcar Padilla, Rev. Jorge Fedrick, Prof. Barnabas Waldan, Deacon Adrian Pasquier, Father Roger Dixon Baker, Philip Mullins and others. This was the final planning meeting for the Encuentro in Krukira. Rev. Amil Padilla reported on preparations for the Encuentro. All those planning to attend were advised to bring mosquito lotion and their own plate, spoon and drinking glass. Ivone Nicolas Wilson, Vice-President of the Bapawat Cooperative, made most of the arrangements which included getting a supply of firewood and food and recruiting ladies to prepare the food. Participants would sleep with their hosts and eat at the kitchen of the Moravian church. Individuals from thirty communities were invited to attend.

After the report on the preparations for the Encuentro, the group discussed current conditions in the RAAN and what could be done to strengthen the role of the churches in addressing its problems. The speakers agreed that corruption among the political class was widespread and that even church pastors were being corrupted. (It should be noted that what is considered corruption in the RAAN is often normal business practice in the United States). Several speakers noted that drug use and drug trafficking was on the increase. The drug trafficking was widely reported in the newspapers and had raised concern about what would happen in the future. The group noted that the Moskitia has amble natural resources that could be developed but they also asked the question, "What is economic development from the point of view of indigenous communities?" The discussion continued into the night.

The next day, April 18, 2012, the four Directors traveled to the site of the Encuentro in Krukira. Many of the participants arrived in the hamlet of Krukira Wednesday afternoon. The driver of the Krukira bus had agreed to transport participants from the public park in Bilwi to Krukira but final arrangements with him were never made and another bus had to be found at the last minute. Many of the communities that were invited received their invitations late and were unable to attend. Other participants arrived at the park at Bilwi but were unable to find transportation to Krukira and so returned home. To complicate matters, it rained all day Wednesday. As a result, the session of the Encuentro that was planned for Wednesday night was canceled.

Friday, April 19, 2012 was the first day of the Encuentro. The Encuentro got under way in the Moravian church in Krukira at about eight o'clock with Rev. Jorge Fedrick as facilitator. Rev. Gonzalo Paiz, Superintendent of the Moravian Church, and Bishop Kenneth Bushey, President of the Pastoral Council, both welcomed the participants. Father Melesio Peter introduced the theme of the meeting. The theme of the meeting was globalization and its effect on indigenous communities of the RAAN. All discussions were in Miskitu or Spanish with Miskitu translation of all Spanish-language presentations. No attempt was made to translate from Miskitu into Spanish since everyone in attendance spoke or understood Miskitu except for Casta Calderon and Philip Mullins.

Bishop John Wilson of Miami, Florida spoke of the history of the Moskitia region. At about ten o'clock the electricity went out and a crew of technicians from the community and Henry Williams, who operated the projector, rigged temporary power using the church's portable generator. Philip Mullins video recorded the proceedings. Both the projector and the video-recorder failed to perform properly. The audio recording failed completely for most of the Encuentro and the battery pack for the projector failed. Some presentations were delivered without the use of the projector and all presenters had to shout to be heard above the noise of the generator.

The agenda was changed and Philip Mullins spoke about the experience of an indigenous community in Canada that owned hydro-electric plants. When electrical power was restored, Casta Calderon spoke on communal economics. She was followed by the Rev. Jorge Fedrick who spoke about climate change. The meeting continued until evening with about 65 participants in attendance. Discussions were animated and often involved multiple participants. After supper at the church kitchen most participants returned to the church to attend a prayer meeting that was addressed by Bishop John Wilson.

April 20 was the second day of the Encuentro in Krukira. The meeting reconvened at about eight o'clock the next morning and Samuel Mercado, who was originally scheduled to speak on Thursday, spoke about land use. At about ten o'clock in the morning the lights came back on but went out again about night fall. Rev. Cora Antonio spoke about problems relating to migration from rural to urban areas. She was followed by Dr. Roberto Rodriguez who spoke about health issues. Hemsley Francis, who later joined the Bapawat cooperative, spoke about a process for continual improvement of life in rural communities based upon a Japanese model. Jimmy Chang concluded with a discussion about citizenship rights.

The group decided to meet again in the village of Wespam for the third Encuentro. No date was set for the third Encuentro. The meeting concluded after the afternoon session. Most participants returned after supper for a prayer meeting in the church led by Bishop John Wilson. Most participants left that night in a caravan of vehicles to Bilwi. Many participants had traveled great distances to attend the meeting and some did not reach home until the middle of the week.

On April 21, 2012 three of the Directors traveled to the village of Santa Marta for a meeting with teachers at the Santa Marta public school. All of the teachers were strongly supportive of the teacher in-service training program sponsored by the Pro-Moskitia Foundation and were ready to begin the second phase of training. There was discussion about problems with the Sunday training schedule. A new coordinator was nominated. The first session will begin in May 2012 for the February-June semester and continue during the August-January semester. The Pro-Moskitia Foundation will continue to fund this training.

On the next day, Sunday, April 22, 2012 four Directors of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation were invited to attend the dedication of the new Miskitu-Spanish dictionary written by Bishop John Wilson. Dina Rivera, Casta Calderon, Father Melesio and Philip Mullins were in Bilwi and attended the service at the main Moravian church along with a host of local dignitaries including the Mayor of Bilwi and Magistrate Jimmy Chang. Some of the participants at the Encuentro in Krukira were present including Rev. Gonzalo Paiz, Rev. Cora Antonio, Rev. Jorge Fedrick, Rev. Silvio Diaz and Ivane Nicolas, the Vice-President of the Bapawat cooperative.

On Sunday evening the Directors attended a scheduled General Meeting of the Bapawat Cooperative in the San Ines Convent. Of the 70 members on the cooperative's books, 16 attended the meeting. In addition, representatives from five communities outside of Bilwi were present. Also present were Magistrate Jimmy Chang, Rev. Jorge Fedrick, Dr. Samuel Mercado, Dina Rivera, Casta Calderon, Philip Mullins and Deacon Javier and his wife from Wespam. Deacon Javier and his wife attended the Encuentro in Krukira and remained in Bilwi for personal reasons.

A new slate of officers of the cooperative was elected with Father Melesio continuing as President and Ivane Nicholas continuing as Vice-President. Dr. Roberto Rodriguez stepped down as Secretary and two new members joined as Secretary and Vocal. One of these men, Hemsly Francis, was a presenter at the Encuentro at Krukira. Pedro Liberato Aratola of the community of Belen, Rio Wawa also joined the cooperative. He also attended the Encuentro at Krukira.

The cooperative is undergoing a transition from a micro-lending cooperative for market women to a regional coordinating body with a very ambitious agenda. The consensus among the four Directors of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation who attended the meeting was to continue supporting the cooperative during this period of transition. Discussion continued until about 8pm when the meeting broke up.

Some of the officers of the Bapawat Cooperative met again on Monday at 8am at the San Ines Convent. The focus of the discussion was on financial accountability. The funding for the teacher in-service training was discussed and finalized. Financial arrangements were made whereby Dr. Roberto and Father Roger Dixon will control the funds provided by the Pro-Moskitia Foundaton for the teacher in-service training. The Bapawat Cooperative will have no input into the teacher training but will act as a pass-through funding mechanism.

Also, on April 23, 2012, three of the Directors met with the Superintendent of Moravian Church in Nicaragua. At 1:00pm Father Melesio, Father Roger Dixon, Casta Calderon and Philip Mullins met with Rev. Gonzalo Paiz Sabino at his office. Rev. Gonzalo, who supported the Encuentro at Krukira, is completing a two-year term as Superintendent of the Moravian Church. Rev. Gonzalo prepared a requisition for ten copies of the new Miskitu-Spanish dictionary for use by the Pro-Moskitia Foundation. The group then proceeded to the Moravian bookstore to receive the ten books. A copy of the dictionary will be provided to the Miskitu pastor in Port Arthur.

At 3:00pm the group returned to the San Ines Convent to continue a discussion of a proposed school. Father Melesio explained that Catholic Bishop David Smith has limited funds to maintain the old San Ines Convent building and is considering selling it. The Sisters who used to live in the building have moved to a new convent nearby. The basement of the old convent building is abandoned, the second-floor offices are rented to two or three NGOs (including the Bapawat Cooperative) and the third floor is used to house volunteers engaged in service projects in the area.

The idea of using the old convent building for a school was discussed. The school would be a secondary school, perhaps an honors school or a technical school. Fathers Melesio, Father Roger, Casta Calderon, Philip and others toured the building. The building will have to be completely renovated if it is to be used as a school. Sister Katie Schilling, who lived and working in the building for twenty-five years, explained that a contractor from the town of Bluefields estimated that the cost to renovate the building would be about $100,000 USD. This estimate was made six years ago and costs have increased roughly 20% since then. After a survey of the building, Philip Mullins confirmed that the estimate was probably accurate as the building needed a new roof and new plumbing and electrical service. Termites were evident everywhere.

Professor Barnabas Waldan joined the discussion. He explained that there are two types of secondary schools in the RAAN: public schools and private schools. Most private schools are subsidized by the Ministry of Education (MINED) according to a formula that is negotiated with each school. Professor Waldan explained that there are thirty-three rural public secondary schools in the RAAN which offer classes to the 3rd grade of secondary school. He suggested a good model would be to have the rural communities nominate their best students to attend the 4th and 5th grade of secondary school at the new school. He explained that rural students often graduate from school having never seen a library. He volunteered to obtain some statistics about how many students graduate and how many would continue to the final two years of secondary school if the opportunity presented itself. He also agreed to work on the curriculum for the proposed school.

Lic. Felton Lopez of the Ministry of Education (MINED) arrived to explain the certification process for schools. The first step is to make a proposal to the Ministry. MINED will inspect the building. Requirements are simply and include potable water, a playground, desks for teachers, chairs for students, etc. The Ministry must accept the proposed curriculum and the school must pass periodic evaluations. He was very encouraging. He stated that he would help recruit teachers. MINED knows who the best teachers are and has the authority to assign them to a particular school as needed.

Professor Barnabas Waldan explained the in-service teacher training project at Santa Marta. Mr. Lopez was very supportive of the training and will be invited to observe the training.

The next day, April 24, 2012 Casta Calderon left to return to Managua, leaving Directors Father Melesio, Dina Rivera and Philip Mullins in Bilwi. Father Melesio and Philip Mullins visited with Sister Katie Schilling who is the Principal of the primary school next door to the old San Ines Convent. She explained how MINED subsidizes private schools. At her school MINED pays 60% of the teacher's salary and provides a salary for the Principal. MINED also supplies most of the required textbooks. The amount of the reimbursement from the Ministry is subject to negotiation. Schools select their own teachers but MINED has authority to reassign teachers as needed.

That evening Father Melesio and Philip met with Hemsley Francis and Wilfred Davis German. These two young men, who are both new members and officers of the Bapawat Cooperative, met with Father Melesio and Philip Mullins to explain a process of rural development based upon a Japanese concept called "kaizen". These men belong to a network of fifteen young people in Nicaragua who have trained in Japan and who work together toward improving life in rural areas of Central America and the Caribbean. Other members of their network live in Costa Rice, Guatemala, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Philip Mullins and the two men agree to work to support community activists by providing information and help and coordinating activities on an international level as necessary. The focus would be on providing information about Nicaraguan law, RAAN law, international law and transnational companies operating in the RAAN.

The approach to rural development used by Redcam-Nicaragua (which is the name of the Japanese-inspired network in Nicaragua) appears to be similar to that being used by Pro-Moskitia and Bapawat Cooperative. The willingness of these two men to work with the Bapawat Cooperative is a positive sign and should be beneficial to the cooperative.

Later that night Father Melesio, Dina Rivera and Philip Mullins met with three lawyers who have a history of working for worker's and women's rights. They work with AMEKA, an organization of women, and YATAMA, an indigenous political party. Father Melesio explained the history and purpose of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation and Bapawat Cooperative. The lawyers explained their work with indigenous communities which included translating documents into Miskitu and using promoters to form base groups in rural communities. They noted that most NGOs are reluctant to work in really isolated communities. The lawyers agreed to work with us but explained that we need to clarify our mission and what we want them to do.

The next day, April 25, 2012, Father Melesio, his brother Willy, Father Roger Dixon, Philip Mullins and a contractor traveled to a building lot outside of Bilwi that is under consideration by the Pro-Moskitia Foundtion as the site of a school. The building site is located near the Bilwi airport. Currently the land is unimproved. The site consists of four manzanas (6.8 acres), measuring 500 meters along the road and 200 meters deep. The lot is on a slight elevation and is mostly flat, well-drained land. The contractor will install corner posts to prevent trespassers from occupying the land.

After visiting the building site, the group traveled to the community of Makim. The Moravian pastor of Makim attended the Encuentro at Krukira and helped purchase the beef used to feed the participants. He took the visitors to a promontory that overlooked a broad valley belonging to the community which, in his opinion, would be a good site for a school.

The next day Philip Mullins was scheduled to leave for the United States. Ivane Nicolas Wilson, the Vice-President of the Bapawat Cooperative, met with Dina Rivera, Father Melesio and Philip Mullins at the Bilwi Airport to discuss the operation of the Bapawat Cooperative. Dina Rivera suggested that the goal of the Cooperative to operate as a multi-functional cooperative for the entire region may be too ambitious and that the cooperative may benefit by focusing on specific projects such as a micro-lending project or artisanal production of some product. Although the funds allocated to the micro-lending project are almost exhausted, Dina suggested that the idea still has merit and should not be abandoned. She and Philip agreed that success depends upon innovating and adapting to changing circumstances, making helpful mistakes and learning from them rather than changing course in the face of every failure. Ivane showed Dina and Philip a proposal written with Director Ruth Rouvier for a small project to recycle plastic bottles into saleable products. Philip agreed to look into whether or not similar projects elsewhere have been successful. Ivane is the de-facto leader of the cooperative and her search for a more traditional activity for the cooperative reflects the confusion among its members and leaders. Dina and Ivane agreed to discuss this further.

After this meeting with Dina Rivera, Father Melesio and Ivane Nicolas Wilson, Philip left for Managua. Directors Dina Rivera and Father Melesio remained in Bilwi for a few more days before returning the Miami, Florida and Austin, Texas respectively.

Philip Mullins, a participant at the Encuentro and the other meetings, wrote this description of events.