Above Photo: Community construction in Managua. Photo: La Voz del Sandinismo
Today’s world is complex and messed up. All the suffering among the great majorities for many people is just one more number while an increasing number of human beings are or feel isolated, depressed and alone, burdened down by the social consequences of decadent capitalism. However, in this hostile context Nicaragua, physically small but morally gigantic, is making real efforts to rebuild the country’s neighborhoods as social and political units, a mutual support network based on solidarity.
Many people who have grown up within the walls of residential or prestigious districts the world of the barrios is a distant, hostile and even scary place. However, for those of us who grew up and live in these neighborhoods, the barrio is our native territory, the place where we all know each other and greet each other, eye to eye, the place where there are no secrets because people have natural journalistic insight.
These places may be in rainy areas or in very dry ones, near too or distant from their municipal capitals. They are places full of living and forgotten history, legends and one ghost or another, like the mythical “monkey”, that magical being that scares people in the neighborhoods. The list may also includes the girl selling bananas; the woman selling tortillas and ready cooked beans; the man seems to lives on the sidewalk repairing televisions; the historical combatant who as a young girl worked in the kitchen, feeding the local platoon and who is respected by all.
One or another of those neighbors may think they are of a better class, like the neighbor with the big truck who could very well live somewhere else, but prefers to be called “Don” in the neighborhood. To the kids who, good and and not so good, spend their time going around setting up soccer wagers*, betting 5 córdobas a goal, and when it’s all over, the team that wins invites everyone, winners and losers, to fruit refrescos and enchiladas. And if there were a lot of goals, to pastries and sodas as well.
You find the families who work in the free trade zone, in the slaughterhouses, the construction workers, the teachers, the guards, everyone, but one thing not lacking are the neighbors who don’twaste time in gossip but contribute their knowledge to the informative, knowledge creating welfare of the community.
There is the forever shoutingneighbor whose children never get into trouble, but what happens is that they are children and like young people everywhere are discovering the world. There are also the neighbors who don’t support the government but are the first to fight for any benefits for his family and, of course, there is one or another good neighbor who just wants to get along well with eeryone. But all of them, absolutely all of them, make up the idiosyncratic pattern peculiar to these neighborhoods.
All these people are viewed equally when the state executes a public policy, program or social investment. This happens via the community leaders present in each neighborhood either in the capital or any other the country’s municipalities.
One of the public policies that has been greatly underestimated by the national right wing forces has been the series of solidarity support programs delivering three types of food packages: to critical hardship cases, attention to mothers of Heroes and Martyrs and the program “Everyone has a say” for people with disability, which some call “Everyone’s with you”.
The first of these packages gets sent out every three months and contain the approximately 15-20 days of food for an average family of four, including rice, beans, sugar, spaghetti, coffee, pinolillo, oatmeal, etc. They are distributed according to the needs of each neighborhood, the protagonists are selected from among the entire neighborhood by the community leaders. The list is sent out a month before distribution and is audited a week before its official delivery by higher authorities to verify that each protagonist does indeed meet the basic requirements. The main criteria is that the family is coping with a very difficult economic situation.
When distributing the emergency packages to the families, you can feel the solidarity and hear simple phrases that encompass everything described in the previous paragraph, phrases like: “Blessed be God, I knew the Comandante would send me this bit of help since I ran out of food” accompanied by laughter, laughter that fills everyone with satisfaction and love for the community, both the persons themselves and those doing the distribution too. The deliveries are done by community leaders in coordination with government institutions.
Among the hustle and bustle of the neighborhoods that can range from constant hammering either on zinc sheeting or timber to a loud reggaeton or the romantic radio stations playing songs from the 70s, or the cries of the neighbors calling to their children playing in the street, among all that the other food packages get distributed too.
These are the monthly food packages to mothers of Heroes and Martyrs fallen in combat, elderly women over 70 years of age, sometimes living alone; and then too the food packages for people with disabilities. In addition to the food packages, the disabled and the elderly also receive medical care in their homes.
When you leave these houses you get hugs and remarks like: “Thank you so much, my Comandante and you are the only ones who remember us” or “when in years gone by would we ever receive this…” or simpler remarks like just “thank you daughter” or my neighbor who at the end of the day tells me: “a good job they helped Mariita, she was having a hard time”.
These phrases fill one’s heart with satisfaction, but above all they heal the spirit and give strong motivation to continue helping, they help us heal from the few hurtful people who minimize the great daily voluntary work of people like me who want not just to see our own neighborhoods grow, but all the neighborhoods and communities across the nation. All this makes us grow in love for Nicaragua, grow in a collective culture of peace and well being, but above all in our consciousness since all this effort takes place is not just in my neighborhood, but in every one of the 147 neighborhoods of Managua’s 6th District, in every one of Managua’s total of 8 Districts, and so on to cover teh whole country.
Participating in these solidarity programs brings us closer to the reality of the families of our neighborhood and our community, to the life of the neighbor who will talk about everything except her problems. Above all, it brings us closer to the combined People-Government effort, because despite how difficult the situation became after 2018, public policies continue and in the neighborhoods we community leaders keep working, organizing, struggling to make sure we cope with a thousand tasks. The effort is immense, many times we do not see it, but it belongs to all of us.
Community leaders do not receive a salary or help, they do everything out of commitment and love for their neighborhood. They have to go to work from 6 am to wait for their turn at the local district’s community center, sometimes having to wait a long time in the sun. You walk from house to house in the midday sun, and with all the paperwork to fill out, paperwork that, with fatigue or the glare of the sun makes your eyes and head spin.
Many times the neighborhood leaders return home with no meal prepared, waiting for them, because they hadto leave home early so as to be on time in the district office. The effort is especially great if the local leader is a woman with children and household responsibilities. The local leaders are the ones who ensure the distrobution of the food packages and their accompaniment is successful.
For this type of program to continue there must always be people who love their country and love their communities, neighborhoods and villages. Sandino was the beginning and now we have become hundreds and thousands.
Only those who love their community understand their country and know the meaning of each historical moment, and they are well aware of the meaning of a solidarity food package for a family, that is not just a help package or assistance, rather its meaning lies in the human support, the accompaniment, the tenderness, and the love that the people receive from other people in their neighborhood. It is the construction of collective consciousness and solidarity. It is the time of one’s life, the time dedicated to help others so that in the most difficult moments they feel that there is a hand that lifting us all up, encouraging us. What the local community leaders receive is love, their pay is the legacy that remains in local families. Your soul, mind and heart are nourished with energy, experience and self-confidence.
In the neighborhoods at this historic moment, we learn to be useful to others because we understand the popular saying that says “one can need even from the stones”, you learn to have empathy because behind the faces there are hundreds of problems, each and every one with their differences teaching us that we are a great fabric and that we can help each other to solve problems and live better. We learning together that the future and our ideals are defended with hard work, but also, if necessary, by tooth and nail. The road may be long weary, but tenderness in this world is not impossible.