Joan Fernandez has been living here in Nica since May and working with Manna. As he prepares for his departure later this week, he took some time to reflect on the impact this experience and this place have had on him.
When you decide to partake in the work of any organization that attempts to respond to issues of poverty, inequality, and violence, you assume the responsibility of understanding how these problems emanate, are discussed, and are perceived in the communities from which you are learning and in which you are attempting to make a contribution. For the first three weeks of my internship, the number of programs and the pace of life here overwhelmed me. It was not clear how these programs were connected to a common goal or vision. There is art class, health education, child sponsorship, exercise, the jewelry cooperative, the feeding program, English courses, lacrosse the nations, computer education, and various other very important programs in place. For every program we administer, we forgo running another one that may be more effective at responding to the difficulties identified by members of the communities in which we work. Reflection, in other words, is incredibly important for the work of Manna. However, it alone does not suffice. More important than reflection is having a space to share the thoughts we generate as we go through our day to day. Offering a point of view or perception and having it challenged is the only way an organization and, indeed, the individuals that make up that organization can flourish.
While the absence of open forums for these discussions to take place made this journey very difficult for me, I do not hold anyone accountable for this but myself. What I had witnessed in Nicaragua was unlike anything that I had ever encountered, and it appeared as though the only spaces to discuss this world that I was attempting to make sense of were in the confines of my mind and on the pages of my journal because there was simply too much work to get done on a daily basis to stop and all get together to reflect. As a result of this rapid pace of life and this lack of mediation, I lost site of much of the value that lies behind the day-to-day interactions that occur within these programs, underplaying the keystone of this organization. All the planning, organizing, and meetings were slowly losing their value to me. In this position of discomfort, I found that the only way that I could make things better is by speaking out to someone.
Once I did something as simple as that, I realized that I was not alone and that many other interns were feeling the same way that I had: confused, anxious, hopeful, afraid, and eager. We begun to discuss our thoughts on national politics, economic practices, ourselves, our roles in the communities in which we work, and I was inspired by these conversations. Indeed, they are one of the most prized possessions I have as I prepare to depart from Nicaragua. The importance of these conversations cannot be understated; it reminds us to keep things into perspective and focused on certain tangible, well-assessed goals. Challenging these ideas for the past several weeks has made this experience unforgettable and meaningful. I am more invested in my education, understand how much privilege I have, I am more aware of how the world around us conditions the things we perceive as normal and immutable, the importance of challenging these ideas, and, most importantly, I understand that these issues that we have encountered in Nicaragua and that are present in the United States do not exist in vacuums: we must understand them in relation to the context in which they are found in order to know how to best respond to them.
I will miss so many things about life here: the many children that have come to know me and that have made me part of their lives, the inspirational men and especially women with which I have interacted, the work that goes behind administering every program, the Program Directors, community dinners and homestays, the many runs into the community, our adventurous and always amazing weekend trips, and the laughter and good times that I have shared with so many people. Through this experience, I have come to the realization that despite the institutions we use to separate ourselves, we all have similar impetuses that determine how we lead our lives. Indeed, these distinctions we highlight make us seem more different than we are: people in need of love.
A piece of my mind and heart will always belong to Nicaragua.