Hola. My name is Strom Eedy (Dorothy’s middle son) and I am your guest columnist this week.
I was whining to myself about the stresses I was having to prevail through. Of course this is very difficult to do if you’re a Canadian with an intelligence greater than a green bean. I mean we have all sorts of problems in our own lives and in our country that we should strive to better but one look around you, and especially if you travel to other countries, makes a lot of these seem minor.
I remember visiting the dump school in Nicaragua. Nicaragua’s political and social situations insult my (our) sensibilities. You have politicians who say one thing about how they are helping their citizens, who use manufactured anger, hate and fear as tools to hang onto power; who accumulate great power and riches openly in a country of extreme poverty; and who break laws and brutalize opponents without consequence. You get a sense of the sadness of it all.
In this country of little chance and spoiled opportunity is a school situated in the Managua dump, one of the largest in the world. It is a 50-foot (16-metre) pile of garbage that rises out of a plain and stretches for miles — a really big dump with the stench of burning garbage, covered with broken glass, diapers, shards of metal, needles and more unspeakable delicacies.
The people who live here make their “living” and clothe and feed their families by picking through other people’s garbage. Most of them will spend their whole lives on this pile of garbage, never experiencing the “odour” of clean air. Their children are uneducated and prone to illness and serious infections (like HIV from discarded needles, etc.)
Several years ago, a Nicaraguan man and his Dutch girlfriend somehow visited the dump. This is both difficult and dangerous to do. They were so moved that they decided they had to do something. They started a school for the dump children.
This is no mean feat as, firstly, the parents are not that supportive as it takes away from extra hands that make garbage picking go faster. Secondly, this is such extreme poverty and such an uncompassionate environment that everything you (or the school) has is prone to be stolen each night. And thirdly, it all takes money (not much), time (much more) and dedication that works through illness and disappointment. This sort of work wears on a person.
But the young man prevailed through illness, loss of his girlfriend/partner and other trials, and ran a small school mainly consisting of two truck trailers (you can lock up these) and some furniture just beside the mountain of garbage.
I have included two photos. One is of the dump and a typical garbage bag house, and the other is of two sisters at the school enjoying the only running (and clean) water they ever experience.
How I saw this? My stepson Tom was working for a Canadian aid organization in Nicaragua when he had a life-changing experience. He saw the children of Nicaragua and decided that everything else was meaningless unless he could help them make things better than what was happening. He and a friend (a Nicaraguan man who worked his way out of poverty) decided that education was the key.
An educated person becomes an independent person who could help themselves. The Nicaraguan educational system, which the government brags about, only really serves those who have. They only pay teachers who are working in an existing school but will not pay to build the school or put washrooms in it or a playground or for school supplies. So, as a result, you have dedicated local people working without pay in deplorable situations because they believe in education.
Tom started promoting his ideals by sleeping on church floors or friends’ floors, and often going without food so he could give packages of school materials to kids. Gradually, they got more support, formed an organization called “Schoolbox”, got donations to pay their small staff a minimal wage and to do projects. Right now, they build schools and provide school materials (books, pencils, soccer balls, workbooks) for thousands of kids. They are one of the model NGO organizations with minimum overhead and big “bang for the buck” that is often cited by others.
They have a website, have been adopted by the Ottawa Valley community of Almonte (Tom’s home town), have many supporters in Toronto, have Sleep Country Canada as a corporate sponsor, and are very active in building schools. They have been very good at educating Canadians, both young and old, by having school builds where people go to Nicaragua and participate in building a school (amongst other things).
So when I whine once in a while about my own situation, I have only to remember how these and other people have fought through despairing situations to help others.
Here’s a simple but dynamite chicken recipe — not served in the dump but from one of the volunteers.
Chicken breasts and/or thighs, or whole chicken cut up in 6-8 pieces
6 garlic cloves
2 tbsp. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes, cut up
1/2 cup pitted green Spanish olives (with pimento is fine)
1/2 cup capers with some juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
Italian parsley or cilantro for garnish
Combine all ingredients except sugar and wine. Marinate chicken in mixture for one hour to overnight. Arrange in a shallow pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Pour wine over. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes or until done, basting now and then. Garnish with parsley or cilantro.
Serve over rice. Salad on the side?