St. Andrew’s parishioners visit Nicaragua community
By Connie Cissell
It has been 18 years since the faith community at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Syracuse’s university neighborhood established a sister community in Nicaragua. A few things have changed over the years. The Maryknoll sisters and then the Franciscan sister who were the conduit for the connection are both no longer serving in the little village of Villanueva so the parishioners have learned to navigate the long distance relationship on their own. Almost a dozen parishioners traveled to Villanueva several weeks ago and caught up with the villagers continuing the parish’s relationship.
For some of the St. Andrew’s group, the trip was one of several visits to the country. For Michael Lickstein, a Cornell University freshman and son of Catherine Nock from St. Andrew’s, it was the first time he visited the Central American country. He wrote a reflection about his experience for the church bulletin.
“I think I speak for all of the travelers from St. Andrew’s when I describe our week with one word: hope,” Lickstein wrote. “What can we learn from our sister community in Nicaragua? We can learn more about the very definitions of community, of brotherhood, and of hope.”
Michael’s brother Steven also accompanied his mother on the trip, as well as another young friend of theirs. Cathy Nock said the trip made her realize that the people of St. Andrew’s are extremely important to the natives of Villanueva. She explained that the villagers were there to greet them and welcomed them into their homes where they stayed during their trip. The parishioners were able to see and experience the benefits of the relationship of the sister communities first hand.
Funds sent from St. Andrew’s to Villanueva have enabled the indigenous people of that community to establish programs to train health care workers, to help young people gather to socialize, to hold community meetings and to establish a maternity center.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s Web site has a “world factbook” section that describes Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, as slightly smaller than the state of New York. The site also says that Nicaragua “has widespread underemployment, one of the highest degrees of income inequality in the world, and the third lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere.”
Even though all the people of Villanueva may not have access to running water, television, computers or even electricity, they still run an effective health care program. Two nurses, a doctor and a bookkeeper help run the center. Nurses visit outlying villages on a regular basis and women from miles around make the trip to the maternity center a few days before their babies are due. Meme Woolever, a St. Andrew’s parishioner who has made the trip to Nicaragua before, said that three-quarters of the people who need care walk to Villanueva.
“But if a woman needs to get to the maternity center and there’s no other way, the men carry her,” Woolever said. “The midwives are very proud of the low mortality rate.”
The roles of women and men differ from culture to culture. Women in Villanueva play a very important role in their society. The jobless rate is high among the men, typical breadwinners, so the women have grown creative in sustaining their families. “It’s a very macho society,” Nock said. “I’d say the women are the strength of the Nicaraguan communities. The clothes on the children may be torn sometimes, but they are cleaned and ironed.”
Coco Koseki commented that it is difficult to change years of behavior within a society. “The girls do the chores. There just needs to be better education as to a better way of doing things,” Koseki said. Her family comes from Mexico so Koseki is very familiar with cultural diversity. The trip to Nicaragua left her with memories of a beautiful, enriching experience. “It [the trip] touches your heart,” Koseki said, “especially because we live with so much.”
Ellen Golden said she really enjoyed the party the villagers held to celebrate the Feast of the Magi. “That party was so joyous,” Golden said. “They knocked on the door like the three kings. They sang, they danced, they had a talent show. It was such a simple, joyous gathering.”
More than any single craft sale or tithing appeal, the visit to meet and see the people living in the sister community of Villanueva manifested the fact that the parishioners from St. Andrew’s are truly brothers and sisters of the villagers in that community.