by Nicole Theberge
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, and is bordered by Honduras, Costa Rica, the Caribbean Sea, and in Pacific Ocean. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Nicaragua officially became an independent republic in 1838. A civil war in 1978, widespread damage from Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and disruptions in fair elections have caused economic and infrastructural instability. Nicaraguans often emigrate to Costa Rica for seasonal or permanent work, which has led to approximately 300,000 Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica (Central Intelligence Agency, 2013).
The official language of Nicaragua is Spanish, although a small minority (1.7%) speaks Miskito. Nicaragua is home to the largest freshwater lake in Central America (Lake Nicaragua) and many active volcanoes. Deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution are major environmental issues faced by Nicaragua. Most people in Nicaragua identify as Christian (Roman Catholic, 58.5%; Protestant, 23.2%). According to the CIA World Factbook (2013), Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 46.2% of Nicaraguans living below the poverty line as of 2005 (Central Intelligence Agency).
Why Women’s Leadership is Important to Nicaragua
Lidieth (Country Covener Lidieth Alvarez Guzman) identifies many challenges faced by the Nicaraguan people, including poverty, lack of jobs, illiteracy, environmental degradation and lack of youth engagement. Traditional values that allow only men to work, and the cultural norm of male machismo (overly masculine and aggressive tendencies), place women at a disadvantage when it comes to facing these challenges and leading their communities and children towards brighter futures. In addition to these challenges, Lideith also notes that, “The biggest problem we have is the lack of jobs and education for women who are isolated by their lack of preparation, and by not being physically beautiful.”
Women’s leadership development is key to building healthy and strong communities. Lidieth has wisely stated that, “A good leader must embrace change and see it as an opportunity, and be able to use their skills without fear of failure.” The increased ability of women to honor the skills and abilities they already possess, and develop their leadership in community with one another, will no doubt aid in facing the previously mentioned challenges.
Biography of Convener Lidieth Alverez Guzman
Lidieth Alvarez Guzman lives in the community of Limon 2, Tola Municipality, Department of Rivas, in the country of Nicaragua. When she is not working, she enjoys singing and playing the guitar, and is involved in her church. In 2011 Lidieth was selected as an iLEAP Fellow and participated in its training program in Seattle, Washington. iLEAP is an international nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire and renew social leaders and global citizens through values-based leadership programs. The program fosters collaboration with social change leaders in Asia, Africa and Latin America to build regional networks of change leaders who are committed to building strong global partnerships for social change.
Through sharing experience with other iLEAP Fellows participating in the program and engaging with others in the Seattle area who share her passion, Lidieth deepened her competence to lead in her community. She says of her experience with iLEAP, “I can see the need that exists within my community and help them solve daily challenges seen within it” (iLEAP, 2013, ¶ 1).
Lidieth’s Work at Genesis
Lidieth is the founder and director of the cooperative Genesis. In 2008 Lidieth led a group of community members to learn about and reflect on the idea of forming a cooperative. This led to a decision by the group to form Genesis, a cooperative that produces homemade bread, which uses their knowledge and taps into the unlimited demand for local bread products. A group of 10 people, consisting of mostly women, prepare bread to sell on the streets, at hotels and restaurants, and to visitors in their city. Lidieth and coworkers provide training on how to build the participants’ capacity for cooperation and business planning, marketing, construction company operations, baking and sewing, knowledge of sustainable development, equality at work, sexual and reproductive health and women’s leadership.
In 2010, Genesis formed a youth group called Phoenix Formation (Formacion Fenix). This group provides young single women with education and employment opportunities. The Cooperative also provides a small revolving fund that offers opportunities for women to start their own businesses. The Phoenix Formation is part of Casa Verde, an organization that works on a wide range of community development issues. Lidieth is a also a local program coordinator for Casa Verde.
In the Conversation Circle, the conveners explored four questions:
1. What do you care about in your community and in what projects have you participated?
2. As you engaged in this work, what skills have you used?
3. What additional skills or knowledge would you like to gain?
4. How do imagine you might develop these skills?
1. Lidieth’s conversation group consisted of six women leaders in the community of Rivas, Nicaragua. Many Conversation participants work in the areas of youth and environmental protection. The passions of these women revolve around education, engaging youth in the community in meaningful ways, women’s equality, literacy, women’s employment, and creating a clean and healthy environment. These women have served as leaders for youth empowerment, trained physically and verbally battered women, organized “literacy day,” and participated in a community garden.
2. The skills that the women identified as using in their work included communication, collaboration skills and social/emotional skills. Specifically in the category of communication, two of the skills identified were listening and communicating in a group. Skills for working in groups included discussion about distributing responsibilities, influencing other leaders, organizing groups, managing projects, motivational skills, teaching, understanding confrontations, and building relationships. Social/emotional skills that were discussed included patience, perseverance, optimism skills for providing service to others, love and care and respecting the opinions of young people.
3. This group discussed many skills they would like to develop further. Some of these skills are the same as those identified in question two, such as project management, influencing others, communication, social relations and motivation. Other skills for development include self-confidence, breaking silence and shyness, language (English) skills, punctuality, self-expression without fear and growing organizations.
4. Many of these skills were recognized as useful for leadership at work, but also for life in general. The discussion of how to develop these skills involved putting them to use in daily life as well as in projects, by convening people and communicating with people about these skills, and making things happen in the community, home, and family life.
Kitchen Cabinet Letter to Lidieth:
It is so clear to me that you care deeply about the present and future of your community. The thoughtful and honest way that you talk about the challenges faced by women and youth in Nicaragua, and the wonderful ways you are facing these challenges are incredibly inspiring to me. You seem to follow your passions and go where your skills are called for, and that is admirable. I have cherished our conversations, however brief.
When I first read the summary of your first conversation I was taken by the honesty of the information presented. The ability to discuss difficult issues and witness the realities of situations faced by people is a gift that you and the women in your conversation noticeably have. I was struck by how what you discussed about youth empowerment and engagement is so in line with the work that I see needs to be done with youth here in the United States.
The ways that you are helping to solve the issues you see as important by building community and engagement shows recognition that the issues and solutions are all connected. You, along with the women in your conversation, are making a positive difference in the world. Keep it up!