Temple Emanuel Delegation Returns from Nicaragua

“………..it is an inescapably affecting land, crashing through abrupt change that escapes the easy categories of ideologues…..” The New York Times

By Arlene Cohen

IMG_0796Led by Temple Emanuel President Jean Silk in coordination with the New Haven/León Sister City Project, Rise Siegel, Jane Kovel, Debbie Elkin and David Elkin-Ginnetti, Lee and Peter Stolzman, and Arlene Cohen traveled to Nicaragua August 8-15, 2009.  The focus of this service trip was to support education and literacy, and the delegation brought 350 pounds of young reader books in Spanish, donated by Temple Emanuel students and families, in addition to much-needed school supplies.  The Temple Emanuel delegation stayed with host families while they learned the cultural and political history of Nicaragua and visited sites of interest and natural beauty.

The delegates went out of their comfort zone to communicate in Spanish and with gestures, to follow the host family lifestyle and diet, and to bridge the class and cultural differences with the impoverished population of the rural community of Goyena, site of the Sister City’s projects.  Some of the delegates were unsure how the trip would unfold, how they would deal with the heat, water restrictions, language barriers, and social exchange, but by the end of the week these were no longer of concern.  They could laugh at their sweat, yet another meal of rice and beans and, as Rise Siegel recognized, “we learned the power of nonverbal conversation. “

IMG_1118The delegation spent several days in Goyena, a rural village on the outskirts of León that was established when residents lost their homes due to Hurricane Mitch, which wrought substantial devastation on Nicaragua in 1998.  They listened to a presentation by the village Board of Directors about their goals and challenges; they spent a day cooking and baking in the community; and the next day they distributed the bread and sweets to the school children.  When Debbi Elkin asked if anyone had questions about Judaism, an unexpected and open conversation about religious differences began, which opened the door for personal exchanges on topics from hair color to child birth to the best way to cook rice.

The itinerary included a lunch and discussion on school progress and challenges with the teachers of Goyena.  Some of the teachers had previously taught in private schools with a wealthy population, and said the Goyena students are far more appreciative and eager to learn.  They are trying to deal with the challenge of consistent attendance, especially when some students must walk as far as 4 kilometers each way.

IMG_1145A sobering meeting with former employees of the Nicaragua Sugar Estates sugar cane factory who suffer from chronic renal insufficiency inspired many of the Temple Emanuel delegation to want to learn more about their ten-year campaign to get the company to take responsibility for causing workers’ illness and to consider ways to support their efforts stateside.

At Shabbat services on September 11, the congregation learned about the delegation’s moving and powerful experience in Nicaragua, including a hike up Cerro Negro volcano, dancing the Hora with our Nicaraguan friends, the small farmers cooperative, artisan weavers, the daily reflections, and the laughter and the hugs they shared with people in our Sister City of León.TE in Nicaragua


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