A young girl, maybe 16 years old, is talking about her birth father rejecting her as an infant. She is speaking quickly, crying, obviously embarrassed that she is doing so, but determined to explain how she relates to one of the girls in the documentary “De Niña a Madre” (From Girl to Mother) that was just shown. This video follows the lives of three young women, aged 14-16, who are giving birth – most for the first time – in various places in Nicaragua. The father of one of the infants took one look at the new-born and said “that’s not mine”, in an instant leaving the girl as a single mother, and the baby without a father.
The video is being shown as part of a training to a handful of volunteer youth promoters that partner with Grupo Venancia, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that works mostly with youth and women in a variety of different areas. This particular training is talking about having the right to decide what each and every one of us do with our bodies, from how we wear our hair, to having a baby.
Guadalupe, the girl crying as she recounts her own story of abandonment, is not the only one deeply affected by the movie. Fredi, the one male present in the group, is looking out the window having gotten choked up while giving his take on the movie, mentioning his own father who “was not a good example of a man”.
Spending any amount of time in Nicaragua, you soon realize that there are NGOs everywhere. They work in anything from sexual reproductive health, to women’s rights, to farming, to art with at-risk youth — the list goes on and on. Some are almost entirely Nicaraguan run, even if funds come from an external source. Group Venancia is one such example. Venancia is the last name of Maria Venancia, who was a part of a group of women at the time of the revolution who fought against the dictator, Somoza. The organization started in 1991 and has been working with women and youth in rural communities and big cities ever since.
I have been graciously allowed to work alongside this well-established group for the 3rd year of my Peace Corps service. They call themselves a feminist group, feminist here meaning that women and men should have equality, in everything. The projects they work on have a huge capacity-building focus – usually the trainings are given to promoters who will then go to their communities and repeat the trainings, which can be about sexuality, gender and gender roles, general sexual reproductive health, healthy love, intrafamilial violence and relationships, and on and on. The promoters, especially youth promoters, often talk about how much they’ve changed for the better as a result of participating in Grupo Venancia activities. They feel more confident in themselves, more capable, and as though they are making a positive difference in their communities.
This is just one aspect of the amazing work that this group does; they also work in universities, manage a network of women all over the region, organize and facilitate nation-wide campaigns and competitions, provide free counseling to abused women and children, and accompany those who are going through the court system to prosecute abusers.
The other face of this organization is the Centro Cultural Guanuca (Cultural Center Guanuca), which puts on music shows, poetry readings, and plays on the weekends to raise money for the organization. It’s rare that a Saturday night passes without a full on party in the ideal half-outdoor patio area with a raised stage.
– Ilana Hipshman, HE 61