This one seems to be all about giving. There are many community projects afoot, including toy drives, food drives, candy drives for soldiers and more, and all merit notice in the paper.
There is also our featured non-profit, this week Housing Hope, a fantastic organization that has done amazing things in the last 25 years to get local people on their feet.
Even our guest editorial this week is about opportunities to give, in this case, to Abbey Aney’s remarkable annual toy drive.
I might as well make the theme complete. I, too, have a fundraiser this month.
Each year, I travel to Nicaragua in February, the start of the Nicaraguan school year, and purchase school supplies for some of the world’s poorest kids.
Next week Wednesday, I and two other members of the Monroe Rotary Club, Melissa Keating and Nancy Truitt Pierce, are hosting a Women in Blues Review at Eddies Trackside to raise funds for the annual trip.
I got started doing this non-profit work in 2008, when a friend moved to the city of León in Nicaragua to found a non-profit English and computer literacy school for adults.
When I arrived, Mateo invited me and my friend with whom I was traveling to see one of the little rural elementary schools at which he used to volunteer as a high school student.
We had collected some funds ahead of time to use to gift the kids with school supplies.
With about $600, we supplied the entire school, as well as the teachers, with all the supplies they needed for a whole year, including a lot of things they’d been doing without for a long time, such as mops and brooms. We also built a soccer field.
Once I realized how much you could do for so little money, I was excited.
Because traveling in Nicaragua had shocked me. I’d never seen poverty like that. It’s not like people there spend all day, or even any significant portion of the day, thinking about how poor they are compared to people in other countries. For the most part, everyone I met was caught up in the little pleasures and hopes that make up any life, absorbed in relationships with family and friends, and striving to make ends meet.
But I couldn’t get past the sheet tin houses, bare-earth yards that barefooted kids shared with farm animals, and the tiny cramped apartments that city dwellers shared with too many relatives.
As hard as it is to imagine, a lot of rural farmers live on what they can grow and the $2 U.S. or so they can earn per day.
Last year, when a dentist volunteer came with us to the schools to do dental hygiene education, she ended up performing tooth extractions on kids, without anesthesia, the kids spitting blood and teeth into a plastic bucket, because that was all the dental care they would have access to that year.
We have poverty in the United States, altogether too much of it, but one thing is true in this country; if you can finish high school and go on to college, you don’t have to be poor. And almost everyone can find the funding or loans to make it happen, if they have the necessary skills and desire.
In Nicaragua, most kids don’t even finish the sixth grade.
That really hurts families, because Nicaragua is nothing if not the land of the cottage industry. Walking through the poorest barrio, about every third house has a door open, behind which is some sort of business. A guy who owns a punching bag leverages it into a little boxing gym. A woman who can cook sells tamales in the evening. A guy who can fix cars runs a repair shop in his living room. Everybody seems to be scrambling to put together what hours they can work at a variety of jobs along with whatever they can scrape together working for themselves to get by.
But without a basic elementary education, it gets a lot harder to have any kind of home business.
Each year when I go down there, one of the volunteers who helps the most is named Karla. She grew up going to one of the little schools we usually help, and she’s great at arranging our visits and organizing our entire itinerary the whole week or so that we are there.
Inspired by her ability to organize and her intelligence, one of our supporters gave her a micro loan to start a little market in her home of the kind you see everywhere down there, that sell aspirin and tinned milk and costume jewelry over a counter behind a doorway marked only by a Fanta sign.
She gave it her all. But in the end, the store didn’t work out because she never learned enough basic math to do the addition and subtraction she needed to do.
That’s why I got so interested in helping kids at least get through the sixth grade. If they can get throughout the sixth grade, they’ll have enough math and reading skills to run a little business or two, and can get better jobs.
And with luck and some help, they might be able to go on to high school, and a handful may even get to college.
There are a lot of obstacles, though. Kids come from big families there, and the cost of setting all the kids up with school supplies can mean kids just don’t go. Last year, when we arrived at one school, we learned that the only reason several of the kids were even in class at all was because their families had heard we were coming with supplies.
Also, a lot of times, the schools themselves don’t have adequate space or teaching supplies to meet the needs of the students. We fix a lot of desks that have no seats or desk tops. We have fixed whole buildings that were so damaged by storms they couldn’t be used. We once provided a white board to a teacher whose only classroom was the concrete sidewalk outside the school. We had to tie the white board to a tall post. She was delighted. She’d seen us drive in and noticed the white board in the back of the truck and watched as we visited the other classrooms, each time noticing the board was still in the truck and daring to hope it was for her.
Our venture has grown over the years. Now we bring student volunteers with us sometimes; this year we will have two. We have a tiny staff to whom we pay a couple hundred dollars a year to work with the district to organize our trips and drive us around in a pickup truck to deliver supplies.
We pay our own travel expenses out-of-pocket, so that all our donations can go directly to the schools, and we deliver those donations directly to the schools ourselves.
It doesn’t take much money to do the work. But it does take some, so this year I’m bringing in some of the best blues women in the Pacific Northwest to join me at Eddie’s Trackside in Monroe Wednesday, Dec. 12, starting at 6 p.m., for a Women in Blues Review. Wendy and Stacy are making their fabulous appetizers; we’ll talk about the program a bit; play about an hour of great blues music and have a silent auction and some fun, all for $25 at the door.
If you’d like to join us and learn more about what we do, I’d love to have you there. Email me at email@example.com and let me know you’re coming so I can tell Eddie’s how much food to make.
Happy holidays, and thank all of you for all you do in this season of giving.