Tag Archives: Nicaragua

Nicaragua: Indigenous People and Democratic Process

Our partners Rose Cunningham and Liduvina Gill of Wangki Tangni and Mirna Cunningham of CADPI discuss living well, women’s political participation, violence against women, and intercultural exchange in this video produced in partnership with UNDP:

A Dialogue for Women’s and LGBTQ Rights

Recently, MADRE and IGLHRC co-hosted an event as part of a two-week convening of activists for women’s rights from all over the world.

The event, “A Dialogue Between Movements: Women’s Rights and LGBT Activists Share Anti-Violence Strategies,” brought activists from the women’s rights movement and the LGBTQ movement together. We sought to break down barriers between our work and to share strategies for working against the gender oppression that affects us all.

MADRE Executive Director, Yifat Susskind, explains why these two movements have sometimes been separated in the past, and why MADRE and our partner organizations are committed to bringing them together moving forward:

The intersectionality of oppressions is central to MADRE, founded by activists working at the intersections of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, class, and ethnicity.

Panelists represented a diverse range of geographic and activist backgrounds: Rose Cunningham, founder and director of Wangki Tangni in Nicaragua, which works for the rights and resources of Indigenous women; Azusa Yamashit, co-director and editor of Gay Japan News, mediator of a national women’s network of tsunami survivors, and LGBTQ researcher and activist; Thilaga Sulathireh, LGBTQ community organizer and co-founder of Justice for Sisters, which provides legal support for trans* women in Malaysia; and Charlot Jeudy, president of KOURAJ, a Haitian grassroots organization that works to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Panel moderator and MADRE board member Blaine Bookey asked panelists to share successes, challenges, and lessons learned in their work against violence towards their communities. She also asked them to discuss the overlap between movements and what we can learn from one another.

Panelists discussed violence and discrimination they experienced, and—regardless of the population or the geographic location—the experiences were strikingly similar. They shared stories of violence based on a person’s perceived gender identity or sexual expression.

Some ongoing challenges were also common between movements: Mr. Jeudy and Ms. Sulathireh shared that travel and distance were key deterrents keeping activists from reaching their communities. Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Yamashirta both shared that a lesson learned from their work was the importance of building trust in relationships with allies.

Finally, panelists discussed the importance of recognizing overlap between their communities as a bridge to working together more closely. Ms. Sulathireh pointed out that many people are active and already working together, in more than one community, citing the labor movement in addition to rights for women and LGBTQ communities. Ms. Cunningham affirmed the need to include one another, stating that ignoring a community is another way of perpetuating violence against it.

Several activists from around the world were listening in the audience and affirmed Ms. Cunningham’s key take away from the panel “when we come to this space, we feel like we are with you and you are with us.” Our movements are linked by common experiences and common goals. Coming together in spaces like MADRE’s event reminds us all about the community we share.

What MADRE Means to Me: Alana Carstens

Over the holiday season, some of our long-time MADRE members have written to us telling us MADRE means to them. Alana Carstens is a former intern and long-time supporter. We’ve shared her thoughts with you below.

Madre. Mother.  How so simple word could be so complex amazes me.  It evokes power, compassion, nurture, and unconditional love.  It is no wonder MADRE has taken this name. The solidarity of women, of mothers, fighting for justice began and continues to carry this organization long after the Nicaraguan war that once sparked it.

Over the past few years, I have come to develop my own relationship with MADRE, joining the community of inspiring women who work tirelessly in the struggle for women’s rights.  My own mother has been a long time supporter of MADRE and was the first to introduce me to their work.  During my sophomore year in college she, my sister, and I joined one of MADRE’s delegation trips

Alana (R) and MADRE partner Rose Cunningham of Wangki Tangni in Nicaragua

to Nicaragua.  As a Latin American Studies student I was long fascinated with the small country, its history, politics, and land, which was home to me and my family for a life-changing year when I was a toddler.  Traveling with MADRE was an experience beyond any I had ever imagined.  Driving hours through dirt roads, cruising down rivers in canoes, visiting some of the most remote indigenous communities, we got to hear the stories and see the lives that inspire MADRE’s work.

When I worked as an intern with MADRE the following summer, I was able to connect my experience in the field with the work I did from the New York Office.  When so often one feels removed from the issues being worked on when they are happening somewhere else far away, I was able to see how my work with media and communications connected to the programs taking place with MADRE’s sister organizations.  Just as MADRE has helped grow and nurture awareness and movements internationally, MADRE introduced and grounded me in the fight for social justice which I continue today, exploring its multiple manifestations.  Keeping myself updated with MADRE through newsletters and web updates, I am continually impressed how this organization continues to collaborate with its sister organizations.

It is wonderful to see the forging and maintaining of horizontal partnerships keeping alive the fire of solidarity that started MADRE almost 30 years ago.

Sending Supplies to Afghanistan

I spend most of my time surrounded by donations to MADRE. As a Helping Hands Campaign intern, it is almost guaranteed that I can be found rummaging through boxes filled with donations. Some might find this odd – why is she always back there?

And the answer is that I honestly love being a member of Helping Hands for this very particular reason: to be entirely hands-on. I enjoy venturing out of the office to personally meet donors and pick up donations, and I like physically packing the boxes and bags that we send to our sister organizations in Haiti, Nicaragua, Kenya, and all around the world. That is what first drew me in as a volunteer for a shipment in June and attracted me as an intern for humanitarian campaigns at MADRE this fall – the personal aspect of the organization.

The epitome of this was a recent project when I packed a bag for Sunita – a friend of MADRE – to take with her to the Afghan Midwives Association in Afghanistan. This local organization works with 2,600 midwives helping women have healthy and safe births in often tumultuous circumstances. The Afghan Midwives Association aims to improve maternal health, promote gender equality and empower women in a country where women’s rights are so severely under attack. These incredible midwives unfortunately cannot always acquire necessary resources, so I was glad that MADRE’s donation supply could contribute.

Knowing the donation storage room better than my own apartment, I quickly gathered a variety of prenatal vitamins, OTC pain medications, gauze pads, alcohol pads, syringes, and other supplies that would be beneficial to the midwives.  I also packed the bag with diapers, bed liners, and infant bottles.  And wonderfully enough, someone had just generously donated a breast pump—an ideal donation for the Afghan Midwives Association!

I remember receiving those exact medical supplies from numerous donors.  I remember reading hand-written notes from donors expressing gratitude that their donations could be used by women in need.  I remember inventorying each medication and infant bottle.  I remember storing and organizing the prenatal vitamins.  And now I will remember the culmination of it all: packing the donations to send to the Afghan Midwives Association.

It is a daily reminder that this is exactly why I work with MADRE’s Helping Hands Campaign: the personal involvement in providing humanitarian aid to local women’s organizations doing extraordinary work in under-resourced areas.  And it is this personal connection that keeps bringing me back to the donation storage room every week.

Working in the Field: Writing on Rights

Very important meetings are taking place in the MADRE conference room about our ongoing project to meet urgent community needs in Haiti. We’ve also received great news: our partner and co-founder of KOFAVIV, Malya Villard-Appolon, has been nominated as a Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012!

Since the January 2010 earthquake, the Haitian women and children are especially struggling. MADRE works closely with our partner KOFAVIV to provide direct aid to survivors in Haiti, and to transform the conditions that give rise to sexual violence against the poor.

Through KOFAVIV, MADRE helps Malya to provide rape survivors with care and counseling, as well as to organize nighttime community watch groups, which provide women with whistles and flashlights. Arguably the most important contribution Malya has made, being a survivor of rape twice in her life, is showing women the hardest step: it is okay to speak out, and not be afraid to admit they have been a victim.

"This hangs over my desk and reminds me what we work for every day." - Elaina

I feel it is imperative to be exposed to such pressing, global human rights issues; I feel privileged being part of this rewarding experience, voting for Malya each day to support her movement to build human rights and create positive social change in Haiti.

Another aspect of interning at MADRE that I am grateful for is that my language skills are seamlessly contributing to my positive experience in the workplace: my supervisor Sahita has given me various documents and letters to translate between Spanish and English.

Elaina and Sahita at MADRE

One project to be translated was the IV Forum of Wangki Indigenous Women held in Waspam, Rio Coco, Nicaragua. This assignment taught me how Indigenous women are faced with disadvantages including social and economic exclusion, limited space for political participation, lack of access to education, and racial discrimination. This forum brought women of 115 Indigenous communities together, uniting their thoughts and voices and sharing their achievements.

Another assignment I worked on was the translation of the Open Letter: To President Juan Manuel Santos of the Republic of Colombia. This letter taught me about the Coalition against the Involvement of Children and Young People in the Armed Conflict in Colombia (COALICO); the COALICO calls on the Colombian government to prioritize in peace talks for the cessation of acts that violate the rights of children, as the foundation for a lasting peace within the country.

Through the tasks given to me by my supervisor Sahita, I have improved my hands-on research skills, and I have gained an abundance of knowledge about MADRE and its achievements together with our international partners. I cannot wait to step back into the office, and embrace any and all new challenges that await me at MADRE!

Universal Human Rights: In Practice and In Progress. My First Experiences at MADRE

This is the first in a series of ten blog posts about the MADRE intern experience from Elaina, a student at Seton Hall. You can find out more about our intern program here.

In just the first eight hours as Program Intern at MADRE, I have learned so much about this international organization!

I have researched our global partners to learn how they work together with MADRE to advance individual and collective human rights around the world. I learned about the challenges faced by displaced Afro-Colombian women and children due to long-standing armed conflict, and how MADRE and its partners LIMPAL and Taller de Vida provide humanitarian aid and education on their constitutional rights. I also learned how the Women Workers’ Committee meets urgent needs of marginalized neighborhoods in Guatemala, providing dental care and women’s reproductive health care for the community.

My first task was to help complete our partner KOFAVIV’s training manual on “Utilizing Humanitarian Mechanisms to Address Gender-Based Violence in Haiti.” The manual promotes a human rights-based approach (as opposed to a needs-based approach) to humanitarian aid and development to ensure that the fundamental rights of every human being are recognized and protected. Furthermore, it calls for civic

At my desk!

participation of the community through mobilization and advocacy at the local, national, and international levels. This gave me a good insight into the tools and strategies that KOFAVIV uses to promote women’s human rights and to help women participate effectively in society.

On my second day, I researched our Nicaraguan partner Wangki Tangni’s Women Waterkeepers. I learned that Indigenous Peoples live on the North Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua without health or sanitation infrastructure, a result of government neglect and marginalization. Despite the fact that access to clean water and sanitation was declared a fundamental human right by the United Nations General Assembly in October 2010, many people still have no access to clean water, which exposes them to fatal, waterborne diseases. This assignment helped teach me how clean water education and community involvement can ensure resources are shared equitably and sustainably.

This is my fourth year studying International Relations and Latin American Studies at Seton Hall University; it was truly rewarding to see how the knowledge I had gained from my coursework correlates directly to the human rights issues addressed by MADRE, in turn applying my educational skills to my tasks in the workplace. Between the hands-on knowledge gained from the tasks on Haiti and Nicaragua, as well as the exposure to the successes of the organization as a whole, I couldn’t be more pleased with my rewarding new internship experience at MADRE!

World Food Day 2012: The Power of Agricultural Cooperatives

Today is World Food Day, and this year’s focus is on agricultural cooperatives—powerful examples of active, life-changing community engagement.

Worldwide, women and girls are primarily responsible for feeding their families. Women are disproportionately, overwhelmingly impacted by the expanding global crisis of poverty. Climate change exacerbates food insecurity, causing droughts one year and floods the next, and forces people from their homes. These conditions all exacerbate poverty – and again, disproportionately impact women.

MADRE advocates for food sovereignty, meaning that every person has not only the right to food, but the right to choose what food we eat and an understanding of where that food comes from and how it is produced.

Today, we are highlighting three of our partners, whose work to promote food sovereignty allows them to feed their families and support one another through the many challenges they face. By embracing sustainable farming practices, women and their families have the opportunity to support themselves for generations.

In Sudan, Women Farmers Unite to grow the food their families need to survive and encourage young women to become farmers.

Unlike emergency food aid, Women Farmers Unite gives women the tools, resources and technical assistance they need to sustain their families for the long haul. With our Sudanese partner organization Zenab for Women in Development, we provide women farmers with organic seeds and supplies, including plows and a tractor. A special focus on young women helps ensure theirgeneration continues to provide a local, sustainable food supply.

Women gain the resources they need to grow and produce food, alleviating hunger, improving health and nutrition, and fueling local economies. By working together to grow crops, participants build a network of women farmers who share resources and boost their economic status. Elder women transmit skills and lessons to younger women. Many participants are using their increased incomes to pay for their daughters’ educations, breaking the cycle of poverty and increasing the chances for further political, economic and social empowerment.

In Nicaragua, women farmers are Harvesting Hope.

MADRE partners with Indigenous Miskito women to promote organic farming and provides families with vegetable seeds. Harvesting Hope organizes a seed bank, through which women cultivate, save, and share local, organic seeds from one growing season to the next. The program emphasizes sustainable land use methodologies, safeguards traditional Indigenous knowledge of natural resource management, and strengthens women’s economic self-sufficiency and participation in public life.

Through MADRE’s longtime sister organization Wangki Tangni, Harvesting Hope organizes local farmers’ markets where the women sell surplus produce.  The markets have become a focal point for community cohesion, with Wangki Tangni hosting innovative culinary contests, games, and musical entertainment. The markets also serve as an opportunity for Wangki Tangni to distribute popular education materials about women’s rights, collective Indigenous rights, and women’s health. Women are earning much-needed income for their families, and are able to pay for necessities such as shoes and school books for their children. In the process, women are boosting their economic autonomy and sense of agency.

In Guatemala, women are Farming for the Future.

Indigenous Ixil women living in the Quiché region of the Guatemalan highlands endured 36 years of civil war. The Quiché region was the area most severely affected; nearly half of all recorded human rights violations – including the killing of 200,000 Indigenous People – occurred here.

Today, many widows and single mothers are the sole breadwinners for their families. MADRE has established small chicken farms as a source of food security and income. The project improves families’ diets by providing eggs, generates income for women, and builds participants’ technical and business skills, in turn creating more economic opportunities for young people in Quiché.Based on a community-centered model of micro-enterprise, Farming for the Future not only brings in money; it also creates opportunities for women to learn and then teach other community members about human rights.

Women are also now in a stronger position to negotiate the distribution of work in the household and provide positive role models for their daughters and sons. Nutrition is improving, which will ultimately boost maternal and infant survival rates and the overall health of the community. Indigenous women are strengthened as leaders come together to attend human rights trainings and plan future community development projects.

Generosity in Action: Shipping Humanitarian Aid to Nicaragua

Excitement and camaraderie were part of every step of the process as we packed our recent humanitarian aid shipment—of over 115 boxes!—to CADPI and Wangki Tangni, two of MADRE’s partners in Nicaragua. It was satisfying to be able to contribute to MADRE through Helping Hands because the work we completed was tangible and our progress was visible every day. The donations included everything from medical supplies, crutches, walkers, glasses and contacts to toys, seeds and fabric—items that our partners’ communities wouldn’t usually have access to.

We had the opportunity to be part of this large shipment’s journey in a very significant way. After reaching MADRE’s office, we sorted the goods, thanked the donors (thank you donors!) and packed the boxes. Once the packing of all the donations was finally complete, we worked with the organization AFYA, who retrieved the donations to ship to our partners. This was exciting, because it was the final step before the boxes will reach people in need in Nicaragua.

Throughout the shipment process, Helping Hands had numerous volunteers who helped prepare the shipment.  It was refreshing to meet a diverse group of people who were willing to volunteer their time and share the common interest of assisting in MADRE’s work.

MADRE’s Helping Hands depends on generosity to make our campaigns successful. Without the generous donations of time, money and material goods offered by MADRE supporters, Helping Hands would not be able to pack and ship over 115 boxes filled with vital supplies.

Donations are always greatly appreciated regardless of how small or simple they may appear. Any form of generosity makes a difference.

To learn more about MADRE’s Helping Hands Campaigns and what items we accept as donations, check out our website: www.madre.org/helpinghands

Congratulations to Our Partner Rose Cunningham!

Dear Rose,

We would like to extend our most heartfelt congratulations to you on being awarded the Women’s World Summit Foundation’s Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life!

This award marks an important stride in generating visibility to the powerful work you are moving forward in 115 marginalized Indigenous communities along the Coco River in the North Atlantic Coast in Nicaragua.

The programs you developed through Wangki Tangni to meet the immediate needs of these local Indigenous communities while also promoting women’s empowerment, the preservation of traditional values, and agricultural food security are both innovative and effective and continue to serve as an inspiration to MADRE. Your tireless hard work and dedication is an integral and vital force in the promotion of women’s human rights that sets an example for everyone to follow.

Together, we continue our work for a world where human rights are a reality for everybody. We support you and are honored to work with you.



Celebrating International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People! It was established in 1994 by the UN to promote the achievements and rights of Indigenous Peoples across the world.

Here are just a few of the ways that MADRE works with our Indigenous partners for rights, resources and results worldwide.

Farming for the Future

Indigenous Ixil women living in the Quiché region of the Guatemalan highlands endured 36 years of civil war. The Quiché region was the area most severely affected; nearly half of all recorded human rights violations – including the killing of 200,000 Indigenous People – occurred here.  Ixil women are among the poorest people in Guatemala, which itself has the highest infant mortality rate in Central America and one of the world’s worst rates of malnutrition for children.

MADRE is establishing small chicken farms as a source of food security and income for Ixil women in Guatemala. Implemented in cooperation with Muixil, the project improves families’ diets by providing eggs, generates income for women, and builds participants’ technical and business skills, in turn creating more economic opportunities for young people in Quiché. Based on a community-centered model of micro-enterprise, Farming for the Future not only brings in money; it also creates opportunities for women to learn and then teach other community members about human rights.

Defending Territories and Traditions

On the North Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, Indigenous Peoples face entrenched human rights abuses, including poverty, the denial of education and healthcare services, and the degradation of the ecosystems that are the bedrock of their traditional diet, economy, cultural practices, and very identity as Indigenous Peoples. Having survived and resisted genocide, colonization, forced assimilation, and multiple invasions by the United States, families here now face further danger from governments and corporations seeking profits from the minerals, timber, fish, and other natural resources located on Indigenous territory.

MADRE has co-founded the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Autonomy and Development (known by its Spanish acronym, CADPI) to promote the education, culture, political participation, and community cohesion that people need to effectively demand their rights and develop their economy and government according to their own vision. CADPI offers art and music classes, human rights trainings, and children’s recreational and skills-building programs for local Indigenous and African-descent communities. CADPI’s museum, Casa Museo, displays the work of local artists, organizes international cultural exchanges, and encourages appreciation of Miskito culture among young people in the area.

Voices for Justice

In Peru, more than half of all people – and nearly 80% of Indigenous Peoples and those of African descent – live in poverty. Indigenous women face the additional challenge of gender discrimination. They are underrepresented in local government, exposed to gender-based violence and lack access to health care. Maternal mortality in the region is 185 deaths per 100,000 live births, as compared to an average of nine per 100,000 in industrialized countries. Indigenous women who seek health care often encounter professionals who do not speak their local language and cannot fully explain reproductive health information.

MADRE and our partner CHIRAPAQ (The Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures of Peru) are using radio to share information on health, domestic violence, women’s political participation, food security, climate change and more in these geographically isolated communities. Together, MADRE and CHIRAPAQ are training Indigenous women and men in radio production and broadcasting, providing equipment to a network of radio producers and developing programming to promote women’s human rights and collective Indigenous rights.

Demanding a Political Voice for Women

MADRE partners with the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (better known by its Spanish acronym FIMI) to equip women leaders in Bolivia with the skills they need to succeed in politics. The project brings Indigenous women leaders from around Latin America to conduct trainings with Indigenous Bolivian women who want to run for public office. In order to reach the greatest number of Indigenous women leaders, FIMI and MADRE are working with Bartolina Sisa, the largest Indigenous women’s organization in Bolivia, to train Indigenous women for leadership roles at the local, national and international levels.