Firsthand Report:  New Progress in Limay

By Kathryn Albrecht

[Don’t miss the photos that accompany this article!  Click here for the photo gallery.]

In February 2014, I had the privilege of returning to San Juan de Limay, municipal seat of numerous small villages dotting a mountainous cordillera in northern Nicaragua. For the second time in three years, I was fortunate to help document some of the projects of Casa Baltimore/Limay, and to gather feedback from our compañeros there who benefit from those programs. This is my report back to the North American half of this long-standing solidarity organization.

The coordinating committee of the southern half, Doña Angélica, Doña Olidia, Don Leonidas and Don Tranquilino, welcomed me back to the spacious old Nicaraguan casa tradicional housing our sister-organization in Limay. All of you who’ve visited there will agree: it’s a cool, restful, nurturing place, with its pila (agua y baño) and huge mango tree in the courtyard. I’ve been so grateful staying there!

I told the comité I’d been asked to visit some rural villages and photograph the CB/L-financed poultry production, and to interview ancianos and the handicapped who receive modest monthly food packets (supplementing the canasta básica the government provides them).

We also discussed the comité’s medical assistance fund (generated from donors like you!).  These veteran committee members are wisely frugal with this account, but I conveyed my understanding that norteños in Baltimore are hoping to see the medical assistance line-item increase somewhat in the comite’s annual budget. There were years when the number of Nicaraguans being helped increased about 8% annually.  I mentioned that now, Americans might be able to dig a bit deeper once again. [Editor note: Thanks to Kathy’s effort, we recently agreed to double this budget item.]

Bright Ideas Abound: The next morning, Don Tranquilino accompanied me (in an ancient, dusty, jerry-rigged school bus) to revisit the village of El Palmar, with an agricultural cooperative formed after the triumph of the Revolution. During “los diez y seis años” (a devastating 16 years of neo-liberal administrations which followed the devastating Contra War), the cooperative felt forced to sell its rich, arable fields, piece by piece, in order to keep their children in clothing, food, medicine, and school.

So the folks of El Palmar now live on a steep, dry and rocky slope above those fertile fields. And Casa Baltimore/Limay has played a key role in their survival as a sustainable community. Many of the families have gotten chickens for egg production, plus the funding to protect their flocks in well-fenced gallineros (henhouses). Modern latrines have also been constructed at many homesteads.

CB/L helped build the first cisterns to store fresh rain water on the mountainside and encouraged intensive, raised-bed gardening, often under the dappled shade of hand-watered banana trees. This year I sensed I was observing El Palmar’s regeneration — an increase in construction as folks add on to tiny homes or build more ample ones within a family compound. There even seems the energy to add a few colorful touches of artistic design. And the Sandinista government has installed a community well, plus! has just brought electricity to El Palmar!

Because of CB/L’s poultry program, after several years of raising and selling their own meat and eggs, los Palmeros are creating a revolving loan fund from their profits, and can now offer others a hand up and out of destitution. Hey, this loan fund just might benefit a widow who we found needs a cooler and sturdier roof over her rickety outdoor kitchen!

Of Water and Wealth: The following morning, my able and dedicated guide, Don Tranquilino — a gentleman who lost three non-combatant sons to Contra attacks in the ‘80s — led us on a brisk walk to an outlying village, El Morcillo. Following the rim of a deep, wide arroyo gouged into the landscape by super-storm Mitch in 1998, we rounded a bend and came upon the most handsome herd of cows I’ve seen in this land of beautiful cattle. Well fed, they rested in the shade of broad tropical trees.

Soon, we passed El Morcillo’s communal milking station, replete with 3-legged stools and a chubby toddler or two awaiting his mother’s patient emptying of the cows’ full udders. The creek, by this point, seemed restored to melodious health in a lushly wooded valley, with families farming gentle terraces up and down its length.  Variety fruit orchards, herb gardens, and numerous vegetable plantings were thriving, despite its being the dry season.

Chief factors in the success of El Morcillo are the vital watercourse and villagers’ use of a vertical-lift, double-pulley system to raise well water up 25 feet into elevated, gravity-fed pipes for irrigation.

El Morcillo has also enjoyed Casa Baltimore’s support, evidenced by their gallineros full of chickens, plus tidy latrines for every home. Families receive grants from the comité for their children’s school supplies each year because, although the village is relatively land-rich, it’s clear that hardworking campesinos in this part of the world are cash-poor.

Back to the Barrio: My last day in Limay was spent with Angélica, who’s been a leader with Casa Báltimor since its beginning — a most gracious compañera. We focused on Barrio Guadalupe Carney, visiting recipients of CB/L aid for the elderly and handicapped. These meetings were warm with appreciation for the monthly food and medical assistance available, plus with the knowledge that grandchildren can attend the CB/L-supported CENIC pre-school and are fed a good lunch, to boot.

Then, a dramatic and surprising interview occurred. Angélica took me to Julia’s house! We knocked at her door, quite patiently, for a very long time. At long last, it was opened by a lovely young woman with a broad smile. We entered and sat down inside. Julia moved haltingly. My friend asked Julia if she’d like to tell her story to this visitor from “Casa Báltimor.” Julia’s eyes welled up with tears.

“When I was just 14, I was walking with my brother to the store. He was in the army and home for the weekend. I was so happy just to be walking with him. We went along the edge of a field and, dios mío, I stepped on a landmine! I woke up in the hospital in Managua. I had lost one foot and lower leg, but they were trying to save the other one. It was badly burned. I was there for months, and they saved it. There is always so much pain. Why did this have to happen? I was only 14! Can you imagine? My life has been so difficult ever since!!”

Her grieving subsided. This survivor of ordnance from one of the dirty little US wars eventually married and raised two children. Julia shared that a Canadian group recently fitted her with a much-improved prosthesis.  Now she hopes to start making piñatas at home to sell, providing merriment to children and their families celebrating life’s milestones, all over town.

Casa Baltimore/Limay stood with Julia, and the many others you’ve read about here, through years and years of struggle and recovery. And many of us feel blessed to have been part of this long, resilient friendship. Won’t you spread the word that the people of San Juan de Limay need our generosity still?

At the End of the Day: As Angélica and I made our way back to the plaza, we passed yet another Casa Baltimore/Limay beneficiary. Waiting at a bus stop was a young fellow with his duffel bag, heading back to college for the new semester. Angélica hugged him and introduced us, explaining that Lorenzo attends university thanks to a beca (scholarship) from Casa Baltimore/Limay!

Soon, with shouts, whistles, chatter and cheers, an old gold school bus rattled up, took on the student, and pulled away in a roil of dust, bearing yet another of San Juan de Limay’s offspring up and over the mountains to reach for higher education. Our grinning Lorenzo declared his intention to return and recharge the cycle once again.