By Jill Hickson
"Exciting and unique", is how Kathy Fairfax describes the 1995 Work/Study Brigade to Nicaragua. Fairfax is helping organise the brigade, which will spend a month in Latin America in June-July 1995.
The trip is being sponsored by the Committees in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean (CISLAC) and the Augusto C. Sandino Foundation (FACS) in Nicaragua.
According to Fairfax, this is a rare opportunity for people to experience the real Latin America at an affordable price. "As well as being an enjoyable holiday, the brigade will demonstrate the effects which structural adjustment programs are having on the poor of Nicaragua and illustrate the positive response of community organising initiatives inspired by the Sandinista revolution", she said.
The brigade will offer two options for the first two weeks in Nicaragua. One will be to assist in a community development project; the other will be to study Spanish at a language school in the capital, Managua.
Both options will give people the chance to stay with a Nicaraguan family and to experience daily life first hand. At the end of these two weeks, the participants will come back together to travel to other parts the country.
The language program is designed for students of Spanish who wish to develop their existing language skills through the combination of morning classes and "total immersion" in a Spanish-speaking environment. The school, Tetazani, is located in a modern training complex affiliated with the Sandinista Youth Movement. Students will be lodged by the school with host families in Managua. Afternoons will be free for activities such as visits to community organisations in accordance with the student's interests or study.
The work brigade will participate in a community health project located in five poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Matagalpa. Matagalpa is a coffee growing area in the scenic mountain regions in the north of the country, with a pleasant and cool climate.
The project aims to improve the local environment and health conditions by strengthening community organisation and initiative. It includes health training, promoting natural medicines, growing vegetables for home consumption and sanitary works.
Depending on the stage the project has reached when the brigade visits, the "brigadistas" might find themselves helping with gardening, building fences and outhouses or compiling statistical materials. Brigadistas will be billeted with families involved in the project.
The Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan Women (AMNLAE), "Nora Hawkin" Women's Centre and the Movimiento Comunal (Neighbourhood Movement) will be implementing the project, while FACS will be providing collaborative and evaluative support. CISLAC is funding the project with the assistance of the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau.
To get a broader feel for Latin American culture and lifestyle, the group will stop off in Mexico City on the way to Nicaragua. This will provide an opportunity to rest from travel and see the sights of Mexico City. For example, the spectacular Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon were a centre of Aztec culture and the Museum of Anthropology proudly exhibits the vast heritage and anthropology of the pre-Columbian civilisations.
In Nicaragua highlights will include a chance to rest at a mountain retreat renowned for its forests, horse riding and wildlife. A visit to Granada will allow participants to see one of the most beautiful Spanish colonial cities of the Americas and one still largely undiscovered by commercial tourism.
From Granada's jetty, the brigade will board a ferry for a four-hour trip across Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) to the island of Omotepe. Monkeys and pre-Columbian rock carvings are among the treasures to be discovered on a walk through the island's forests.
Nicaragua is also famous for its volcanoes. A visit to the Masaya National Park will take people safely up to the very edge of the crater of a live volcano. The park itself is replete with unique geological formations and fauna and has an ecological museum.
Time will also be available for participants to explore the sights by themselves or experience Managua's nightlife with its folkloric groups and its salsa, meringue and reggae dance venues or explore the popular markets.
The brigade will finish up with two significant events: the Fifth Intercontinental Conference of the Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the July 19 rally. The conference aims to develop better communication, cooperation, mutual solidarity and exchange of information about the struggles of grassroots organisations. More than 1000 activists are expected to attend.
July 19 celebrates the triumph of the Sandinista popular revolution and the fall of the dictator Somoza in 1979. Some 50,000 people will rally in Managua's central plaza to hear and see Sandinista leaders such as Daniel Ortega and Tom s Borge. The rally is preceded and followed by an open air concert featuring the best of Nicaragua's singers and musicians.
"As important and enjoyable as the tourism, the work or the study will be the opportunity for people to interact with local communities and organisations and so broaden their experiences and understanding of the Central American reality", says Stephen O'Brien, who is helping to coordinate the Nicaraguan end of the brigade.
"There will be opportunities to meet with activists from different areas such the reconciliation process between the ex-Contras and Sandinistas, liberation theology, feminism and environmentalism. While a poor country, Nicaragua offers a lot for people interested in a unique holiday which incorporates an interesting and enjoyable time as well as social justice experiences."
The price of around $3500 includes all accommodation, transport, translation, local guides, most entrance fees and some meals. Spanish students will be responsible for paying tuition fees of US$200. The planned departure date is June 24, and the arrival back in Australia will be around July 25. More information can be obtained from Kathy Fairfax on (02) 799 6820. Reserve your place with a $100 deposit by a cheque made out to CISLAC. The number of participants is limited.