Our founder, Lonna Harkrader, reflects on SCSRN’s beginnings.
Twenty-seven years ago, June 1993, a group of peace-loving activists from North Carolina visited San Ramón, in hopes of finding a community that would be interested in forming ties of peace and friendship with us. We had been involved in opposing the Contra War, one of the last Cold War gasps in the effort by the United States to reestablish control of Nicaragua.
During our visit, signs of extreme poverty and war were everywhere. Beneficiaries of the land reform program of the Sandinista government were unable to find affordable loans to help them reestablish their farms, roads were unpaved, and people looked tired yet hopeful. The public health center was trying its best to inoculate children for polio and other diseases and to keep mosquito born illnesses at bay. Schools were being held in shacks and without serviceable blackboards on which the teacher could write the day’s lessons.
We wanted to communicate why we were there in the best way we could, despite our very poor Spanish. We stayed with local families and ate meals of rice and beans with them in their homes. Since it was the rainy season and the roads were unpaved, we were impressed at how the the huge amounts of mud running down the roads would often flow into peoples’ homes. The struggle to keep going was visible everywhere.
We could almost read the thoughts of the children staring at us and smiling shyly. They were used to foreigners coming to help them, and we were just another crop. But we wanted more. We wanted a long-term relationship with this community. Remember, this was a time when computers and email were non-existent in San Ramón. We weren’t sure how we would do it, but we wanted to get to know them and for them to get to know us.
We purchased their artwork to take back with us. Most of it was crayon drawings on top of gigantic sheets of used computer paper. There were some papier maché masks that we purchased and promised to sell back home so as to buy paints and paper to enhance their art classes. We told them we wanted to come back if they were interested in getting to know us better.
On a subsequent trip to San Ramón we worked with local people to rebuild a children’s playground from a pile of rusting play equipment. As you might imagine, the fabulous result was a revelation to all of us, North Americans and Nicaraguans alike. The local children who had been watching us intently hopped onto the swings and sliding board making up this new playground with squeals of pleasure.
Now, twenty-seven years later, San Ramón looks very different. The signs of a higher quality of life for people are everywhere. One of our most successful programs over the past 27 years has been raising money for school construction materials for communities that wanted to provide the labor and the land. There are 78 schools spread across the mountain communities of San Ramón, and many were built by locals with our support.
We are grateful to have the opportunity to build ties of peace and friendship during these many years and know there is plenty more of that in the future.
If you’d like to learn more about our work and how you can be involved, please contact us.