When wanting to help those who are impoverished most people think of sending money, food, or building homes and schools, when what these people really need are some friends.
Compas de Nicaragua (Friends of Nicaragua) is a non-profit organization from New Hampshire whose focus is to build a friendship, rather than simply “help” Nicaraguans, according to staff member, Charlie Smith. Smith represented Compas de Nicaragua in their tour across New England, which visited Keene State College Thursday, Oct. 4.
About 15 people attended the speech held in the Atrium Conference room and put on by the Fair Trade Club. The club’s president, Kelsey Bumsted, said our age group and themselves “tend work hard at grass root movements,” and Compas de Nicaragua is a group that definitely fits their values of community and “the personal level” that is reached.
Compas’ mission statement is “to promote cultural exchange and improve lives through service trips and sustainable community development.”
They work with two cooperatives, Women in Action located in Managua, and Brothers and Sisters in Union Farming Cooperative, in the town of La Paz.
Women In Action (WIA) is a group of about 30 to 40 women within the community with the purpose “to improve their lives through education, health, and income generating programs,” according to the group’s website. Smith discussed these projects during his speech, which included everything from the Soy Food Program to carving gourds.
The gourds are part of artisan projects where women create various crafts, which produce an income.
Other crafts include transforming recycled, plastic bags, picked off the street, into crocheted purses. Smith said how it’s also a way for the women to get out of the house and take a break for an hour or two a day. He noted how important that break is for the women who will cook for up to seven hours a day over a wood-burning clay stove.
The presentation included a video on the projects the organization facilitates. The key part to the organization is listening to the people.
“One thing we like to do is listen,” Smith described, “Projects done within the women’s cooperative were all women-initiated, so they had these ideas of what they wanted to do and how they wanted to move as a cooperative…we more or less provided opportunities.”
Smith said he prefers to avoid the word “help” because it isn’t help Nicaraguans need, it’s chances.
Rissa Grady, a junior, who travelled to Nicaragua with the honors program said how much she appreciated Compas for that reason as opposed to other groups who will give things away for free and nothing else.
“We’re sharing, we’re not giving them things and helping them, we’re sharing what we have and they’re sharing with us in return…it’s a support system,” she explained and said, “this group is really good with that.”
Junior Johanna DeBari added, “It goes back to that proverb, you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day or teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”
The Farming Cooperative aims at reforestation, conservation, and soil preservation in La Paz, thanks to its rich agricultural land.
Projects include building water filtration systems, bio-gas systems, and growing organic coffee. Smith explained how the bio-gas system takes manure and decomposes it into bio-gas through anaerobic digestion.
These systems are highly beneficial to the environment because they yield more potent sludge fertilizer and destroy methane, according to organization.
They are also more cost and labor effective than splitting or purchasing wood for a stove. This in turn helps with reforestation because less firewood is needed.
While Compas de Nicaragua may provide people the opportunity for their ideas to come to life, it is the people themselves that think of them in the first place.
They know what they need Smith said how it is about offering them that support, to let them know people are thinking about them. “We put a lot of emphasis on building friendships,” Smith explained how the organization is all about “building a large, international community.”
Smith explained, “The most important part is people like yourselves, people like us, who share our lives with the Nicaraguans; say we care, we want know what life is like. We go down, spend some time and we share our hearts, our stories and in turn so do they. From all of this, the building of friendships, comes a lot of projects. There’s some longevity to sharing these friendships that we can always get involved.”
Anyone can volunteer to go on a service trip to Nicaragua.
Smith talked about how important travel is and that there is “something unique about stepping outside of our bubble, our safety bubble of comfort and seeing how other people do things, seeing how the rest of the world lives.”
Elizabeth Streeter, junior, said, “compared to what we’re used to, they have next to nothing but he [Smith] was talking about the spiritual wealth they have…we have twice as much and don’t have it and I think there is a lot to learn from that…it makes me want to go there.”
For those thinking about going on a service trip like this, Smith advised, “If you have the opportunity, don’t think twice about it–go, take it, especially when you’re young. You have everything in front of you; you have the world in front of you. Get to the edge and just jump, don’t think twice about it.”
Regan Driscoll can be contacted at