By Walt Sherwood
Did you ever send your money off to some organization, say CARE or the American Red Cross, and wonder what they did with it? Where did it go? Who did they help?
Well, I had a chance to do just that last January, when I joined a delegation from Tipitapa Partners and went to Nicaragua to learn first-hand about the feeding centers they had helped set up for poor kids some 25 years ago.
What is a feeding center? In Spanish it’s a comedor infantil, a place where kids from ages 1 to 6 can come and get a balanced hot meal, along with a structured program that teaches them songs and games, numbers and the alphabet. There are five of them in Tipitapa, a municipality close to Managua, in an area where there is a free-trade zone with factories run by international companies where many of the parents work.
The feeding centers are staffed by trained and licensed teachers, with a lot of volunteer help from parents. Each one serves from 40 to 60 kids each day, during the morning hours. One of the centers is now being used by the community to train women to set up their own baking business.
The occasion of our visit was the inauguration of a brand-new center, built from materials donated by Tipitapa Partners with the labor of the community. It consisted of two large dining/meeting rooms, a kitchen, and up-to-date flush toilets in a separate building. The kids were present to sing songs to us and dazzle us with their smiles and boundless energy. Also present were several young women in their late teens or early 20s who had been among the first children to attend the centers 25 years ago, and were now attending secondary school or the university.
The comedores are run by an association called COMPALCIHT (from the Spanish for Municipal Coordinating Committee of Sister Cities with Tipitapa), which is a community-based organization with a small paid staff and a steering committee made up of the teachers from the centers and members of the community. We had the privilege of attending one of their meetings and listening to what they had to say.
Tipitapa is a very poor community and there are many needs. A lot of people are unemployed or work in the informal economy. Those who do have steady employment, in the maquiladoras, work long hours for very little pay. Everyone is interested in providing opportunities for their children, which is why the centers were set up 25 years ago and why they are still thriving today.
What’s the most urgent need right now? Stoves. In Nicaragua, most people cook on wood-burning stoves with an open fire and no ventilation: The smoke goes straight up to the ceiling and eventually settles everywhere in the room. It gets in the eyes, the nose, the throat. The brand-new feeding center has a traditional wood-burning stove. The women who do the cooking don’t want to use it. They don’t want to ruin the fresh new paint on the walls, but more importantly, they don’t want the children to be poisoned by the smoke.
So they are still cooking in their homes, as they have been doing all along, and bringing the food to the center to distribute. What they would like to have are new stoves, clean-burning, with ventilation. There are several possibilities: a modified traditional stove with a ventilator that sends the smoke up a pipe through the roof; a stove that burns propane gas, which would have to be delivered in canisters; and a stove that burns bio-fuel. Each choice comes with challenges, pro and con, which COMPALCIHT is considering very carefully. In the meantime, Tipitapa Partners is trying to raise money to fund whichever kind of stove they choose.
Would you be willing to help? I can guarantee you that any money you donate will go directly to the community to be used by them to purchase and maintain the new stoves. There is a local nonprofit in San Francisco, One World Children’s Fund, that collects the money for COMPALCIHT without charging a fee, so your donation will go directly to the people of the community in Tipitapa.
To make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.oneworldchildrensfund.org and click on the “donate now” button, or send a check to OWCF, 1016 Lincoln Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94129 and designate your gift to COMPALCIHT.
You will know that the kids of Tipitapa are enjoying a nutritious meal because of you, whichever kind of stove they choose.
— Walt Sherwood is a Davis resident. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-902-4891.