'Before, I hardly ever talked, today you can hardly stop me,' says Kenneth. He works as a social worker in Managua's poverty districts for a small organisation which helps residents organise themselves. As one of 100 young people, he participated in a programme of medico partner Centro Valdivieso. This had a major influence on him, both personally and politically. 'Our society is dominated by fear. When people see someone engaging, they pull back, and would rather have nothing to do with them. Through my experience with the group, I lost my fear. Now, I want to share this with other people.'
Despite the youth of the population – almost a quarter of them are 18-30 years old – Nicaragua is still suffering from the wounds of the civil war and the lost Sandinista revolution. The parents' experience also affects the young generation. Domestic violence and (sexual) violence against women in Nicaragua have reached a level which is hard to imagine. Society is still dominated by authoritarian structures, fear and taboos. In addition, there is the social uncertainty as a result of the neoliberal reforms of the 1990s, with their destructive and socially exclusive effects. Even after the re-election of the Sandinistas, poverty and unemployment are driving hundreds of thousands to migrate. Young people lack both the prospects of a different Nicaragua and the courage to develop such prospects. This is where the Centro Ecuménico Antonio Valdivieso comes in, with a programme to strengthen young people in civil society.
Valdivieso came into being in the mid-1980s as a think tank for the liberation theology movement. Psychologists like Martha Cabrera developed new approaches to dealing with a painful past. Their concepts, based on the experiences of Nicaraguan society, have spread beyond the borders of Nicaragua to Latin America, Europe and South Africa. With medico's financial support, a total of 100 young activists and employees of civil society organisations are participating in the youth programme. The goal is for them to develop their self-confidence, see themselves as political actors and operate as such. The programme initially offers a space to search for a healing approach to the burdens of the personal, family or social past. The centre of Valdivieso's psychosocial work is the recognition that social change begins in each individual. Participants in the programme are accordingly trained in nonviolent communication, democratic organisational processes and psychosocial work. Later, they develop joint strategies for embedding these principles in their own organisations. Finally, they enter into exchanges with other (youth) organisations to develop joint projects that will change their society.
The Sandinistan reforms have shown that it is not enough to change the system in order to change society. Valdivieso is taking the opposite path – to change Nicaragua, social conditions and actors must change. All this starts with the young people. (Monika Hufnagel)
In 2012 medico provided € 25,000 in assistance to the Centro Valdivieso.