"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door... You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Friday, December 19, 2014

Confessions of a baby grant writer

I started working with ECM at the beginning of November, and these past two months have been full of activity and new experiences.  The primary focus of my position is grant writing, and before coming to ECM, I had only ever written one other grant (during my Nicaragua internship in the summer of 2013).  So I feel like I'm learning a lot of this as I go, in terms of figuring out what goes into writing a grant proposal, how to approach foundations, etc.  I have to admit there are times when I feel insecure and unqualified.  But then, there are times when I feel like I am growing and learning and finding a groove.

On the other hand, I feel like this position uses a lot of my skills, and that my past experiences have prepared me for it.  I like writing and feel that I'm pretty good at it, so this is just learning to write in a new way.  My internship in Nicaragua introduced me to grassroots community development work and the importance of actively maintaining a community-driven perspective.  I love being able to speak Spanish with my coworkers and community members, and continue refining my conversation skills and learning new words.

Throughout this learning process, I’m discovering some of the interesting aspects of being a grant writer.  First, I get to have kind of an overhead view of the organization and its programs.  I get to see what everyone is doing, hear everyone’s vision for where they’re going, and help them dream and scheme about how to get there.  And I love that.

The other side of that coin, though, is that my particular tasks aren’t very interesting to tell about.  I mostly sit at a computer all day, writing and editing proposals, researching foundations and grant opportunities, updating my spreadsheets of information, meeting with program staff to learn their vision and priorities, etc.  I like writing, and I like using language in different ways to communicate what we're doing.  But the program staff – Lidia, the Clinic Director, or Morgan, the Urban Farm Manager, or John, the Executive Director – are the ones with their hands directly in ECM’s projects.

The other odd aspect of this job is the constant waiting that it seems like it will entail.  We submitted a short proposal to a family foundation last week, and that felt like an accomplishment.  I’d been writing and revising the draft, and meeting with Lidia and John, for about a month, so it was gratifying to check it off my list.  But we won’t hear from them until February, so it will weeks before we know if they will approve it or not.  And based on the research I’ve done, a two month response time seems relatively quick.

I love being here at ECM and getting to be a part of their work.  Since my job isn’t too noteworthy on a day-to-day basis, in the coming weeks I’d like to tell you all a bit about ECM’s different programs.


I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season (for those who celebrate, whatever you celebrate), and thanks for reading!

Friday, December 12, 2014

New opportunities, new adventures

Hello again, Internet!

It’s been a while, and I never told you about the end of my internship in Nicaragua, for which I apologize.  Since my last post, I concluded my internship with FSD, finished grad school, and moved back to my beloved hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I’m back, and resurrecting this blog to tell you about two new exciting developments.

First, after several months of job searching, at the beginning of November, I began working with an organization called East Central Ministries.  ECM is a faith-based community development organization located in the International District of Albuquerque.  The organization serves a low-income, predominantly Hispanic/Spanish-speaking population, and focuses on partnering with the community to develop sustainable and creative solutions to their needs.  I love ECM’s approach to ministry, in that they invite the community members to become agents of change in the process of neighborhood revitalization, and the community members are the ones who define their greatest needs and goals.  ECM carries out its mission through a variety of projects, including a low-cost health clinic, a community food co-op, an urban farm social enterprise, an affordable housing community, and youth programs.

My role at ECM primarily focuses on grant writing (beginning with the clinic), and may extend to include other communications and volunteer coordination tasks.  This position is a really good fit for me, my skills, and my interests, because I get to write, use my Spanish, and work promoting human rights in the city that I love.  It’s a joy going into work every day, and I’m so excited that this gets to be my first post-school job.

Thus far in these two months, I have

  • Read through dozens of old documents and grant applications to get my bearings
  • Assembled a database of around 80 grant opportunities we can consider applying to
  • Written and submitted two proposals
  • Interviewed the clinic staff to understand their roles and perspectives
  • Written new content for the website based on those interviews to better express the current operations of the clinic

If you’d like to learn more about ECM, you can visit their website at www.eastcentralministries.org

The other update I’d like to share is a trip I am taking with a group from my church, Sandia Presbyterian.  We will be travelling to Guatemala this January with Living Water International to help dig a well and conduct hygiene classes in a rural community outside of Antigua.

I’m excited about this trip because it will be an opportunity to build relationships of service and compassion across cultures, and to see more of the diversity of the Body of Christ.  I like Living Water’s model because they have a team permanently stationed in the communities where they work to ensure the long term sustainability of the well projects, and because they involve local community members on their team and in the coordination of their projects. 

I’m actually currently fundraising (until December 18) for this trip, so if you’d like to donate, you can do so here.  Anything you can give would be much appreciated.  Prayers and encouragement are also much appreciated!

Anyway, I will be sure to give an update on the Guatemala trip, and I hope to be giving some updates on my work with ECM in the coming months.


As always, thanks for reading, and take care!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Nicaragua: Bisutería y Repostería

Hello, all!  I hope you are having a happy weekend.  Here follows the promised update about the jewelry and pastry workshops.

The Jewelry Workshop was Friday, July 26.  It took place in the Casa Materna in Nancimí, since most of the participants were from Nancimí.  The Casa Materna was a past project carried out in partnership with FSD.  Many of the rural communities surrounding Nancimí lack medical clinics, so pregnant women would travel by foot to Nancimí in order to give birth.  Unfortunately, as a result, many women went into labor en route to Nancimí, resulting in serious health hazards, even sometimes mortality, for the baby and the mother.  The Casa Materna was built to give women a place where they could go two weeks before their due date, so that when they gave birth, they would be in a comfortable bed under medical care.


The Casa Materna in Nancimí.


The view from the Casa Materna--beautiful.

The workshop was facilitated by Yessenia, one of the promotoras who lives in Nancimí.  She volunteered to go down to Las Salinas, learn how to make the jewelry from a fellow FSD intern, and then teach the workshop.  She taught them a couple bracelet patterns, how to use the pliers, and how to make earrings.


Yessenia, in the red shirt, showing my host sisters how to make the bracelets.

During the workshop, each of the participants made a bracelet and a pair of earrings.  That day, what they made was theirs to do with as they would—keep it, sell it, give it as a gift (one of the women actually gave me a bracelet she made with some extra beads, which put a huge smile on my face).  But and the end of the workshop, they chose a day to meet again (the following Tuesday), and that day I would provide them with their “starter kits”—little packets of beads, thread, pliers, etc., so they would have the starting capital to start selling and making a profit.





This workshop and the subsequent “production day” were such heartwarming experiences for me.  During the workshop, I loved seeing how excited the participants were to learn the patterns, and the enthusiasm with which they showed me what they made and let me to take their picture.  They took such evident pride in creating something beautiful, which they could then use to supplement their household income.  During the production day, when each participant had more materials to work with, they started getting creative and trying new designs.  And then afterwards, when we were returning the chairs we had borrowed from the health clinic, I saw a couple of the participants already starting to sell their wares to women waiting for their appointments at the clinic.  All three members of my host family attended as well.  Valeria already sold two bracelets and a pair of earrings to her fellow students in her Saturday English class, and received a couple commissions for bracelets of a specific color.  Araceli took the other two bracelets to work with her today to find clients there.   It is so beautiful for me to see the women exercising their creativity and their entrepreneurship, and to know that these workshops have already made a difference in income of at least a few of them.

The Pastry Workshop was last Friday, August 2, in the Soda y Repostería Jenna here in Tola.  It was facilitated by Doña Socorro, one of the women who works there.  The participants learned three different recipes: donuts, turnover-style pastries (using two different fillings, one pineapple and one chicken and potato), and “cheese fingers”, or strips of cheese wrapped in pastry dough, fried, then rolled in sugar.  Needless to say, I was very hungry by the time the workshop was over, and immensely enjoyed sampling the participants’ creations, and I can personally attest to how delicious they were.

It was also really lovely to see how the women all worked together during this workshop.  When Doña Socorro demonstrated a technique, they would all gather around to watch, then switch off so that everyone could practice it.  As the recipes progressed, they wordlessly divided up the tasks between each other, each one jumping in where something needed doing. 


Doña Socorro, in the center, mixing ingredients for donuts and explaining the recipe, while the participants take notes.


Doña Socorro demonstrating how to knead the donut dough.


My host mom's sister-in-law (I guess that also makes her my host aunt) rolling out the donut dough.


Participants removing the donuts that have been cut from the rolled dough.


Doña Socorro deomnstrating how to wrap the cheese in pastry dough for the dedos de queso.


Doña Socorro explaining how to know when the donuts are ready to remove from the oil.


Pastries frying, chicken-potato pastries in one pot, pineapple in the other.


Finished donuts, rolled in sugar.  Yum.


Finished dedos de queso. Yum, again.

They have scheduled their production day for this coming Saturday, August 10, and Doña Socorro has very kindly allowed them to use the kitchen at the Soda again.  So that day, I will bring them another round of ingredients, they will practice the techniques they learned during the workshop, and then start selling their products.

In sum, I think the skills workshops went very well, and I cherished the opportunity to be present.  I want to be sure to thank all my donors once again.  Your generosity has already helped empower these women to find new ways of self expression and new ways of building economic stability. 

As of tomorrow, I only have 2 weeks left in Nicaragua.  Those two weeks will be quite full, with two more workshops, the pastry production day, a final report to complete, and some translations I need to finish up.  But my, the time has flown.  There are definitely some things I miss about home, but I have developed so much affection for my host family and host community, and it’s starting to hit me that I don’t have much time left here.  So I’m trying to take advantage of the time I do have left to savor the beautiful relationships, nature, and culture (and fruit!  I am going to dream about the mangoes here for the rest of my life) of this community.


I hope you have all had restful weekends, and I look forward to updating you soon!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nicaragua: El Taller de Emprendimiento

Hello, internet, and happy Wednesday!  My apologies for the delay in updating.  Between organizing workshops, going on retreat, and the cold I had last week, I’ve been a bit busy.  But I definitely want to tell you all about how the project has been going.  So, then, ¡adelante!

The first workshop in the Entrepreneurship Workshop was last Wednesday, he 24th.  Overall, I think it went really well.  The women really seemed to enjoy it, and they all participated in the activities and discussions.  Unfortunately, though rather unsurprisingly, the workshop was too short to be able to go as in-depth as the participants would have liked.  The curriculum used for this event was adapted from a 9-week-long course on small business plans, so I can’t say I’m that surprised that there wasn’t time to fit all the information in.  The good news is, though, that tanks to the generosity of those of you who donated to the project, we have enough funds to plan a second session of the workshop, which will take place on August 13.  So once again, I am so grateful for your generosity, and that it has given us the flexibility to adjust the project to meet the needs of the participants.

Given the abbreviated nature of the content, last week’s workshop endedu p focusing mostly on self-evaluation, cultivating an entrepreneurial attitude, and being creative in identifying business opportunities.  The morning started with a quick name game as an icebreaker.  They then did an acrostic activity in which, for each letter of their name, they identified a personal strength that they possessed.  Next was a similar activity called “¿Quién soy yo?”, or “Who am I?”, where they wrote a short paragraph describing themselves, what they do, what skills they have, what they are good at, what their personal goals and dreams are, etc.  A few of them then shared what they had written.  I think this exercise was really great because, as I have mentioned, a lot of the women and teen girls participating in the workshop have experienced physical or psychological abuse.  So I think having an activity in which they thought about what they are good at, and how they can use those skills to create things and start projects and help their families was really good for boosting their self-esteem and self-confidence.


Some of the participants filling out the acrostic activity.


Filling out the "¿Quién soy yo?" excercise.


Anyeri, my host mom's sister (does that make her my host aunt?) sharing her "¿Quién soy yo?" paragraph

Martita, the Director of Casa de la Mujer, then talked a bit about entrepreneurial attitudes, or the kinds of character traits and personal habits it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.  The traits were the following: 1) have self-confidence; 2) search for and take advantage of opportunities; 3) search for information; 4) create support networks; 5) set goals and objectives; 6) assume moderate risk; 7) plan and control systematically; 8) fulfill the work that has been contracted; 9) be persistent; and 10) demand efficiency and quality.


The list of entrepreneurial qualities.



 After lunch, they did a brainstorming activity to spur creativity in thinking of business ideas.  They broke into groups, and each group received a collage of magazine photos.  They each had to think up as many business ideas as they could that had to do with those images.  The point of the exercise was to think outside the box.  A photo of a fruit drink, for example, doesn’t just suggest a restaurant or a bar.  It also suggests the artisan who made the glass, the farmer who grew the fruit, the travel agent who books vacations, and so on.


Working on the collage activity.


A couple of the groups working on the collage activity.


Some of the participants sharing the business ideas they came up with.


 All the collages and the lists of business ideas.


Martita, the Director, demonstrating all the business ideas that can come out of one image.

In the follow up session in two weeks, they will get more into the methodology of making business plans and budgets and such.  I actually think that the way things worked out makes a lot of sense.  They’ll start out with the more abstract, motivational workshop about entrepreneurship and their own capacity to be entrepreneurs.  They will then attend the skills workshops, and actually get an idea of how long it takes and how much it costs to make the products.  They will then return to the business side, and be able to factor in the experience of making the products into their business plans.

The jewelry workshop was also last week, but I also wanted to share a few quick stories from the retreat, so I’ll give you updates about making jewelry soon (and it really will be soon, I promise). 

We—two of the other interns and Alex, the Program Coordinator—started the retreat on Saturday, the 20th with a stop in Masaya to visit the artisan market, where I bought a few gifts, as well as a pair of sandals for myself.  We then went to the Laguna del Apoyo, a lagoon outside of Masaya, and spent that evening and much of the next day swimming and relaxing there.  The water was really lovely, and the lagoon was really beautiful.  Below are a couple of pictures, but they really don’t do it justice. 




On Sunday afternoon, we met up with a brigade of volunteers who had come to work with FSD for two weeks building ovens in Las Salinas.  With them, we went to Granada, checked into our hotel, and had pizza for dinner.  I like most of the food I’ve eaten here in Nicaragua, but let me tell you, that pizza really hit the spot after five weeks of beans and rice for a good 80% of my meals.  The pizza even had olives and artichoke hearts … sigh, so good.  On Monday morning, the other interns, Alex, and I went to a museum in an old convent that had a lot of Nicaraguan art, including some indigenous pieces. 


The view of the volcano Mombacho and the Cathedral from the back patio of the museum.

We ate leftover pizza for lunch, and headed back shortly afterward.  We actually didn’t see too much of Granada, but after frantically writing grants and planning workshops and buying supplies, it was quite nice to take a bit of a break and just relax.


Anyway, as I said, I’ll have an update on the jewelry workshops pronto.  And Friday is the pastry workshop, so I am quite looking forward to sharing how that goes.  Thanks again for reading and for your generosity, and I hope you all have wonderful day!  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Nicaragua: Encuentros y Ferias

Hello, all!  Once again, apologies for my silence here on the blog these last several days.  As mentioned, I have been super busy writing a grant proposal.  (And then, due to an unforeseen bus breakdown, I got stranded in Las Salinas on Thursday night, so although I wrote this blog post a few days ago, I am just now getting the chance to revise and publish it.)  But as of Monday, the proposal is turned in, and I can resume business as usual.  It was a lot of work getting all the pieces of the proposal together, and I am perfectly aware that we might not win it.  But in any case, writing it was definitely a great learning experience for me.  Moreover, I think that all the analyzing and planning we had to do in order to write the proposal made the project better than it would have been if we had just jumped straight to the funding campaign.

Speaking of the funding campaign, I want to thank you all so very much for your generous donations to the project! The campaign ended on Thursday, and thanks to all of you, we have raised $644—more than double what we need to cover all the expenses of the workshops!  This means that even if we don’t win the grant, we will have more than enough funds to cover all the necessary expenses, plus extras to expand the program, purchase starting materials for the participants to get their new businesses off the ground, and plan follow-up events to keep the momentum going after I head back to the U.S.  I am so extremely grateful to all of you who have donated and who have spread the word about the project.

Anyway, enough about fundraising.  I wasn’t writing grants 100% of the time these two weeks, and I have some stories I’d like to share.

On Monday, July 8, we held a gathering, or an encuentro, of the promotoras (the women of the network of Women’s Rights Defenders, which was established in 2012 by the intern who came before me) in Las Salinas.  The purpose of the encuentro was to allow the promotoras to share their experiences with their activist and education endeavors in their respective communities, allow them to express any ongoing needs, and get their input on the workshop series we are planning.

Attending the encuentro was boy a lovely and a heartbreaking experience for me.  Some of the women there have experienced really terrible abuse or exploitation at the hands of their husbands, their employers, or others in their community.  They spoke about the prevalence of violence against women, and how when children grow up in a household where women are abused, they often come to accept that abuse as the normal way of things, rather than something that can and should be changed.  They spoke about how women who are abused verbally and psychologically often tend to internalize the degrading messages they hear and come to believe that they are of little or no value.  Some then shared personal stories of abuse they had suffered (which for confidentiality I will not repeat here).

My heart broke to hear these stories.  But there was also a great deal of hope shared too. The women spoke about how much they had benefited from the trainings on women’s rights, and the difference that information had made in their own lives and the lives of their families.  They spoke about how they had taken ownership of their rights and had come to believe that not only did they deserve better, they were also protected under the law and had the right to expect the fulfillment of that protection.  They spoke about their obligation to be examples to their communities: if they wanted other women to come to understand their rights, they, the promotoras, must live their own lives, and teach their children to live their lives, in a way that affirms, rather than degrades, the dignity, value, and rights of women.  I saw in these women such a hunger to learn, to grow, and to work for the good their families and their communities.


The promotoras discussing their work during the encuentro.


Here is a picture of the group of promotoras (and me; I am, obviously, the fair-skinned one on the left).  These women amaze me, and they shatter any stereotypical expectations anyone might have about the poor, helpless Nicaraguans who need saving.  They might not have access to the resources or the education that many U.S. Americans have, but they have so much passion, initiative, and resourcefulness.   

There was another notable event this past week I wanted to tell you all about.  Last Sunday, July 14, Sarah, another FSD intern who started before I came, helped host a community fair in the neighboring community of Nancimí.  She worked with the clinic there, so the fair started as a health fare—representatives from the clinic where there to do free HIV testing and give consultations.  But the event expanded to include people from all over the community.  There were a few teen girls selling their handmade crafts, lots of vendors selling delicious food, a local natural medicine group, and a man selling beautiful handmade jewelry boxes.  A group from Casa de la Mujer also came and put on a skit about AIDS and machismo, a group of young girls did a few dances, and a local boys’ soccer team played a game against the team from Rivas.  I walked over with my hosts sisters in the morning (about an hour-long walk though really lovely countryside) and spend most of the day there, eating, watching the presentations, and just sitting and enjoying the community atmosphere.


The park in Nancimí all decked out for the fair.


Anyeri, who is my host mom's sister, Sarah's host mom, and the head of the community fair committee, introducing the fair and welcoming all the guests.


Don Clemente, the man I mentioned who makes the beautiful intricate jewelry boxes.  This photo doesn't do justice to the detail.


A drumline--ah, memories of marching band.


Vendors preparing and selling tacos and enchiladas (though Nicaraguan tacos and enchiladas are rather different from Mexican tacos and enchiladas).


Vendors selling handmade flowers, jewelry, and paintings.


The boys' soccer game. 

This entry has been rather lengthy, so hopefully you all enjoyed all the stories.  As of yesterday, I have exactly one month left in Nicaragua, meaning I am past the half-way point.  It simultaneously feels like I’ve been here for ages, and like the time has flown.  In these remaining weeks, I’m really looking forward to going forward with the project and continuing to build relationships with my host family and my larger host community.  Also, today I am off to Granada for a mid-internship retreat, so I’m also looking forward to relaxing a little and getting to do a little sightseeing.


Thanks again to those who donated to the project, and thanks for reading.  ¡Que se cuiden!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nicaragua: A chance to help!

Hello, friends!  I bring you this special Friday update to let you all know about an opportunity to get personally involved in the work I’m doing down here in Nicaragua.

As I have mentioned, I am helping Casa de la Mujer plan and implement a workshop series on entrepreneurship.  The series will begin with a workshop on starting and managing a small business.  The participants will then divide into two groups, one that will learn to make jewelry and one that will learn to make a few different pastries.  Casa de la Mujer will provide the participants advice and support in the coming months in the hopes that they will use these skills to start a small commercial enterprise.  The series will then conclude with a workshop about Law 779, The Comprehensive Law against Violence towards Women, such that the women living in these communities may better know their legal rights and the resources that exist to help them should they suffer any sort of abuse.

As I have also mentioned, I have been in the process of writing a grant to secure funding for this event.  However, the grant application with FSD is a competition, meaning that it is not certain that I will receive funding.  Even if I do an excellent job writing the grant proposal, another intern here or at another FSD site might have an even better idea.  So in order to be sure that my project is funded, I am also launching an online fundraising campaign.

The funds we need to raise will cover the materials for the workshops (notebooks, paper, beads, thread, flour, sugar, etc.), fees for some of the instructors, and refreshments for the participants (which is very important in Nicaraguan culture; it's expected that if you are hosting an all-day event, you will serve food.  Hospitality, from what I have experienced of their culture, is a big cultural value). If we do not win the grant, this campaign will ensure that we can still carry out this project.  In the event that I do win the grant (or if you all are super generous and we exceed our goal), we will be able to expand the program and make it even better—opening it up to more participants, purchasing starting materials for the women to use as the initial boost in launching their businesses, and expanding the follow-up activities that Casa de la Mujer will carry out after I leave.

This is where you come in!  If you are interested in my work down here in Tola and if you are able to help out, I would love it if you could chip in a little bit to help empower the women on this community.  Our current fundraising goal is $350, meaning that if only 20 people chipped in just $20, we would easily exceed our goal.

The deadline to donate is this coming Thursday, July 18--meaning we have only one week to meet our goal!

If you are interested in donating, please click the following link for more information:


I would really love it if you could help out in getting this project funded.  The women whom I have met through Casa de la Mujer’s network of Women’s Rights Promoters are all such amazing, dedicated, and strong people, and I really hope that my work here can be of assistance to them in expanding their efforts in the communities of Tola.


Best wishes to all, and thanks in advance for your generosity!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Nicaragua: Algunas fotos

Hello, internet.  My apologies for the silence this week.  It has mostly been spent writing a grant proposal for the workshop series we are planning--a process that is interesting for me as a learning experience, but not such interesting blog material.  I do have some interesting stories to share with you--we had a gathering yesterday of all the women in the network of Women's Rights Promoters, and I spent the night last night in the neighboring town of Nancimi to get to know that community a bit--but I'm feeling a bit frantic with the grant, as it is due Friday.  Meaning you shall probably have to wait until next weekend for a proper update.

So in the meantime, to tide you over, here are a few photos of Tola, the town where I live.  I hope you enjoy, and more updates to come soon!  ¡Abrazos!


The park in the center of Tola.  I love the pastel colors with which it's painted.


The Catholic church, also in the center of town, across the street from the park.


The main street of Tola.  You can see some of the pulperías, which is what they call the little grocery/convenience stores where they buy food and necessities.  (And for my Spanish speaking friends, no it's not a store that sells octopus; that was what I originally thought, and my host sisters thought that was hilarious when I asked them about it.)


FSD's office in Tola.


The Nazarene church my host family attends.