A native of Wyoming, Aynn Setright has been in Nicaragua on and off since 1985. She currently works as the Academic Director for SIT Study Abroad in Nicaragua. Below, she shares her experience.
First Experience: Nicaragua in 1985
I first came to Nicaragua in 1985 with Witness for Peace. I went with a short –term delegation to the Pantasma, Jinotega area. After that I was determined to return and continue to learn more about the “real” cost of Reagan’s war on Nicaragua and to raise awareness in the United States on “contra aid”.
When I came back with the Long-Term team of Witness for Peace I was assigned to the job of driving an ambulance for a rural Catholic parish in Bocana de Paiwas. I think I got this position because I was from Wyoming and maybe one of the few long-termers who knew how to drive a stick shift!
The Contra War and Bocana de Paiwas
Bocana de Paiwas was an incredible community. The parish priest then, Pd. Jaime, was a dedicated, hard working parish priest. He, and many other parish workers, had received death threats from the contra for promoting liberation theology. Paiwas was the municipal center and many war-displaced families had moved to the community to seek shelter and protection from the contra in the mountains. The contras there had committed terrible atrocities – leaving behind a wake of death and destruction. Since Paiwas was right in the middle of the “war zone” it was thought that someone who had a US passport would have a better chance of surviving a chance encounter with the contra than would a Nicaraguan driver. I was never sure how the land-mines were supposed to know that I had a US passport!?
After driving the ambulance for Witness for Peace for over a year I was pretty traumatized by the war, the gathering of affidavits, the patients in the back of the ambulance who didn’t make it to the health center in time, the destruction and tragedy caused by US tax dollars. Instead of returning to graduate school in the US I got a deferment and took a job as a community development promoter with the Proyecto Cristo Rey, which was a community development non-governmental organization which Pd. Jaime and others had started to help build resettlement communities for the war displaced families. Building houses and working in women’s empowerment seemed like the right thing to do after the ambulance duty.
Remaining in Nicaragua: Carmen Mendieta’s Legacy
I had intended to stay with the Proyecto Cristo Rey just for a year to heal from some of the things I had seen and experienced. But on December 2, 1987 when our project co-worker, Carmen Mendieta, was killed she left behind seven children. I was very close to the two youngest, Rosa and Norma, and offered to help look after them until their dad was able to settle in to a life of single parenthood. I continued working for the Cristo Rey Project and had the girls with me for much of the next six months.
Just to make a complete circle with this story. In 2004, when Rosa and Norma had graduated from High School in Paiwas – they came to Managua to live with my family and me to continue their studies at the National University. Today they are both college graduates. Rosa works in Paiwas with a feminist radio station called Palabra de Mujer and Norma is a social-communicator in Matagalpa with the Popular Education Feminist NGO – Grupo Venancia. Their mother would be so proud. Carmen Mendieta is PRESENTE through her daughters!