All Souls has been involved with Nicaragua since the early 1990s after member Betty Morrow traveled there on a medical trip. There she saw, firsthand, the extreme poverty, the lack of education opportunities, and lack of work for women who often are the heads of households.
Betty returned to Tulsa with an idea.
Working with FINCA, she launched a microcredit bank in Nicaragua to fund women-owned businesses. Known for her passion and energy, Betty soon raised $5,000 to get the first microcredit bank capitalized. The bank, and more than 35 others that followed, focus on lending to poor women so they can start and grow micro-enterprises and begin to rise out of poverty.
Subsequently, the Village Banking Committee at All Souls decided to concentrate its support of microcredit in one of the poorest areas of northwest Nicaragua, the Chacraseca region. This concentration began a partnership with JustHope, a Tulsa-based non-profit facilitating long-term partnerships grounded in solidarity, mutuality and collaboration between Nicaraguan and U.S. communities. The women who have borrowed from these microcredit banks have experienced much success and recently voted to raise the interest rates on their loans to put the banks on the path to self-sufficiency.
Several All Souls delegations have traveled to Chacraseca to meet these women who create their own opportunities with microloans, which have, so far, been paid off in full. This month, another All Souls delegation is set to travel to Chacraseca to live with the community and get to know its families while also meeting women entrepreneurs who have received help from micro banks. I will be among 10 travelers, including Dave Staudt, Judi Hofer, Libby Billings, Luka Billings, Layla Billings, Scott and Sheila Swearingen.
Chacraseca: Life on the edge
In the village of Chacraseca, one of three villages supported by Just Hope, most of the 8,000 families live on only $1 to $2 per day. Chacraseca is a 49-square mile farming community just east of Leon, near the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. JustHope’s website notes that life is lived constantly on the edge, but rather than despair, the community has chosen to organize to work together to realize their dreams for a better life for all – a goal that fits with our church’s covenant. Over the last 20 years, water has been an increasing problem, but in 1999 the community organized to address it. In addition, Just Hope works with community leaders on housing, health, education, leadership support, and micro-enterprise. JustHope is creating global partnerships that combat extreme poverty and nurture sustainable community.
Love is the spirit of this church and service is its law. This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another. – All Souls Covenant
My year: Saying Yes to life
My interest in village banking actually originates with Betty Morrow – I have been aware for more than 20 years that volunteers in the congregation raise money for banks by selling Fair Trade coffee and chocolate on Sunday mornings along with the proceeds of two Sunday collections. I recently joined the Social Justice Council and learned about the Chacraseca opportunity.
The last year for me has brought about new focus.
I am about to be an empty nester and I am looking for new opportunities that will allow me to contribute more to my community and other causes around the world. I’m 55 but I’m just getting started.
I have adopted a rule; say yes to many new opportunities and experiences with a purpose to serve and contribute to efforts that may improve the lives of others.
As a communications director, I have worked behind the scenes for many years promoting community initiatives and elected officials. I want to use that knowledge to do the same for causes that will address the injustices and poverty we see in our own communities.
I know this trip to Nicaragua will be life-changing. I have been privileged to live in great comfort my entire life. I attended a private college and have had a 30-year career in communications and journalism, married and nurtured two children to adulthood.
It’s a tipping point and a time ripe for transformation.
While in Chacraseca, we will work on projects that will improve living conditions, income opportunities, and food security. I will bring home a new knowledge and perspective that I expect will further solidify my commitment to anti-poverty and social justice initiatives in Tulsa and other communities. l am eager to work and stay in the community alongside residents and have daily fellowship, meals and interaction with their families. This will be the first visit I’ve made it to Central America and the first time I have stayed within a culture and environment so very different from my own.
Look for more stories, blogs, and photos from our group on BeyondBelief.online as well as on the All Souls Facebook page.
More about All Souls international reach and work:
All Souls members and Rev. Barbara Prose will be traveling with All Souls International to walk the Camino de Santiago later this year. We’ll share more from their journey here.
The Sienna Project builds schools in remote villages in Guatemala. Read posts from Rev. Marlin Lavanhar when he and other members built a living legacy last year.
Cover photo curtesy of JustHope.