The Centre for Communication and Popular Education (CANTERA) – founded and directed by Anabel Torres, with the accompaniment of SCIAF (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund), has experience in developing processes of women and men’s empowerment, promotion of gender equity and development of agroecology in rural communities in the municipalities of Belen, Mateare and Villa El Carmen in Nicaragua. The Centre bases its work on a systemic vision of reality that recognises the interconnectedness of all life elements: the family/family relationship, the local and the global, perspectives of gender, the economic and the cultural, etc. It aims to transform how each of these elements relate to each other through its programmes. CANTERA recognises that specific changes initiate processes of change in the entire system. This is their dream, the dream that moves them – the transformation of our reality.
CANTERA’s starting point of understanding is that all living beings are part of the same reality, that we are interconnected in a network of relationships of everything with everything. This recognition motivates us to promote new types of relationships, starting with those between men and women and between society and nature, which break the patriarchal culture of domination and control, not only of women’s bodies but also of nature’s resources. These new relationships must be characterised by recognition, appreciation and mutual respect. The priority is the care and protection of life.
“I have been a promoter of CANTERA where I have learned to produce organically. I am in love with what I sow without using chemicals, everything is organic because we want to have a healthy life together with my family and my community. With organic agriculture I have good harvests, I try to keep everything on my plot. As a woman it has helped me to empower myself, I have the power to share all my knowledge with other women so that they are also empowered.”
Dominga Sotelo, Los Filos de Cuajachillo Community, Mateare
This vision, from which we approach community and educational processes, is based on critical thinking and the transformative and dialogical character of education proposed by Paulo Freire, a spirituality centered on creation and the biocentric model of education, created by the Chilean scientist Rolando Toro, “which proposes an interactive model of network, encounter and connectivity; it places respect for life, not only of the human being, but of all living beings, as the centre and point of departure for all disciplines and human behaviours”. The biocentric principle considers the multiple dimensions of the human being: physical, biological, spiritual, psychological and social, integrated with other people, with the environment and with oneself.
“When I entered CANTERA, I was a woman without vision, without motivation. At that time, I had 2 small daughters and now I have 3 daughters. I separated from my husband, but this has not been an impediment to my success. I received beekeeping training. When I finished it, CANTERA gave me two beehives, then supported me to multiply them; this way I gained confidence to keep multiplying them. Today I have 54 hives, and I have managed to harvest up to 165 gallons of honey per year. The changes I have felt in my life are wonderful. I consider myself an enterprising and fulfilled woman, because I have managed to make improvements in my house: I have managed to build a room, I have a bathroom with toilet and every detail of my house has been improved little by little and I have what I need to live.”
Claudia Isabel Guevara Morales, Belén Community
Supported particularly by these approaches, we develop our work. The communities we serve are very vulnerable and their great challenges are the development of life skills, the improvement of the soil to ensure food production, the capacity to generate income and training to ensure production in an agroecological way.
“I am the treasurer of the board of directors of the seed bank in my community. In the bank we keep all the corn, bean and sorghum seeds. There, we silage them and then lend them to producers. When planting time comes, they return twice as much as they received, so they don’t have to go out and buy seeds at the market. We have 4 silos of 8 quintals each. I am proud of the position I hold, I think they trust me.”
Jaqueline García Chávez, Los Filos de Cuajachillo Community, Mateare
Experiential and academic-technical training have been key in this accompaniment.
Experiential training aims at generating changes in behaviour, attitudes and ways of thinking and acting. The themes worked on were: human values, feminine gender for women and masculinity for men, leadership and advocacy training, community organisation, community exchanges, spirituality and leadership meetings, and periodic meetings with female and male community leaders.
Academic and technical trainings are organised around agroecology, beekeeping, development of business plans.
In my plot I did not sow anything, I considered my land useless. But with the agroecological practices that the project has taught us and that I have put into practice, everything has changed. Now I have a diversified plot with musaceous plants and vegetables. The secret was to make an improved compost”.
Michael Aburto, La Chorrera Community, Villa El Carmen
We have evidenced changes at the community level in several areas such as the participation of men in domestic work and in dialogue and participation with their life partners, in their own and community productive activities; formation and support of the “Agroecological Network of Promoters” (formed by 60 young people who participated in the Specialised Course in Agroecology given by the Agrarian University) who provides technical accompaniment to producers in their communities by promoting ecological agriculture; members of the “Climate Monitoring Network” (50% women) who receive continuous training to follow up on the rain and soil humidity levels, and to guide producers on the appropriate periods for planting; “Community Ecological Brigades” in each community, carrying out reforestation, community clean-up and awareness-raising activities for the population on the importance of environmental care, directed mainly by teachers, young people and community leaders.
Anabel Torres, Nicaragua, is the founder of Cantera and member of the Congregation of Saint Agnes of the USA. She has a background in popular education, biocentric education, natural medicine, theology and feminism and an education background in public administration.
Photo credits: CANTERA
 Biocentric education in its social dimension. Ruth Cavalcante. Conference at the World Education Forum 2012