Companion – literally, one with whom you share your bread. Compañeros Inc. – A Canadian-Nicaraguan social enterprise, using private money for public good.
During this past March break, a group of 16 from St. Aidan’s Church went to Managua, Nicaragua, to be compañeros with families living in an impoverished area of the city. We worked side by side with them to build three houses, replacing corrugated metal and stick buildings with sturdy, secure wooden homes with floors that raised the residents off the dirt for the first time.
Companions are partners. Culturally and economically, we were very different: privileged Canadian teens and adults meeting families living at the margins of Nicaraguan society. But the work project put us all together, digging, and leveling, sawing and hammering. We all complained about the heat. We all got dirty and tired. And we all shared the thrill of seeing the new houses go up in four days of hard work. It was a joint effort – our fundraising provided the money for building materials. Compañeros Inc. provided skilled staff. Together, we put in the human labour. And every day we shared food, exchanged jokes and encouragement, learned about each other, and built not just houses but also relationships. We became compañeros.
Some snapshots of the experience that will stay with me:
• Noah, the 15-month-old Canadian toddler in our group playing with a child the same age during a lunch break, both sets of parents watching and smiling as a cultural divide was effortlessly crossed.
• Reyna, one of the Nicaraguan staff, shouting encouragement to us as we feebly attempted to hammer long nails (that insisted on bending) into hard wood. “Like this. Hit it hard! You can do it!,” she coached us, never impatient or scornful of our ineptitude, always generous with help and humour.
• Joanna and Juan Ramon, proud owners of one of the new houses, cutting the ribbon, unlocking the door, and stepping into their home in a simple opening ceremony. After going in and out of it at will while it was a work site, we were now guests, asking their permission to come in and being welcomed warmly.
• Our teens singing for the Nicaraguans at the end of our visit, to thank them for their hospitality and generosity. They had arrived in the barrio with some nervousness, and been shocked at the living conditions. But they left with new eyes, new friends and plans to return.
• A parting gift: Juan Ramon works for a bakery, and on our last day he gave us bread – a vital part of his livelihood, and his gesture of thanks to us. The blessedness of the circle of giving, receiving and sharing.
The gospels tell many stories about bread being broken and shared, and in that action Jesus is known. We do it Sunday by Sunday at St Aidan’s. In Nicaragua we learned in a fresh way what it means to share bread and become compañeros.