Twenty five years of links
Reading has been twinned with San Francisco Libre since 1994, although links go back to 1986. Visits of adults and children between the towns have provided greater understanding. The Reading Mayor visited San Francisco Libre in 1998 and 2003 and the Mayor of San Francisco Libre visited Reading in 1992, 2000 and 2003. Other visits have involved students, teachers, community workers and people volunteering to assist development activities in San Francisco Libre. More visits and exchanges are planned.
In the drought of 1997, the maize harvest failed. Then, in 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused incredible problems, with four days of continuous rain. The rivers became torrents that swept away entire houses, bridges and animals. Some people survived on their roofs for several days, surrounded by water, until they were rescued. The lake level rose by four metres, flooding the main town and destroying a large number of houses. Hundreds of people became homeless, and many lost everything they owned. The Mayor of Reading launched a special appeal. Individuals, schools, church groups and the public responded generously and funds were quickly sent. In thanking the people of Reading, the Mayor of San Francisco Libre stressed that many lives had been saved by Reading’s rapid response to the emergency.
The lake took several years to return to its pre-flood level, then in 2010 it rose once more and flooded the town again, with even greater flooding in 2011. The rise was gradual and so the community was more prepared and there was no loss of life. However, some houses remain flooded and there are plans to redevelop parts of the town, including the town hall, on higher ground. The new port, which was hoped to provide an economic boost, cannot be used at the present water levels. The Mayor of Reading wrote to the Mayor of San Francisco Libre, on behalf of the people of Reading, offering solidarity and support. Repairing the damaged infrastructure, rebuilding houses and reinstating farms will stretch long into the coming years. The agriculture that is so important to the local economy has been badly affected. Fields, pastures, livestock and seeds were lost and irrigation systems have been damaged. For short-term income, people are cutting trees for firewood, but this may cause long-term environmental damage that will affect the next generation. The community is anxious to use this time of rebuilding to diversify and strengthen the local economy. Investment is urgently needed in infrastructure and jobs.
In addition to emergency aid and reconstruction following Hurricane Mitch, the people of Reading have provided a range of development support, mainly funded through people’s personal standing orders to the Reading San Francisco Libre Trust. There has been a long-term commitment to educational support for poor families, funded by standing orders and the associated Peter Oakley Trust. Reading has provided funds to assist students from outlying villages purchase bicycles. Reading has also raised funds for a community centre and has provided computers for the secondary school. Computers have also been provided for public access in the library and various books have also been sent from UK (in English) or purchased locally (in Spanish).
Internet access has improved greatly in San Francisco Libre. Thanks to this, we are able to use email and Skype to discuss priorities with friends in San Francisco Libre, such as Jimmy Zamora (Chair, Apreden) and Cruz Bermudez (Apreden committee member and ex-Mayor who has visited Reading) and the Oldenberg volunteers. Skype has also helped improve our communication with Nicaragua-verein-Oldenberg. Paul Starkey was able to join their briefing seminar for new volunteers, for example. Improved internet capability has also made it possible Oldenberg volunteers to send us reports and photographs on projects and life in San Francisco Libre. What is more, pen pal letters between students at Bulmershe School and Maria de Concepción School have been exchanged rapidly thanks to scanning and email. We hope to develop these communications and share them with you through our new website and our Facebook page. Take a look at San Francisco Libre’s own website at http://sanfranciscolibre.com.