This website was created to support "The Little Sparrows" of Grenada, Nicaragua
Cousin Sparrow is dedicated to providing the best nourishment possible for hungry children in Nicaragua. Our main focus is the Gorrioncitos Children's Center, serving two poor neighborhoods at the southern edge of Granada, Nicaragua.
Gorrioncitos School and the El Rosario Health Center
The Gorrioncitos' (Little Sparrows) center came into being in 1989
through the work of some students from Princeton, the Italian Embassy,
and citizens of several poor barrios (neighborhoods), including El
Rosario. Today it is a school of 120 students, pre-school
(kindergarten) and first grade only. The teachers and women of the
community serve a hot, nutritious meal at noon every day, to which any
kids in the neighborhood are welcome. The Community Health Center--Puesto de Salud El Rosario--sits next door, both within a fenced area
of about one acre of land. Last year we built a playground, planted
many new fruit trees, and made a trash system. This year we hope to
build two soccer fields and the community's first composting toilet.
A loose group of friends in mid-Tennessee (with others far and wide)
have helped support the Gorrioncitos for the past twelve years. Our
group, Cousin Sparrow (northern cousins of the Little Sparrows), is a
registered non-profit corporation in the state of Tennessee, and we
are currently applying for 501c3 federal tax exempt status.
The health and well-being of these children is intertwined with the
women, teachers and volunteers who care for them. We are taking the
needs of the whole community into account, including nutrition, water,
sanitation and fun.
Cousin Sparrow has no paid staff. Our work is an investment--not
Welcome to our website.
John Sandy Hepler
292 Haydenburg Rd, Whitleyville, TN 38588
A Letter in Closing
It's been 18 years since I first met the Little Sparrows on the dusty streets of Barrio El Rosario. In the ensuing years, we went from casually passing the hat for them here in the US, to a full scale 7-year project of feeding children and trying to develop a community that can better care for its own. As of December 2010, we have ended this project honorably.
None of this could have happened without your help. I'm amazed and grateful looking back. In 2003 it was not my intention to embark on such a project, yet the need was great, the time ripe, and the opportunity soon looked irresistible. Details from these past years can be seen at our website [below].
It is not hard to run a charitable program to feed hungry children. Who can be against it? Once the food program was established we went on: installed a needed water system, planted (and nurtured) fruit trees, made the stoves more efficient, separated trash (don't throw it on the ground!), composted, and we cultivated one of the most amazing and productive foods known, the moringa oleifera (a drought-resistant perennial) for its leaves. Gardens would have been nice but ripe veggies got taken. Nobody steals moringa leaf except wayward horses and goats, kept at bay by our fence.
But it was clear that the kids' needs went beyond a good noon meal. We saw that when they are offered crayons and blank paper, most kids had no idea what to draw. Children anywhere are born with instincts to play, but modern poverty tends to extinguish this and its main ingredient, imagination. These children needed to learn to have fun.
Typical family fun in Barrio Rosario is 2 liters of Coca-cola and an evening of TV. If you don't have a TV, some neighbor or uncle does. From mama, kids learn that life is a daily round of chores. But the TV box is the main vehicle of education, bringing a constant soft barrage of messages to consume, showing the model of the "good life," the shiny upper middle class lifestyle. Very few people there will ever attain this, but most will remain mesmerized, to the detriment of their own life's realities.
Got fun? Our project responded. We built a lovely playground, swings, slides, climbers, and a small soccer field. We had a circus—The Great Little Sparrows Circus, starring the Little Sparrows—once a year. We skipped rope with hilarity. We got a wide variety of balls, so even the littlest ones could play. We had super-lightweight balls—getting hit in the face with a beach ball provokes surprise, then laughter—and played Funny Ball. We had book readings and open art days. We had a karate teacher for a while. We sponsored teen dances. We played together.
Our valiant women—volunteers— served perhaps 200,000 meals to children, and cleaned up. We tried to put a small business in place in our fine kitchen, making and selling peanut butter and chocolate-PB. Our goal was to pay the workers and hopefully carry on the feeding program. For several reasons, this did not work out.
We have sown some seeds. Whether or how the seeds will sprout remains to be seen.
El Rosario has been gentrified; the poorest have been moved to the next settlement—a few thousand people on small lots—a mile farther outside the city. This is San Ignacio, better known as Pantanal, the Swamp. (We leave our many friends in Pantanal a concrete floor and high-efficiency woodstove in their community kitchen, a public composting toilet, and 400 grafted mango trees.)
The needs and problems never change. Our modern culture is not designed to work for everyone; charity is the assumed solution to poverty. But not only have the numbers of the poor grown astronomically, the nature of poverty itself has changed (for more on this, see The New, Improved Poverty at www.CousinSparrow.org/articles.html)
The old culture of Nicaragua—a quasi-fuedal hispano-catholic hierarchy—has been overlaid with crude consumer capitalism. The 50-year exodus of the poorest people from the countryside has resulted in new, peri-urban generations who are losing an invaluable body of practical knowledge: how to grow food, how to milk a cow, the working of wood for many needs; in short, the knowledge basis of survival is vanishing. And due mainly to globalization (i.e., everything is made in China), there are no longer nearly enough jobs to accommodate all of the poor today. Jobs, money, schools, health care, hope for a better life is what drove people to the city's edges in the first place. At 50-60% unemployment (and thus low wages for those employed), poverty will be the lot of the third world poor until radical change comes.
Lacking access to land, or some security on it, the poor will always be dependent on others for their most basic need—food. Land anywhere in Nicaragua costs a minimum thousand dollars an acre, locking the poor out of food production.
There is still much good to be done. We share more than 99% of genetic makeup with even our most distant brothers and sisters. Our most basic human needs are the same: clean water, nutritious food, shelter, sanitation, health care. And the solutions are pretty much the same among different peoples in different cultures, including here in rural Tennessee.
A new culture is required so that basic needs can be met for all. (The challenge to religious groups must be to evolve their charitable responses into large-scale, true sharing of resources, including access to land.) Many bits and pieces of low-cost, sustainable solutions are well proven, and have in fact been shown in our own Little Sparrows program. For the present, political realities impede the development of this culture.
Our great challenge is the re-animation of human imagination, a sense of fun, and joy in living. The CocaCola/TV culture has engendered a desensitization of our best instincts, and pumps us up with false values.
We cannot overcome the sirens of capitalism with more sugar and bigger spectacle. Asymmetrical tactics are required: fun, imagination, creativity, and Circus!, must move to the heart of programs for communities and their children. I intend to continue working with some such program.
I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to do something worthwhile. My time and resources have been an investment, not a sacrifice. I keep learning the simplest lessons: patience and compassion; and I still get mad sometimes. My many rewards include playing simple ball games with little kids.
Thank you for enabling this,
(for Leith Patton, Toby and Judy Rodgers; and with thanks to Dan Feather)