“Collective work transforms us as humans, it is the best school of life.”
Leonor has three ambitious projects, and they are all directed toward working with the youth of Nicaragua and the most excluded sectors of the country. In these projects she trusts in the power of education and the use alternative communications as a tool. Her story includes her family and country’s past, her interests and what she has learned from working in political and social movements and her future plans.
To be involved in social justice work has been in Leonor’s blood, her mother and grandmother are activists, so it was a commonplace in their household to discuss what was happening around them and being aware of inequalities and injustices, as well as their rights to live and express freely,
“My Aunt Pilar, assassinated during the Somoza dictatorship in her 20s, was always a present figure, idealized and heroic. I always found her admirable and deep inside I wanted to be like her.”
Her first organizing foray began in college. She organized an activity with her classmates to help people suffering from famine in the north of Nicaragua. Even though she felt scared, that time she jumped on the wagon and encouraged her colleagues and she felt for the first time that she was able to do something vital for others,
“When I started working on these issues I was very insecure. I did not think I could do the things I do now, but then I found courage, not in me, but in the people who I worked with. I learned and keep learning a lot from them. The inspiration and solidarity you get from other people is the most important energy source that keep us going.”
Learning to be a leader
Her career has also faced conflicts. She stated that when she started this path she had moments where she wanted to be in control or not trusting others. This did not to give the others the opportunity to empower themselves and caused her many problems. She says that it was a sign of immaturity and was lack of organization, and on the bright side gave her strength and a higher dose of humility,
“Now, I realize that leadership is best if it is not controlled nor concentrated, that movements need organization and between being “right” and being “kind”, kindness is always better. We say that volunteering is good to help others, but few tell how volunteerism and collective work transforms us as humans, it is the best school of life.”
Her love for Nicaragua
The government/party/family project of Nicaragua has built a structure of parallel party participation, where there is no decentralization of the state, undermining the independence of other state powers that could counterbalance the executive. Leonor says that Nicaragua’s political system has minimized spaces for others to influence it, reducing the public’s ability to transform it to the minimum,
“In Nicaragua, the government has declared the country as one, with one thought, one leader, without being subject to election, by which diversity is seen as undesirable. This context is contrary to the minimum democratic conditions, a prerequisite for citizens to influence. So when we speak of social transformation in Nicaragua, I think influence is not the right word … I have yet to find what it is”.
She also narrated that when she started working as an advocate for human rights her own rights began to be threatened, and that the primary form of discrimination she has faced has been political discrimination,
“The government-party using state institutions started stopping me from marching, sometimes they have hit me, they have said I had no right to speak, they have closed the door for dialogue, they forbade public officials to talk to the organizations that I work with or to give me information, they have even stolen my vote more than once.”
Still she has a lot of faith in Nicaragua, she considers that Nicaragua should not be destined for the history of exclusion it has had, with a government that “manage poverty” and makes it “governable.” She said that Nicaragua could be an amazing country, if it had other visions of the country and other leaders,
“I deeply believe that Nicaragua can be a much bigger country than it is. That people can live without hunger, with health and quality education. That we can change our relationship with nature. I believe that we can stand out by having respect to others and integrity, not by corruption and intolerance. And I think working in a united and efficient way we could begin to see these changes in a span of 10-20 years. That’s an opportunity we deserve and we can not lose, and that no political group or our own ignorance should take that away from us.”
Multiple projects with communications emphasis
Videoproductions CaLé, where she is co founder and manager/project developer, is a cultural company that produces alternative communication tools and believe in the power of film for social change. Since Nicaragua is a country where people read very little, they believe they have to communicate issues of social interest in a more accessible , entertaining and emotional way,
“So for every social cause, BOSAWAS, the elders, education and water, we create documentaries, lectures and action kits that motivate participation and change. We work closely with committed social organizations and aid them to communicate their ideas to people who sometimes lack information. Our goal is that every documentary has a campaign and for each campaign a platform for participation.”
Nicaragua 2.0, is a political movement, which she is a member of, composed mostly of young people born in the 80s and 90s. Their goal is to contribute to the transformation of Nicaraguan political culture through the formation of a new generation with democratic values and peaceful political practices, changing the way they exercise leadership and influence their society. Most of their work is done through alternative media,
“We believe that change begins with individual transformation. We believe that the history of Nicaragua has been the permanent exclusion of one group by another, that to really move forward we must recognize the rights of others, even if we think different. We believe that information is the first step to bring about change, especially in a country where the political system does everything necessary to block information. Our challenges to the development model and the political system is our way to keep those items on the agenda reflecting the exclusion and inequality in our society. We claim political practice as a broad and vital to social change space and believe in the importance of a new generation relay”.
# Reto2035 project, or as its motto says is “a call to our generation to take on the challenge of changing the country” is an initiative to promote the involvement of young generation today in the development and future of the country. The initiative includes a training strategy for youth through documentaries, lectures and action kit to understand and question their development model while others propose alternative models, in addition to this initiative wants to be a youth Think Tank and a permanent space in the media,
“We are the last generation of the demographic dividend, which with the right education and employment policy could radically change the future of the country and will suffer the consequences of not doing it. I believe that this country will not change until one generation takes the lead, a generation formed based on a different vision of development”.
Leonor commented on her future goals in all her projects and her life endeavours,
“In the short term, I would like to be able to build a network of volunteers to create a space of questioning, discussion and suggestions about our development model and about the role we can play as a generation to transform the country. Also campaigning to put in the word of mouth the problem we face of the quality of education in the country (among the 10 worst in the world).
In the medium term, I hope that my cultural undertaking is a leader in the social communications for organizations that are working to transform the country find the communication tools they need to get their messages heard more effectively.
Long term, I want to make a major contribution to my generation for it to achieve a generational change and assume the leadership of our country, under a new vision of politics and development.”
To keep reading about Leonor’s vision please check the Subversive Women Dictionary with terms asked to all the interviewees.
*Leonor Zuniga graduated as sociologist at the Central American University (UCA) in Managua, Nicaragua. She also participated in the Leadership for Global Competitiveness at Georgetown University in Washington, USA. She is also part of the organizing committee of TedXManagua.