|(Ed note by Dick Meyer)
In Nicaragua the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship by the Sandanistas in 1979 led to many reforms towards greater health care, literacy, education, employment opportunities, and access to land ownership by cooperatives. In the early 1980's a Thurston County Central America Action Committee developed to respond to the issues of this social revolution and the US sponsored armed opposition which made the struggle for positive change so much more difficult. Some trips were made to Nicaragua, tours were taken to see health, farming, literacy, and other projects, a construction brigade was organized and sent. The Olympia-Nicaragua Construction Brigade that went to Nicaragua in February and March of 1988 worked on building a sewing cooperative in the town of Santo Tomás because a relationship had been developed earlier with that community by one of the principal local activists, Jean Eberhardt, on an earlier Seattle construction brigade.
Out of these contacts it was decided to try to formalize a relationship between communities and by the fall of 1988 the Thurston Santo Tomás Sister Counties Association (TSTSCA) had been established.
Over the years the relationship has continued and flourished. Visits have been arranged in both directions - teachers, health practitioners, and community workers visiting our community - students and others visiting Santo Tomás. As one example, in 1998 Dr. Diane Dakin, Stephen Bray, and their sons visited for three months with Dr. Dakin offering her services to the People's Health Clinic. Projects have been developed and continued - the Comedor Infantil (the children's soup kitchen) and a more recent farm project to make the program self-sufficient; a teacher certification program; a midwifery project; a current major project to work with the Committee for Community Development (CDC) in Santo Tomás to take an existing building and turn it into a community center for youth and families to create activities which battle the rising incidence of drug abuse, alcoholism, and crime.........and so much more over the years.
The devastation of Hurricane Mitch, although not as directly devastating for Santo Tomás as elsewhere in Nicaragua, has created another challenge for this community but an opportunity to respond. Fund raising benefits and donations have raised over $7000 to send in relief to both Honduras and Nicaragua in the months after the hurricane. But the needs are of course ongoing. A Health Care Brigade organized by the Nicaragua Network for February 20 to March 6th to respond to what was already a depleted and understaffed health care system due to IMF/World Bank policies and to respond to the extraordinary medical needs from the Hurricane is underway. The crafts that we have at Traditions come to us now from a project of artists and youth through the Santo Tomás community organization Pobres para los Pobres (the Poor for the Poor). Purchases of these crafts is a tangible way of support to the artists and the community.