W/NP celebrates 50 years of humanitarian partnership
The Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners of America (W/NP) program will celebrate 50 years of humanitarian efforts during an anniversary event held Saturday, Nov. 7, in the Memories Ballroom, 2811 Plover Springs Drive, Plover.
Nicaraguan program participants will attend the event and guests will have the chance to hear first-hand how the W/NP program has benefited them and their families. A social hour will begin at 4 p.m.
The W/NP program, a statewide organization headquartered in Nelson Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, takes donations of all manner of goods, including household appliances, sports equipment for youth and school supplies made by businesses, organizations and community members. W/NP ships the goods down by freight container to Nicaragua where the supplies are distributed to areas of the developing country that need them the most, primarily the people themselves.
For example, one of the many branching programs of W/NP is to supply the people of Nicaragua with eyeglasses, something many of them – even the elderly – have never owned their entire life.
Another W/NP program is to supply Nicaraguans with sewing machines to start businesses and become self-sufficient.
“Our symbol is the two arrows, and it emphasizes the inherent equality in the partnership with no one partner being dominant. We work together with the people in Nicaragua. We are not any better than they are, and they are not better than we are. We are equal and we work together,” said Amy Wiza, director of W/NP.
Wiza quoted a passage by Bill Thomas, one of the founders of W/NP, “The people we met and talked to don’t want charity. But they do welcome the encouragement and support of those who will help them to develop the future in which they look forward to so confidently.”
“And that’s really the essence of our program. We don’t want to be thought of as a charity just helping poor people, that’s not it at all,” Wiza said. “We’re helping them to help themselves and they in turn help us as well.”
“The people are either involved in Wisconsin and work here supporting our project or they travel, they benefit just as much, if not more, by having a changed perspective on how they look at things,” she said. “It’s really nice to have the opportunity to be able to see how other people live. It’s not better or worse, just different.”
An example of supplying the Nicaraguan people with the tools to succeed is the Chica Nica Doll Dress Project. Nicaraguans will craft doll dresses with the sewing machines they received and sell them through W/NP to make a living.
“The Chica Nica dresses are absolutely amazing,” said Joanie Hanson, the volunteer who helps facilitate the doll dress program. “If you look closely, some of them are done on sewing machines, some are handmade. They’re the most incredible things.”
The dresses come in a variety of ethic styles and nationalities.
“When the little girls say (their dolls) are Polish or Norwegian or Swedish or Dutch, we can find them a dress,” Hanson said.
“It’s not (a fundraiser), it’s to provide the women employment,” Wiza said.
It’s more than fair trade, Hanson said. Because the people who make the dresses get the money and the products they make are extremely high-quality, not like what can be found from American companies.
“In 1982, the sewing school in Los Seguros (Nicaragua) began but they didn’t have any sewing machines. The Partners started out giving them three Singer sewing machines and we’ve sent more than 2,000 since that time,” Wiza said. “It’s probably closer to 3,000 now.”
W/NP is planning to send its 10th shipment of donated supplies this year. Each shipment is about 50,000 pounds, for an approximate total of 250 tons this year alone.
Wiza said some years W/NP sends more, some years less. But that number should give an idea to how much good the organization is able to do.
“Since I’ve been involved the last 20 years or so, it’s anywhere from five to 10 containers a year,” said Wiza. “And all of those things that are in the containers support our programs in Nicaragua. And we have 25 different programs ranging from agriculture, to education, to women and family programs.”
The logistics of shipping such high volumes of goods internationally is complicated and daunting, but the federal government helps with the cost, Wiza said.
“We work with the Department of Defense-funded transportation program, and when you’re delivering humanitarian goods to a developing country, they will assist with the shipping and logistics, but it’s a long process,” she said.
She said one of her favorite things about W/NP is the guarantee the donations will reach the intended target. In today’s world, donors don’t have much certainty their donations will make it through the logistical chain to the people who need it the most. However, with W/NP, she knows without a doubt the goods will make it to Nicaraguans because she’s personally met the people whose lives W/NP has impacted.
“We know what’s going on, we have very fluid communication and that’s valuable when someone is thinking about giving time, money or resources,” she said. “You want to know it’s being well used.”
She also said she loves the people W/NP attracts. Volunteers from all walks of life step out of the crowds and donate their time and expertise to help the program in the way they are best suited for.
For example, Jim Herman, a sewing machine mechanic who owns his own repair business in Waushara County, read about the sewing project in his local newspaper and decided he could help the W/NP volunteers weed through the piles of donated machines to determine quality, then fix the broken machines for shipment.
Volunteers don’t have to be professionals or folks with skilled trades either. Kailee Jisko, for example, is a 12-year-old Portage County native who learned one day Nicaraguan children don’t get new backpacks for school each year and some don’t have any at all.
This troubled her deeply, and she took action to do something about it.
“She decided she was going to get 10 backpacks together and send them to Nicaragua. Well, 10 became 20, then became 50, became 100, became 1,000. Now’s she’s at around 1,100 or so,” said Wiza. “This is just one girl who is 12 years old.”
She doesn’t stop with the backpacks, though. Kailee also collects school supplies, like crayons, pencils, glue and notebooks, and fills up each backpack.
“People have a lot of talents, and when they volunteer to share their talents willingly, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Wiza.
The W/NP office in Nelson Hall is only staffed with two employees to oversee such vast operations. However, volunteers help immeasurably.
“When I apply for grants and they look at our annual report, then look at all of our programs they ask, ‘how is it that you’re carrying out all this?’ We have an incredible network of volunteers. Not only in Wisconsin, but also in Nicaragua,” said Wiza. “We have a very small staff in Nicaragua too, the rest are volunteers.
“When our shipments arrive, the fire department will come, the volunteers, the community members, the Learning Center coordinators, people come together for the good of others. That is the bottom line,” she said.
In 1962, John F. Kennedy created the charter for the Alliance for Progress, a program of organized governmental cooperation in the western hemisphere.
Then in 1964, the Partners for the Americas program – the parent organization of W/NP –evolved out of Kennedy’s foreign policy initiative as the “people-to-people” component of it.
Then in 1965, W/NP was incorporated as a nonprofit organization. Before that, it was a government program. The W/NP is now one chapter of the national Partners for America program.
“Wisconsin is one of the few states that is exclusive with their partner country,” Wiza said. “Because Mexico and Brazil are big countries, so many states share them, but Wisconsin is lucky because we are exclusive with Nicaragua.”
Fort Atkinson was the first Wisconsin city to form a partner city relationship in Nicaragua in 1973. Then in 1990, Stevens Point Mayor Scott Schultz and Sherin Bowen, W/NP’s former director and Wiza’s mother, partnered with Alfredo Rodiquez of Esteli, Nicaragua, to form Stevens Point’s sister city partnership with Esteli.
But sometimes the significance of that relationship gets lost in the shuffle because the W/NP state headquarters is in Stevens Point as well, Wiza said.
Since then, W/NP has been building the international relationship with Nicaragua and aiding its people.
“We can do this because we have volunteers who have an interest in specific areas and oversee their own programs under the auspices of the (W/NP) organization. It’s really a team effort,” Wiza said. “I was just thanking Wisconsin Lift Truck because they provide the forklift every time we have a shipment because we don’t have a good, running forklift; and Moody Trucking brings the Gaylord boxes from southern Wisconsin, Envoy donates the boxes, Wozella Publishing provides the strapping material for the boxes, Ferrell Gas provides the propane for the forklift.
It’s really an incredible array of organizations, institutions and citizens who are involved in whatever level they can,” she said.
For more information about W/NP and its programs, visit www.wisnic.org.
For more information about the Chica Nica doll dresses or to place an order, visit www.chicanica.org.