- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. (AP) - For Carmen Lopez, the cup of coffee she had at Lynwood Center had a bit of added satisfaction beyond its taste and caffeine bump.

Lopez is a Nicaraguan coffee farmer whose beans are regularly sold in shops on Bainbridge and seeing the result of all the labor behind those beans, thousands of miles away from where that work took place, was a bit of an experience.

“This coffee from the other place, to have it in my hands here, is a huge marvel,” she said. “It’s a source of pride to understand that a lot of people are drinking my coffee.”

Lopez was one of 11 delegates from Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, who visited Bainbridge in October as part of the 30th anniversary celebration for the Bainbridge Ometepe Sister Islands Association, and one of three who spoke with the Kitsap Sun through a translator about their experiences with the association.

BOSIA purchases coffee beans from Ometepe farmers like Lopez and imports them for sale on the island, reported the Kitsap Sun (https://bit.ly/2ec86F4). Since 1988, more than 500,000 pounds of Ometepe coffee have been sold on Bainbridge. It’s just one example of the many projects and relationships that have formed since the association’s earliest days.

“In addition to benefiting the farmers with the purchase of coffee, the profits from the sale of coffee return to Ometepe, where they have been used to help the poorest people and especially with schools, clinics and attention for people with special needs,” Lopez said.

To hear representatives from both islands talk about the bond, it’s clear that the association produces more than the typical evidence of a sister city relationship: a sign at the city limits or two mayors shaking hands during a photo op.

Over the years, Bainbridge efforts have included raising funds to provide grants for Ometepe health centers, as well as scholarships for Ometepe students to attend college and building water systems, a school library, cafeteria and auditorium. The association also has organized delegation exchanges like the one in October between the two islands for mutual education and friendship building.

Members of the 30th anniversary delegation traveled to Bainbridge schools, the Helpline House and other sites around the island.

Noé Gonzalez, an Ometepe high school math teacher, said he would take back his experiences to his students.

“With what I’ve learned day by day, I will share it with them and in that way create a consciousness in every one of them of the necessity to continue to make stronger the connection between the two islands, to create new values,” he said.

Gonzalez sits on one of the committees that help to mediate the association’s scholarships at the nine Ometepe high schools. Scholarship recipients are awarded the funds needed to complete a college degree.

“The scholarship project has also raised the general (economic) level (on Ometepe) because students who graduate and get jobs are able to support their families,” Gonzalez said.

Of all the connections between the two islands, perhaps the closest bonds have formed through marriage. According to Dora Gutierrez, the manager of the BOSIA office on Ometepe, the association can be linked to three Bainbridge-Ometepe weddings.

“It’s pretty wild,” said Siri Kushner, a Bainbridge resident who met her husband, Hector Guillen, while working in the BOSIA office on Ometepe. The two were married in 2003 and have two children.

Diane Jennings, another Bainbridge resident, met her husband, Manrrique Castillo, in Nicaragua through connections she made while working with a medical delegation to Ometepe. The two were married in 2006 and have three children.

The birth of the organization stretches back to the 1980s, when the Nicaraguan government faced opposition from various rebel groups, some of which were United States-backed. According to Kim Esterberg, one of BOSIA’s founding members, those in the peace community on Bainbridge opposed U.S. involvement in the conflict, which set the stage for Esterberg’s first trip to Ometepe.

The trip would be an effort to reach out to Nicaraguans apolitically, “people to people,” Esterberg said.

“The idea would be that we would simply connect with people that are on this other island and that we might do this not just as a ‘protest of the month’ kind of thing, but we would try to make something that would last, where this connection might grow over the years and actually might manifest itself in different ways,” he said.

Esterberg brought back his impressions and within two years, an informal association between the two islands had formed.

Three decades later, the association is thriving, long after the initial conflict that sparked its creation. How has it lasted this long? Its members have a focused mission, according to Gutierrez.

“The most important mission is the friendship between the two islands,” she said. “The connection with the families is deep and strong. The friendship is the first thing. The projects that we do come out of that friendship instead of the other way around.”

In the words of Esterberg: “islanders are islanders.”

“I was betting on that premise when I went there, that we don’t have the same language, we don’t have the same culture, they live 3,000 miles away, but we do share one thing: We’re islanders,” he said. “And lo and behold, that is quite the powerful thing to share.”


Information from: Kitsap Sun, https://www.kitsapsun.com/

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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