York students and faculty work to assist hurricane ravaged Nicaragua

Professor Deborah Barndt and graduate students Maggie Hutcheson and Lisa Campbell of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), along with Professor Alberto Guevara and visual arts student Monica Gutierrez from the York’s Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA), organized a fundraiser for a community-based Nicaraguan media group that is a partner of York’s VIVA! research project. The “Resurgent Voices” event, held on Oct. 15 at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), was a post-hurricane benefit for BilwiVision and autonomous media of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

Hurricane Felix struck the coastal region near the Caribbean border of Nicaragua and Honduras on Sept. 4, devastating communities and damaging basic infrastructure. To help generate support for people living in the area, York’s Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC) launched a fundraising campaign to support the region (see the Oct. 19 issue of YFile).  

Right: Aid workers assess the damage caused by Hurricane Felix

Barndt and colleagues decided to do something special to support BilwiVision, a community-based, non-profit television channel run by Indigenous, Creole and Mestizo youth that provides locally-produced services to the area. The station is not only part of the URACCAN University, which has formal connections with several York Faculties and departments, it is also a partner in the VIVA! Project – a transnational community arts exchange led by Barndt and supported by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. The VIVA! Project brings together partner organizations from Nicaragua, Canada, Panama, Mexico and the US. Since the project involves the examination of connections between popular education and community arts, BilwiVision’s approach made the organization a natural fit.

Left: Staff of BilwiVision work in the editing suite

“The goal of the VIVA! Project has always been to create opportunities for people to share their experiences as part of community-based arts and popular education work,” said Barndt. “All of the VIVA! projects are emancipatory in nature, challenging colonized structures and working with the most marginalized people towards social change. The work of BilwiVision has always been an inspiration in this regard."

Gutierrez said her personal experience with BilwiVision motivated her to continue to support the organization. The hurricane struck only a week after she returned to Canada after completing a York International Internship Program placement in Nicaragua with BilwiVision. "The people of BilwiVision were so supportive and so inspiring, and they made it such an incredible experience for me,” she said. “It was truly shocking for me to have been back for such a brief period of time and then to have such a tragedy strike. Yet, despite everything, the BilwiVision team continues to work to gather community news.”

Left: Deborah Barndt

The "Resurgent Voices" event used community-produced media to raise funds to assist BilwiVision through this difficult time. The well-attended event featured videos created through the VIVA! Project, as well as by local grass-roots media. Guests were treated to a series of colourful videos and photos of the vibrant and diverse cultures of coastal Nicaragua, including Indigenous, Garifuna, Creole and Mestizo communities. Artistic and theatrical works danced across the big screen, highlighting deeply political themes that confronted the injustices and struggles of peoples from the VIVA! Project communities. Fair trade hot chocolate vendors were busy handing out steaming cups made from organically-grown Mexican cocoa beans. Hutcheson and Campbell each helped produce the videos.

Other highlights included photo narratives by Toronto-based community group The Story Project of the Central Neighbourhood House, presented by digital media artist Jennifer LaFontaine, and videos produced by youth working with Regent Park Focus, presented by Adonnis Huggins and participating youth.

In the end, the event raised $700 for BilwiVision. Founder of BilwiVision and VIVA! Partner, Margarita Antonio, wrote in response: “Thanks for your solidarity in organizing this event, Resurgent Voice’s. We are indeed resurging with a renewed strength and commitment to make the voices of coastal peoples heard and their dreams of autonomy realized.”

"Resurgent Voices" was co-sponsored by the VIVA! Project and Community Arts Practice Program (Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University), York’s Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC), The Story Project (Central Neighbourhood House), Transformative Learning Centre (OISE), Media Lab, Regent Park Focus and Casa Canadiense in Nicaragua.

Those interested in making a donation to York’s Hurricane Felix Fund should visit the CERLAC Web site.