Twenty five years ago Swindon invited the Mayor of the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, Felipe Bareda, to inaugurate an official twinning with Swindon, writes Bruce Clarke of Swindon Ocotal Link (SOL) which sustains the contact.
Nicaragua is a long way away and many thought it was either a gesture or a waste of time. However, the achievements over a quarter of a century speak for themselves.
The generosity of Swindon people in 1998 after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch on Central America was amazing. Seven tons of aid was transported direct to Nicaragua via RAF Hercules, over £30,000 of funding was raised and two engineers were sent out to draft a feasibility study on flood prevention which led to a big European funding programme for the region.
Our link was started by several volunteer nurses. Over the years we have organised work camps and led over 10 self-funded group visits, as well as three youth visits, one including young people from our German twin town Salzgitter.
There have also been visits by people from Ocotal who have danced, sang and performed at the Swindon Festival of Literature, Swindon Mela, Swindon Arts festival and at football matches. They’ve even featured on national BBC News about Swindon’s attempt to win city recognition in 2000.
Recently, we put on an art exhibition and our visiting artist produced a brilliant wall mural at Lydiard Park Academy. And do you remember the very large piece of art work celebrating the link that dominated the library entrance at Link Centre?
In Ocotal we can point to a health centre, a school, local housing and a nursery, all built with our aid. Over a decade we have supported 30 of the poorest families to send their children to school. SOL is also a joint funder of an amazing old people’s home and there have been countless grants for small medical and health emergencies.
High on our list of support is the building, maintenance and running of Comedor Princess Diana, a nursery where 150 children are washed, fed and taught some basics.
We recently directed funds for a women’s project where they can look after their children in safety.
But when I say WE, it should be YOU. SOL is not large, there are about a dozen people at the heart of the group, but we do our best to sustain the civic link and show how Swindon people can have international impact.
SOL is also backed up by regular support from local organisations like Immanuel Church, Swindon Town FC, local schools, Rotary Clubs, Lions Club, Penhill Lunch Club and Swindon Council.
In our 25th year of solidarity, we intend to party. Please join us by contacting Steve Rhodes: email@example.com
Look out for forthcoming events at: www.solswindon.co.uk