Hope in Lechecuagos
Fe y Alegría has been working in Nicaragua for 13 years. It provides a human development alternative and has demonstrated its effectiveness in its accomplishments
Lechecuagos is a small and forgotten rural district located on the slopes of Nicaragua's Cerro Negro volcano, in the department of León. More than 7,000 people live there, beneath the smoking crater, working, dreaming and living with faith and joy (fe y alegría in Spanish). And with Fe y Alegría they cherish the hope of a better future.
Around a year and a half ago, the Cerro Negro volcano "sneezed," as Napoleón Hernández put it. He lives in the district's "red zone," the area closest to the crater and most at risk in times of eruption. When the eruption began, the 120 families living in that zone had to flee to save their lives. But even while the half burned trees were still smoldering in a sea of ashes, they had returned, and there they remain today, planting in the volcanic sandy soil which, against all predictions, has turned out to be astonishingly fertile.
Since there are many children in these families, there are two schools in the red zone, and nine others throughout the district as a whole, whose school age children number some 3,000. Fe y Alegría touches them all.
Birth of Fe y Alegría: 100 Children under ThatchStated in technical terms, Fe y Alegría is a privately administered public service organization with a social initiative. But the truth is much more than that and much more hopeful than such a simple and cold technical description. According to current general director Luís Jiménez, a Jesuit priest, Fe y Alegría is a human promotion alternative and a development proposal that has demonstrated its efficacy in deeds.
Fe y Alegría came about almost by coincidence, in a miserably poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, where young university students went as catechists to understand their country's reality. They were accompanied in their visits by Jesuit priest José María Vélaz. At one point, one of the local residents, a poor mason, commented rather reproachfully to Vélaz, "It's very well and good that you all come here to visit, but you're seeing hundreds of children on the streets. Let's build a school." The idea sounded fine to the priest, but where and how, given the expense of such an undertaking. "Simple," the worker responded, "we'll do it in my house." So in a humble half open room with a thatch roof and 100 children sitting on the floor learning the alphabet, Fe y Alegría was born.
Thirty eight years have passed since then. Fe y Alegría has been transformed into a vigorous social promotion movement that works in 12 Latin American countries and check has more than 500,000 students in 581 educational centers ranging from preschool to technical education.
"Our peoples have such acute shortages that they have no time to reflect, to analyze the causes, much less to find solutions to them," says Father Jiménez. "Fe y Alegría comes in and ignites their potential, so they can think through their own possibilities. They have our support because they deserve it." Jiménez first learned about Fe y Alegría when it had 3,800 children.
He doesn't hide his pleasure when he speaks of how it has grown, though he understands that the greatest work is yet to be done. "Fe y Alegría is not attempting to be either a solution or a panacea," he explains.
"We are a proposal and an alternative, and our success has been in communicating our experiences and putting them in motion in the different places where we work, trying to make them contagious."
In the Beginning There Was a SchoolFe y Alegría is commonly identified with schools where the children receive classes a bit more complete and complex than in most others. But this is only a partial vision. To Fe y Alegría, the school is the pillar of the entire world that revolves around it, a center projecting out towards the community. It is a meeting point for many people with at least one thing in common: their children's education. They also tend to be neighbors from the surrounding areas who more or less know each other, have some level of mutual trust, and know who's who, particularly in the rural areas where the thrust of Fe y Alegría's work is.
These elements serve as the scaffolding on which to build an even more complex and complete system, whose objective is the integral development of all members of the community. All that is needed is an animating element that can bring people together usually the group of religious workers who also teach at the school.
"The Society of Jesus is the founder, animator and guarantor of Fe y Alegría," according to Father Jiménez, "but we work with 137 different Catholic congregations. We also work with Lutherans, Jews, Baptists and other denominations. We work with people from the left, right and center. Because the problem is human and that's what unites us: the struggle against hunger and the problems that must be confronted."
Peasant, Learn to ReadFe y Alegría's began its work in Lechecuagos in 1980 and quickly found itself involved in a sad experience for its new students. In their first venture out of their district, they were taken to the city of León to march together with other schools in the traditional September 15 independence parades. There they suffered hostility and disparagement from some residents of that departmental capital, who considered themselves superior.
"They treated me like I was nobody!," says Sister Celia Luz Monforte, who belongs to the Religious of the Assumption and is the unofficial mayor of Lechecuagos. She gets indignant every time she remembers the experience. "They looked right past me. Some of them who think they're so cultured said, 'Oh look, here come the ragamuffins from Lechecuagos.'"
With such a reception, the children returned home ashamed, tearfully determined never again to take part in such an event. "Oh no!," protested Sister Celia Luz, when she got wind of that decision, "You're just as good as the best in the parades or in anything else." And with the enthusiastic complicity of their parents, the children practiced and practiced until they had a better marching squad than the Teutonic army. In impeccable uniforms, their shoes gleaming in the morning sun, Lechecuagos' "ragamuffins" outshone all the other marchers the following year.
But that victory was not enough for the children, who are proud of being peasants. They worked harder, they studied, they helped each other and in 1985 they led off the whole parade since their school had the highest academic record. They have never ceded that place of honor since.
"And they won't give it up," says Sister Celia Luz. "These children don't feel less than anybody. They love that song that says: Peasant learn to read, peasant learn to study. They sing it and identify with it, and it sparks them to keep studying. We could get by without the other professions and occupations, but not without peasants, who grow the food for everybody."
"Self esteem. That's the key thing with Fe y Alegría," stresses Father Jiménez. "Building up self esteem, their own identify, their own roots. Later, working on their productive capacity, based on their own ideas. With all that, they become able to relate to others without feeling ashamed of themselves. Self esteem, production, relations. That's our project."
A Simple OrganizationA pretty white church the hermitage of Our Lady of Lourdes has been erected in the district's spiritual and educational center. Sister Celia Luz and other religious workers from her order, the perpetual motors that power Fe y Alegría in Lechecuagos, live nearby. A little further on is the María Eugenia School, the biggest and best equipped in the district, where 400 students attend.
In the small square a little office is going up; it's for administering the various projects being carried out under the Fe y Alegría umbrella. There is also a small store, a sewing workshop and a sort of sancta sanctorum where the computer and photocopier, both recent acquisitions, are kept.
The photocopier is used to reproduce the handwriting charts, so the children can constantly work towards more elegant and well formed letters, as befits the educated people they will be within several years. "They're not going to leave here still printing," pronounced Sister Celia Luz, who is not content with mediocrity. "That's not knowing how to write." The copier is also used to run multiples of the exams for the eleven schools that Fe y Alegría runs in the community.
As for the computer, it is used to update and store the district's necessary census information such as when children should be entering school, when they need vaccinations, etc. It is also used to process the financial data on the various projects, which need clear and efficient accounting.
A Mini Bank for the PoorTouring the rural community, one is struck by how little fallow land there is. Even though the Cerro Negro eruption is still quite recent, the fields are planted and a beautiful green carpets the area, only interrupted by an ugly lead color dividing one parcel from another. That's the color of the sand the volcano spewed forth.
Almost all the peasants in Lechecuagos have been able to plant because they had access to a credit program for which Fe y Alegría got United Nations Development Program (UNDP) financing. This was part of Fe y Alegría's ongoing promotion of small commercial banks with enough flexibility to finance peasant production and thus offer a truly useful service.
The Lechecuagos "bank" was founded with a $50,000 donation. Peasants can request loans for planting of between 500 and 1,500 córdobas ($83 $250). If they ask for the maximum quantity, the request is studied carefully. Risks cannot be taken, since there is not likely to be a second opportunity for a donation like this.
In addition, the quantity is not given out in one fell swoop, but little by little, in correspondence to each agricultural need. First, a small amount is disbursed for tilling the land, later another small amount for buying seeds, still later an amount for pesticides and fertilizer. And so it goes, until the entire loan has been handed over. The peasants always request the lowest amount they think they will need, since they know they have to pay it back. In fact, one rule of these mini banks is that they do not forgive debts, whatever happens. The loans carry an 8% annual interest rate, decided on by the peasants themselves.
To have access to these loans, two basic conditions must be met: the loan recipient must be from and residing in Lechecuagos, and must be debt free. The loans are paid back according to the rhythms and cycles of peasant life, not the 30 , 60 , or 90 day cycle common in the urban accounting world. They become due when "the pig is slaughtered," or "the cow gives birth." In such a small community, where the longest distances are two hours away on foot, these events are known by everyone, making it hard to evade loan payments. Furthermore, since they are poor, the Lechecuagos peasants are honorable and, therefore, good risks.
The "Model" FarmsUntil the 1950s, the departments of León and Chinandega were an orchard of fruits and diversified production. But then came the Korean War, and the United States, fearful of losing the rich cotton fields of that Asian peninsula, turned its eyes to Nicaragua's fertile northwest.
The oranges and avocados from León and Chinandega, famous for their flavor and size, disappeared, the trees producing them sacrificed to the cotton god. Longstanding peasant techniques were forgotten, techniques that had produced a little bit of everything: pork, fruit, poultry, beans, sorghum, corn, milk and vegetables. A microcosm able to produce much more than it consumed, with owners who were never too badly off because they always had something to offer society.
Once that whole legacy of knowledge, technique and ecology had been lost, cotton prices began to fall precipitously, so now it somehow must be recovered. "The monocrop system educated us badly," laments Sister Celia Luz. "The peasants here are now used to planting only one crop and aren't interested in working several."
To deal with this situation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock is promoting a "model farm" project for peasants with up to 7 hectares of land who are willing to diversify their production. Such peasants have received up to 40,000 córdobas ($6,600). While they are not finding it easy to break habits formed over 40 years, they were quick to grasp that it's not wise to "put all yours eggs in one basket." The project in Lechecuagos, supervised by Fe y Alegría, is beginning to advance.
The Consultative CouncilsTo get the word about Fe y Alegría out to the most remote communities in the Lechecuagos district, the sisters created a small local institution the consultative councils.
These councils are made up of two or three people in each of the district's 17 sectors, and their community functions are varied. At their local school, for example, they are in charge of making sure it is in good physical shape and that the children get their school materials on time, and oversee the daily distribution to each student of a glass of horchata (a drink made from a certain seed) and a "supercookie."
They also chlorinate the community wells to avoid illness. Indeed, not one cholera case has been recorded in Lechecuagos. Some say this is due to the fact that the volcanic soil contains some substance that blocks proliferation of the cholera virus. While that may be, the vigilance of the councils' 58 members helps even more. They are also responsible for studying and approving loan requests and following up to make sure the resources are well used.
The council members are chosen at open assemblies held in each sector, where neighbors propose the individuals they consider to be the most responsible. About half of the members are women.
The councils meet once a month and may call extraordinary meetings when necessary. These meetings absorb a lot of the members' time, so many people are not interested in serving on the council. That may well be why women are more enthusiastic participants than men there are no economic rewards, but many moral ones.
The Key: Organized WomenFather Jiménez recognizes that Fe y Alegría would not be even a tenth of what it is today without the selfless and enthusiastic support it has received from women. "Since we Jesuits head this up, the highest posts are taken by men, he says with resignation, "but what're you going to do?" then quickly adds "but from those posts on down, it's the women who are carrying this thing forward." He recites a long list of women, most of them nuns, who, like Santa Teresa de Jesús, could easily be called "the most bearded of men."
One case. In Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela, the need and possibility arose to build a school, but there were no masons. Then came the possibility of offering an 840 hour masonry course, with a degree and all. Who would sign up? The community, meeting in an assembly, kept silent. Men looked away or lowered their eyes, trying to act like this thing had nothing to do with them. Finally a woman got up and said, "Since it seems the men aren't capable of making a school for their children, we women will do it." No less than 19 women enrolled in the course, including a number of nuns.
Another case: In Paraguay, Sister Marta Ramos was a university professor with a good salary in dollars, a very sophisticated and intellectual woman. She gave all that up to go into the shanty towns working for Fe y Alegría. When something was needed, she had the contacts to get it. If the person hadn't been one of her students, it was likely that he are she was the parent of one of her students, or a friend, or something, of one of her students. In any case, she's always able to get to the person making the decisions and assure that they are favorable to Fe y Alegría. Sister Marta Ramos, like the Biblical characters elected by God, has changed her name. Today they call her Sister Cyclone.
One more case. Shortly before his death, the founder of Fe y Alegría commented to his closest collaborators: "We have not yet reached the poorest of the poor, those most scorned: the indigenous people." As a testament, he left this task to those who followed, and they enthusiastically took on the challenge, starting with what was closest the Amazon basin. Today, there are 20 centers in indigenous communities.
A nun, one of the pioneers in this work, arrives at a community of barely 3,000 members going through a particularly difficult situation. The community is suffering from malnutrition and every kind of epidemic. They are already very few, many die and the endogamy means that many of those born are afflicted with harelip, considered by the community to be a diabolical manifestation. This physical defect condemns the infant to death, in the community's attempt to protect itself from what it feels are malevolent effects.
The nun does not pressure, she simply accompanies the community, without making a big deal out of anything. The community accepts her non aggressive presence. Then one day a baby with a harelip is born. Before they sacrifice him, the nun claims the child. "I have a much more powerful magic. Give the child to me, don't fear the devil." And they give her the child. She quickly travels to Caracas, where the child is operated on. Several weeks later, the nun returns to the community with the child, who now has a perfect lip. There is a great celebration among the people, because there is a power greater than that of the devil.
From that moment on, the community respectfully listens to the hygienic and nutritional suggestions of the powerful sorceress. At the same time, philologists from the University of Caracas come to transcribe the sounds of the community's language until they achieve an alphabet capable of bringing together the richness of its traditions, rituals, myths and all the ecological knowledge that the supposedly primitive communities know so well and our self proclaimed modern civilization almost totally ignores.
"We go out to these communities without imposing anything," says Father Jiménez. "We go to accompany them. We cannot impose the ministry of education's academic calendar in an area where life is ruled by hunting, agriculture, fishing and celebrations. We must follow their rhythms. We must let them accept what they consider useful of what we have to offer them. And we must learn from the many things they can teach us."
An Ancient VocationIn the 16th century, the Society of Jesus began in what is known today as Paraguay the most beautiful project of the colony: settlements of converted Guaraní Indians. At the time, the settlements were a sort of cooperative of indigenous people working the land with the love and efficiency that come when people are working their own land. The Jesuits accompanied and guided the work. The project must have been quite good and successful, because the large landholders from the surrounding areas, the rich, looked on it with hatred. They saw it as a bad example for the enslaved Indians, and something that reduced the possibilities of reliance on more Indian slave labor. Adding insult to injury, the settlements were much more productive than the plantations that depended on that labor.
But the worst of all was that the insolent Jesuits demonstrated with deeds a truth that nobody wanted to recognize Indians had souls, they were human beings and not animals.
They were capable of building their future with their own hands, on one single condition: that they not be bothered. It would be even better if they received a little bit of assistance to integrate them into this new reality that had literally descended upon them. Several years ago, an excellent film, "The Mission," came out chronicling this experience and its tragic outcome.
Father José María Vélaz was a great admirer of the settlements in Paraguay and to a certain extent was inspired by them when he founded Fe y Alegría. "The most important element of the settlements was that they offered the concrete hope of living better. We want Fe y Alegría to do the same offer tangible hope that we are going to live a little bit better," comments Father Jiménez.
Beginning to Live BetterBut, what does it mean to live better? For the residents of Lechecuagos, living better means, among other things, guaranteeing a happier future with a higher educational level for their children. And to obtain that, they'll have nothing of half way solutions. When the school year was about to begin, the parents in the community made clear that they were going to define which texts their children would use.
They read up on the issue, offered advice, traveled to see and compare texts and decided on those of a publishing house known for both its pedagogical quality and its high prices. That detail was not important. The parents sold pigs and chickens, requested a small loan, and the books made it out to Lechecuagos. Today, their Nicaraguan peasant children are using the same texts that upper class children of a certain developed country use.
But their interest does not start or stop with education. They know that to get there, children have to be well fed. Nobody studies well on an empty stomach. Thus, after many efforts, the project came up with a "supercookie" that has sufficient cereals, vitamins and minerals to keep even the most difficult children functioning and on their feet. The "supercookie" is accompanied by a fruit drink, a special formula that is not just a snack, but something capable of raising the dead.
With these two foods distributed to the children once a day, the stomach aches caused by hunger and the faintings in class have stopped. But there is not yet total satisfaction with the results obtained. There are still 139 children with nutritional problems, but in a total population of 3,000 children! In the country at large, approximately 60 of every 100 children have some degree of malnutrition.
The children in the community attend class perfectly uniformed. Their uniforms are made in the community sewing workshop where the teachers' uniforms are also made, along with other necessary clothing for the community. Everything is well made and sold at reasonable prices.
Good Land for CassavaTo live better, a community has to produce and, given the characteristics of the soil in Lechecuagos, cassava is very easy to grow. Cassava is a very popular food, key to certain typical dishes such as vigorón (with fried pork rind and vinagery coleslaw), vaho (a corned beef stew simmered in banana leaves) and beef soup.
In addition, a number of products can be made with starch, including cardboard, pills, glue, simple pesticides, ice cream cones and many other things. A hundred pounds of cassava is needed to produce 18 20 pounds of starch and the waste serves as cattle feed. Nothing is lost. So the necessary paperwork was done through Fe y Alegría to install a processing shop to produce starch. The shop permanently employs five people.
The problem is that both the raw material and the processed product suffers wild price fluctuations. The price of cassava varies from 4 to 120 córdobas, while that of starch oscillates between 80 and 300 córdobas (6 córdobas = $1).
Since the 1992 volcanic eruption, an even more serious problem has arisen. All the cassava plantations were buried in ash and the processing plant today is partially paralyzed due to lack of raw materials. But this problem will soon be resolved. With the ashes barely cool, the Lechecuagos peasants, along with Fe y Alegría, began to plant more cassava and will soon be bringing in the first harvest.
The Human HarvestWhen Fe y Alegría came to Lechecuagos 13 years ago, it began to plant for the most difficult and beautiful harvest one can imagine a harvest of human beings better, more generous, more healthy and more educated than their parents.
Ten teachers on the staff of the community's 11 educational centers did their primary and secondary studies as far as they could in the community itself. Several other community members seriously interested in returning to be high school teachers and thus contribute to raising their community's educational level are currently doing university level studies. That would be a truly transformational dream made reality: children of peasants, with university degrees, helping their brothers and sisters improve themselves.
There is also a less tangible but perhaps more important harvest: the newfound courage to dream with good reason to believe that their dreams can and should be transformed into reality. Lechecuagos is a community where people have dared to dream on a wide screen, because part of what seemed impossible only some years ago has already materialized.
Among these dreams are an electrical generator for the community, which will mean greater possibilities for studies, intellectual work and recreation, all of which have been very difficult to date. But, more than anything, it means water. The wells in the community are 100 to 200 meters deep, so animals are needed to draw the water up out of the ground, hauling thick and endless ropes distances of more than two blocks. With electricity, a motor could be installed in each well, bringing the water easily to the users. Another dream is a housing project, to assure that every family group has its own small house. The current housing deficit means that people of different sexes and ages are crowded together with both close and distant blood relations in one single unit, which generates conflicts and difficulties that could be very easily resolved with a handful of houses.
Forging the FutureThere's one more dream, and perhaps it's the most ambitious: a teacher training school.
The educational system in Lechecuagos has a problem students can only go through the third year of high school. Two more years of study are needed to get a secondary degree, but right now there are no physical installations to house those classes. Initiatives were made to finance new installations and fulfill the corresponding administrative norms as well.
But suddenly, a question arose that forced the community members to rethink the problem. What do young high school graduates do if they want to teach but can't get into the university? They realized that a teaching certificate from a training school allows teachers to practice their profession. In addition, as the Lechecuagos students practice their typing, such certificates will open more perspectives for them. They can always go on to the university later for further studies if they so desire.
So now the community is trying to get a teacher training school in Lechecuagos, which has 11 schools where practice teaching could be done. It would be the first such training school in Nicaragua to be located in a rural area, even though the countryside is where Nicaragua's most promising sector, the one that can assure that Nicaragua progresses and develops, is found: the peasantry. It will be very important for Nicaragua to have Nicaraguan teachers trained in, and for, the countryside.
A Difficult LifeFor all the hopes and dreams, some already come true, life isn't easy in Lechecuagos. It goes on under the menacing shadow of the Cerro Negro volcano, whose occasional eruptions throw tons and tons of sandy volcanic ash over everything. Touring the community in areas near the crater, one sees unrecognizable, but somehow familiar seeming, plants poking up through the sand. Finally someone explains they are the tops of trees all but buried by the recent eruption. It's hard to recognize a tall, graceful eucalyptus tree without its trunk and most of its branches.
After almost a year of rain and wind, the sand has settled significantly, but car tires stir up the finest surface particles, and after several hours of travel, an annoying film of gritty gray sand coats one's skin.
The hooves of the area's oxen have been destroyed by trodding this sandpaper like surface. To allow them to keep working, people now glue rubber soles on the animals' feet, but by the time they had realized what the problem was, irreparable damage had already been done.
Then there are the normal problems particular to peasant life: it rains too little or too much, the wind bends the plants, prices are high at the time of purchase and low when it's time to go to market. But, despite everything, the peasants in Lechecuagos look into the future with faith and joy.
In NicaraguaFe y Alegría came to Nicaragua in 1974, after the devastating 1972 earthquake, and Jesuit Father Jesús Fernando Hergueta took on its administration here in 1993. His first task was to call together all the people responsible for the different projects and, over a period of three days, get to know both the people and the projects and draw up a work plan for the coming three years.
That plan included building 100 classrooms, the first 30 of which are to be ready by 1994. At the end of the three years, there will be enough classroom space for 20,000 new students.
Fe y Alegría already has the financing and the design and construction plans for those first 30. "It wasn't difficult to get," explains Father Hergueta. "Fe y Alegría is known internationally; it has a name and has earned the confidence of governments and nongovernmental organizations." It is also easier to negotiate a package of aid for 30 classrooms than to seek separate financing for each project. In fact, that is another of Fe y Alegría's tasks: to put together packages and seek aid, and to serve as a guarantor that the funds will be used well.
A Different Kind of OfferAlready existing schools want to come under the Fe y Alegría umbrella, meaning that the predicted goal will be easily surpassed. "We filled the three year plan in only a month," jokes Father Hergueta, then quickly becomes more serious. "When a center asks to become a part of Fe y Alegría, it's because they know we have something to offer. Not money, but other things."
These "things" include ongoing teacher training, an area in which Fe y Alegría has established itself as a leader in various Latin American countries, with an accumulated experience that is transmitted from one country to another. Another is social animation, the ability to call on the best qualities of each community member to achieve a better life for all. Still another is the imagination of all added together and multiplied by the exchange of experiences. And finally, a key area is integral formation of young people. It's not just a matter of learning how to read and write, but also how to live, which is more difficult. Learning to respect the rights of others which brings peace and to be useful and of service to others.
Fe y Alegría grew spectacularly in its first years in Nicaragua. Then followed a series of ups (lots of activity) and downs (lots of apathy). Just before Father Hergueta came, the movement had almost come to a halt.
But then came a moment when the need was felt to shake Fe y Alegría awake. The country was in such terrible shape that the luxury of letting any of its social benefit institutions sleep on was not permissible. Ambassadors from countries where Fe y Alegría works came to the formal relaunching ceremony in Managua, as did the national media.
"It seems that we made a lot of noise with this re-launching," muses Father Hergueta, "because we were inundated with requests to collaborate or join. Our problem now is giving attention to all these requests, but we'll get it done somehow."
Father Hergueta sees Fe y Alegría as full of possibilities for solving the country's problems. One project on the way from being a dream to being reality is a radio transmitter. "Fe y Alegría was born in the sphere of formal education, but reality shows us that there is a lot to be done in informal education. For that, radio is a perfect medium." It will help Fe y Alegría's teachers and others to be better teachers, and provide the citizenry in general with useful advice for daily life.
Father Hergueta also dreams of a magazine, even if it's only mimeographed, through which Fe y Alegria's members can be in touch with each other, give each other feedback, and provide spiritual first aid to any who falter. Because that happens sometimes, even to people who work with Fe y Alegría.
But, mostly he dreams of children. Children of the Atlantic Coast, where the movement has not yet gone. "We have to go there soon," says Father Hergueta, "not just to go to the coast, but because that is our vocation: far from the cities, in isolated and rural zones, and with ethnic minorities."
Then there are the street children, which abound in Nicaragua. Even though Fe y Alegría's motto is that its function begins "where the asphalt ends, where the city changes name, where water, electricity and services don't go," these children don't see any of the city's advantages, only its miseries.
And he dreams of technical vocational workshops to give these youth the possibility of getting jobs. And of making each of Fe y Alegría's schools a projection of joy and faith for its community. And to grow without forgetting to care for enthusiasm. And...
HOW FE Y ALEGRIA FUNCTIONSA large part of the work of Fe y Alegría is in the formal educational system. Its basic principle of action is to develop alliances between Fe y Alegría, the state and the community, to provide quality education to poor children. Normally, in Fe y Alegría schools, the ministry of education pays the teachers' salaries, the communities participate in building and maintaining the school, and Fe y Alegría administers it, coordinates activities so that it functions as a community development center, and trains and supervises the teachers and in some cases selects them.
(From the report on Fe y Alegría by Harvard University's International Development Institute)
HOW FE Y ALEGRIA IS ORGANIZED
Whether in countries, regions or schools, Fe y Alegría's organizational structure is based on principles of functional autonomy. Even though the movement was founded by the Society of Jesus, many other religious and secular organizations participate in it today. The majority of the teachers are not members of any religious congregation in 1991 only 6% of the teachers and directors were religious. The national centers have accords with the ministries of education, and are also part of a federation Fe y Alegría International which is recognized as a consultant organization to UNESCO and UNICEF and to the United Nations Social Council.
(From the same report).