By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
To raise awareness of the needs of the people of Nicaragua, Paul Baker Hernandez spoke and sang at the St. Francis Center Wednesday. His determination to make life better for his adopted country is infectious, and he wants to pass on his belief of being a “worker and not a star” to all he speaks to.
“I am inspired by the courage of ‘everyday’ Latin Americans,” he said. “I give these concerts, workshops and lectures to anyone for one month a year. The rest of the time I am with my family in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, helping the people I love.”
Hernandez’ music is played to inspire people to believe in themselves and in what may be accomplished by working together. His community activism is aimed toward better housing and the elimination of wastewater from the streets of Managua where children play.
“Nicaragua has great aquifers, rivers and lakes, but without proper infrastructure, good water is scare,” said Hernandez. “My passion is water and the elimination of contaminated runoff water from people’s homes. I am working toward its cleanup.”
Hernandez and others lay perforated pipe from homes to the street. The grey water flows through those pipes, which lay in sand- and gravel-filled ditches. The water seeps out and is filtered by the sand and gravel. Shrubs and seedlings are planted to also help in the filtering process, and to keep the children from playing in the contaminated water.
This ditch process also keeps the mosquito population down.
“Nicaragua recently won an award from the United Nations for reducing the occurrence of malaria in the country,” he said.
For 10 years, Hernandez was a Trappist monk outside of Edinburgh, Scotland. He left the order in 1970, during the era when there was a worldwide movement to challenge the establishments.
“During those 10 years at the monastery, I had taken the rule of silence,” he said. “To challenge anything in my position was to challenge the Pope.”
One thing he did to fight the establishment, was to make a guitar out of discarded materials from the monastery. Since he was not supposed to speak during most of his day, singing was out of the question. He thought he may have been expelled if caught, but when he was found out, he learned the order was forgiving, too.
After 10 years, there came a point when Hernandez needed to choose to stay forever, or not. He chose to leave.
Along with hundreds of others in 1985, he joined a peace march from Panama to Nicaragua to show solidarity to the Nicaraguans after the country’s 1979 revolution.
The Somoza family ruled the country for more than four decades and in 1979, the Sandinista Front, an alliance of socialists, democrats, businesses, peasants and others took back the country.
The Contra war, said Hernandez, was about the fight between the conservative groups that wanted to impoverish the people and exploit their labor, and the Sandinistas who wanted to improve Nicaragua’s destiny.
“The revolution was the return of the land and the food to the people,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez spent time in both Nicaragua and Scotland for the next 15 years. He worked for Oxfam, a non-profit famine relief entity.
In 1998, he married Fatima Hernandez and has been living in Nicaragua ever since.
“I have stayed for the beauty of the country, the music and to participate in the rebuilding process,” said Hernandez.
On Saturday, March 3, Hernandez will be singing in Brainerd, at the Moonshine Lounge on Mill Road, beginning at 9 p.m.