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A Rose in the Garden


It was two years ago, and I still remember the day I met Rosa Amanda Vargas. There she was, one of a group of dreamers who had gathered to share perspectives on critical social justice issues affecting Latin American countries. Like her name, she was a beautiful rose, drawing my attention to what had brought her to the Hemispheric Social Alliance regional meeting in June 2009: the dream of building a better world.

Although Rosa grew up in poverty in Nicaragua, the painful circumstances of her early life do not seem to have extinguished her strength and courage. Now in her fifties, she recalls her childhood as a very tough time. She was one of the oldest children of a single mother who supported her children by hand washing and ironing clothes for wealthy families. Rosa was ten when her mother died of cancer. She remembers, “My mom died on December 27. Ever since that day I stopped enjoying Christmas because it reminds me of my mom.” Her siblings were taken away to live with other families while Rosa was left in the care of a lady named Emilia, the midwife who had assisted Rosa’s mother in childbirth. Emilia was also very poor; yet, she had promised Rosa’s mother she would make sure Rosa got an education.

Money was very scarce and so Rosa had to work to pay for school. She ran errands, cleaned houses and even took care of young children, although she was a child herself. After about three years of living with Emilia, Rosa was sent to live with a wealthy family in the capital, Managua. This family allowed Rosa to live in their home in exchange for work: cleaning, ironing, sweeping and all kinds of chores. She was able to attend school at night, even though she barely had time to study. Rosa remembers those years in that house where she often endured physical abuse and discrimination, saying, “They fed me with leftovers. I didn’t eat the same food their children had. I began to be aware of social inequalities and injustices.” Rosa, however, was lucky she was not sexually abused like most girls trapped in this system of exploitation.

In the early 1970s, as Rosa was completing high school, she became more aware of the social struggles happening in Nicaragua in response to the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza who had been in power for over forty years. By this time the student resistance movement was strong and student strikes were organized around the country. In college Rosa, who worked as a secretary to pay tuition, became actively involved in the national resistance movement against the Somoza regime. She handed out pamphlets on campus in support of the liberation and collaborated with some of her classmates who were directly involved in the clandestine armed movement fighting the dictatorship.

In the late 1970s, the final insurrection against Somoza had strengthened and the resistance was liberating many cities. In the last months of 1978 the country was in state of siege; repression against civilians and guerrillas forces had become a horrifying bloodshed. During the final days of Somoza’s regime, Rosa worked in her neighborhood in support of the liberation of the country. She built barricades, prepared shelters, took care of the wounded and looked for medical supplies. “The National Guard was attacking everybody with machine guns, tanks and 500-pound bombs. It was a complete genocide. The Guards were killing everybody, especially the youth,” Rosa recalls. In 1979 the Somoza’s regime was overthrown by the revolutionaries, known as the Sandinistas, and the new government brought many social changes.

During the 1980s Rosa worked as a teacher at a college. She also was engaged in diverse governmental social initiatives focused on community organizing and policies favoring the poor such as vaccination campaigns, literacy programs, and the establishment of day care centers. She became a strong and acknowledged leader in her community. Sadly, dissident groups, many of them ex-Somoza guardsmen, began an offensive military campaign. Known as the Contras, they had the financial and military support of the United States administration. This armed conflict devastated the economic infrastructure of Nicaragua, bringing death and pain to thousands of families.

Then in 1990 Nicaragua held presidential elections. Fearing that the war would continue if the Sandinistas remained in power or that an impending US invasion would occur, Nicaraguans brought into power an alliance opposing the revolutionary government. The newly elected government implemented a social-economic model that brought down many of the Revolution’s social justice advances, including universal free health services and free public education. Since then, Rosa has continued her social activism, supporting resistance movements against governmental policies that affect the poor and violate their human rights. Although a cease fire ended the war, Rosa felt that there could be no real peace without social justice so she began wearing a self-made white outfit at demonstrations as a symbolic call for peace and justice.

Asked about the main challenges faced as a leader, Rosa commented, “Political polarization and dependency are blocking people’s development. Many are accustomed to just receive, to depend on others.” To counteract this dependency, Rosa worked as coordinator of a project focused on providing youth with educational alternatives to keep them out of the streets and make them self-dependent. She considers the project, which was begun in 2003, as one of her most fulfilling experiences.

Today she is concentrating on her dream of developing a program in response to one of the most critical issues affecting her community: teen pregnancy. Most of these pregnant girls have left school, are raising their children on their own and lack opportunities to better their lives. Rosa wants to provide them with the educational and training opportunities she did not have when she was growing up.

Rosa is truly a survivor, a resilient spirit, passionate for social justice. Like a rose in a garden, she perseveres, beautifying the lives of those she touches.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.



MaDube's picture

I loved the last paragraph

I loved the last paragraph because it answers the question I had in mind, how did she survive all these hardships and still emerge such a strong and influential personality. Rosa is resilient like a rose amongst thorns. Thank you Maddy for introducing her to us in such an amazing story.

rozjean's picture

A Rose in the Garden

You have done a wonderful job, Madeline, introducing us to Rosa. She is a strong woman who inspires us all to continue working toward our collective vision of a better, more equitable and humane world. Thank you!

BlueSky's picture

A Perennial Beauty

What strength of character you bring out in this Activist, Maddy. Rosa is indeed a Rose who has weathered all the years of hardships and regimes and against-forces with a resilience of ever-keeping true to her passion for a better quality of life for all her people. I am very glad to hear that she continues to find fulfillment in the investment of herself into her nation, I'm sure at this stage of things coming through the return of possibility and potential she sees developing in those who are able to benefit from such a personal and intimate exchange with this perennial beauty.

Thank you for this inspiring account.

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture


A beautiful story-Rosa is truly a flower blooming in the midst of chaos! Thank you so much for sharing. It is shameful how many socially-minded governments the US has brought down in it's history. You wonder where the world would be if the US government hadn't done that.

Keep up the good work,


"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Judy K's picture

Rose in the Garden

Maddy - Thank you for Rose's story. I applaud her courage and ability to carry-on in her work toward brining social-justice to Nicaragua and the world.

I am aware of the role the USA played in supporting some of these atrocities - placing corporate and business interests over human rights and presenting it to American's as supporting the fight against "evil terrorists." Sound familiar??? It's important that Americans know that their country has often not been on the right side in international conflicts. Your article will help those who may not be aware of that history to not take whatever they are told at face value. To promote social justice means that we all need to look more deeply and be more critical of our own government.

Judy K

Judy Kugelmass

noreens's picture

I like your article, Maddy!

I like your article, Maddy! Rosa seems like a bright light shining from a garden of darkness.


sallyhedman's picture

Beautiful Soul

Hi Maddy,
I just read your profile of Rosa. What a determined woman she is. Your profile is a perfect history lesson which makes very clear the damage "US support" brings to other countries. Thank you for bringing Rosa's story to light.

JaneWells's picture

A sustained commitment

Dear Maddy,
Thank you for your inspiring story of Rosa. I am struck by the image of her dressed in white to symbolize her commitment to peace and justice and as a call to others to do the same. She is remarkable for the personal risks she has taken throughout her life to help others despite the harsh conditions of her childhood and decades of political instability and violence. And, you convey so well that she continues to grow and thrive on her own terms - truly a rose among thorns.

mrbeckbeck's picture


Maddy, this is an excellent profile piece. You blend together pieces of Rosa's personal story, and a larger historical context in Nicaragua so that the audience is left with a rich understanding. The US role in Nicaragua's history is shameful, and hopefully we can begin to build a better history.

She is truly an inspiring woman, continuing to work for change and justice in the midst of chaos. Clearly, she is dedicated to making the world a better place no matter the odds against her. It must be powerful to be in her presence... I can imagine why you chose to write about her!

Thank you for sharing, and keep up the great work!

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

HARMONY's picture


Maddy, your piece is very interesting. I know about Rosa's struggle but also have an Idea about what your country's history. It is very sad that poor countries have to suffer from developed or powerful countries influence. But it is all part of what helps us understand that our welfare and social justice and development lies in our hands.
Thanks for sharing

Trust your HOPES, not your fears... Harmony

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