This was a significant year for SOL as we celebrated 25 years of collaboration, and solidarity with the people of Ocotal.
We brought two guests from Ocotal to Swindon, Dr Jorge Calderon and Maria Jose Guerra Figuera, who stayed from April 30th to May 17th.
We hosted several events and social gatherings to mark this anniversary.
Swindon Ocotal Link (SOL) decided to bring to an end its charitable and fundraising status.
We began 33 years ago as the Central American Study Group to raise awareness of the plight of people living in Central America. Later, we became the Thamesdown Nicaragua Link Association. When the Borough Council set up a twinning link with Ocotal, Nicaragua, and when the Borough became a unitary authority, we were the first community organisation to adopt Swindon in its title, which became Swindon Ocotal Link.
The twinning link is now 27 years old, and has seen visitors from Ocotal take part in many of Swindon’s special events and celebrations, school visits, links with Rotary groups, churches and organisations .
What SOL has achieved is remarkable, more than 120 people have visited Ocotal over this time, including two Mayors, all at their own expense.
The SOL charity raised on average £4,000 a year which supported young people with their school and college costs, an old peoples’ home, basic medical support and help for a large pre-school centre for the poorest of Ocotal. The highlight of SOL activity came in 1998 during the Hurricane Mitch disaster. Over £27,000 was raised to support rebuilding projects in Ocotal and RAF Lyneham transported 7 tons of aid, collected in Swindon, direct to Nicaragua.
The cash reserves held in Ocotal will provide for another two or three years of financial support for projects in Ocotal.
Whilst we are giving up our fundraising and charitable status our friendship continues as does our support for the Borough Council’s twinning.
At the general meeting of the 4th of July, held in the civic offices of Swindon Borough Council, members agreed that the administrative demands of running the charity and annual fundraising was not sustainable and following consultation with Fundación SOL, based in Ocotal, there was unanimous support to move towards a more informal link to be called Swindon Ocotal Link Association.
The meeting recorded that nationally SOL is highly regarded and is seen as a model twinning organisation that embraces both the civic and community aspects of international twinning.
The friendships that have been created over the years will continue for many years to come.