Interview with Joan Parajon

Joan Parajon is the widow of CEPAD’s late founder, Gustavo Parajon. We recently caught up with her so we could share with you what she is up to and why she continues to support CEPAD.

-Where are you living today? What are you doing and how is your family?

Well, I retired in 2012 from being the director of the choir at First Baptist Church. “Coro Parajón-Dominguez,” that’s what it’s called. I had turned it over to a young man who was very enthusiastic about continuing.

And then, this April, surprise! The director said that he would no longer be the director. Since there were not a lot of directors waiting around to step in, the next morning I came back to my old post, playing the piano for the service and directing the choir. And I felt at home! After spending 38 years as the director, I certainly hadn’t planned this. The Lord has plans that we don’t know anything about. That was a big surprise.

I was eighty years old in April, and I hope that my energy keeps up for a while, but you never know!

Music is the core that ties my whole life together. I spend time with my family, with my grandchildren, and I get to drive them to school some days, when David and Laura (son and daughter-in-law) are very busy, or out somewhere in the countryside. I don’t see them enough because they’re very busy. A lot busier than I am. But I see them leaving, in time, to go to study in universities in the States. One girl came back to study here, after she had left. She liked it here, so she’s studying in a university here that is a US university, so I get to see her again. But they’re scattered all over.

I have a great-grandson now, who is in New Jersey. I haven’t seen him for a year, so looking forward to that. Family has always been my love, and I love all my grandchildren, and my children too.

I didn’t leave Nicaragua this year. This is the first year that I haven’t left. For twelve years, we went to Green Lake, Wisconsin, to the Music Conference every July. I took part of my family with me, and the children grew up singing in the choirs there until they were in High School and they graduated. So it was a very special experience for them that they won’t forget. It was worth every penny for the experience they had in the Music Conference. I recommend it to anybody. I hope to go back next year.

One week, but intense singing and listening. Great experience.

We also have a lot of contact with our church in Cleveland, where Gustavo and I became members when he went to Case Western Reserve Medical School, and we lived in Cleveland for eight years and we became members of the First Baptist Church, and then they became interested in Nicaragua, and they have projects that they do here, and we still have a lot of ties with the people in the First Baptist in Cleveland. So that would be our home church.

So there’s a group that comes from the church every summer, and they’re here for about ten days.

-In your opinion how has Nicaragua changed over the last 10 years or so? Do they seem better or worse than they used to be?

I don’t want to get into politics… (Laughs)

I’m happy here in Nicaragua. I feel that we have the freedom to worship in any way we choose. It’s a Christian nation, and I feel that there are some things that haven’t worked out exactly right, but I feel that it’s a wonderful place to be. I feel safe, and so there’s a nice atmosphere here, people working and trying to do something together. That’s my opinion.

There are so many things that happened in the US now. Violence is all over. When I go up there to visit, I am afraid something might happen, but I don’t feel that way here. So I am in the right place right now.

-What are your thoughts on the last presidential election?

(On the Nicaraguan elections) I didn’t vote, of course. I’m still a US citizen.

I feel like the Ortegas have done a lot for Nicaragua, especially for the poor people. That is their concentration. The upper class people are unhappy, and maybe the middle class also. The poor people love them because they receive a lot from them. I know that the election was not fair, because there weren’t any other candidates. But I don’t get involved politics here.

The Ortegas are nice people. They liked Gustavo very much, and were very supportive of what he did. The first Christmas in 2011, the year he died, they called me on Christmas Eve to tell me that they were thinking about me that night, the first Christmas without him. I thought that was a very kind thing, thoughtful, that they took time to do that.

-Why do you continue to support CEPAD as a donor?

Because I believe in CEPAD! I also support Amos. My son and daughter-in-law are the directors and founders of Amos. Laura and David.

-What do you think of CEPAD’s continued work?

I’m always very supportive of CEPAD. They do wonderful work all over Nicaragua, and I’m very proud of the organization that it has become. Wish I had more time to know more, and to go out and visit some of the projects. But I’m very glued to music right now, especially now.

-Can you talk about when Dr. Parajon founded CEPAD? What did you think at that time? Did you think he was crazy for taking on such a big project?

It was chaotic. It was such a terrible time here in Managua. I couldn’t believe that such a thing had happened—the earthquake. This is in 1972. It was a terrible shock, and our lives changed dramatically that night.

Right away, within a couple of days, he was on his way down to the Baptist school to have a meeting and receive representatives from different churches, and there were donations coming in from around the world, and some churches were getting more than others, so he and others thought and talked about it and decided there should be a way to distribute the money and have a group called CEPAD for this work. Originally the “D” in CEPAD was for damnificados. As the years went on, they changed the meaning to development. But at the beginning, they were sharing food everywhere, having kitchens to feed people that had nothing, it was a time of chaos, really, to try to help as many people as they could.

I had just learned how to operate a ham radio, and I was on the radio like 7 hours a day, talking to people out there that were calling in to ask if I could go look for their mom, that she lived in this and this address, and we would go and find these people. Some of the houses didn’t exist any longer. It was a time I’ll never forget. It was terrible. But CEPAD came and the organization got everything lined up and organized. The churches were cooperating together, and it was nice—churches cooperating together.

As the years went by, there were fewer churches in the group, but in the beginning they were all cooperating together, and that was wonderful that we could all work together for the Lord.

-Is there anything you would say to people who donate to CEPAD?

Don’t forget about us down here. There are so many things going on around the world and in your own country, but CEPAD has been working hard all these years, and needs your continued support to continue.