CANTERA came to life in 1988. The founder, Anabel Torres, a Nicaraguan Sister of St. Agnes, had been the co-coordinator of the popular education team at another Nicaraguan non-government organization CEPA (Center for Educational and Agricultural Promotion). CEPA is one of the oldest Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Nicaragua and was founded in the 1970's, the organizational expression of Christians in Nicaragua committed to ideals of social justice, within a liberation theologyW context. At that time Nicaragua was living under the Somoza dictatorship.
With the triumph of the SandinistaW Revolution in 1979, CEPA began to promote rural and urban development projects, emphasizing the need for local participation, democratic practices, appropriate technology and the development and implementation of technical and educational methodologies. By the late 1980's the popular education team, spearheaded by Anabel Torres, decided to branch off to specialize in the methodology of popular education and in the training of community leaders in health, in education and in development – for both State and NGO sectors. The main focus of the work was and continues to be the "training of trainers" to improve their skills, methods and educational techniques.
Popular education, as understood in a Latin American context, goes beyond technical and methodological training in the traditional sense. CEPA, CANTERA and other Latin American Centers of Popular Education operate with a philosophical framework that promotes constant analysis and critical reflection upon reality with the aim of enabling people to discover solutions to their own problems and set in motion concrete actions for the transformation of that reality. It was initially developed in the 1960's and 70's by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in the context of Christian Base Communities initiating projects of adult education; this methodology puts great emphasis on the reflective processes of awareness-raising and empowerment to enable participants to be the subjects of their own development.
CANTERA is mainly funded by European and US voluntary organizations, development agencies and Church groups. Some major funders are: The Trocaire Foundation of Ireland and Horizon 3000 of Austria, through the European Union; the Van Leer Foundation, Holland; Forum Syd, Sweden, Terranuova, Italy; Catholic Women of Austria and Catholic Women of Sweden; Development and Peace, Canada, the Sisters of St. Agnes, the Sisters of St. Joseph. Other projects and contributions of solidarity come from: The John and Sally Sommers Foundation, Chicago; Friends of CANTERA in California and Louisiana; parishes and schools; religious congregations such as the Religious of the Sacred Heart, the Assumption Sisters, the Teresian Sisters; and the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We also generate some of our own funding through
- the sale of our own publications
- the charging of fees in the national training courses
- the production of honey and milk
- as consultors
- offering specialized workshops solicited by agencies, institutions or local groups.
As part of a strategic plan we opened our own training center for our courses, thus economizing by not having to rent other centers for our courses. The lovely center is also available as housing for visiting delegations or rental by other organisms for conferences, retreats or courses. Our policy with regard to course fees is that we normally charge organizations who have funding for training while facilitating scholarships to community organizations, campesinos and others who do not have access to such funding. Each case is judged on its own merits. We also have a farm outside Managua (where the honey and milk is produced) which in the next few years is expected become a considerable source of income for our work. It is already a center for workshops and courses as well as serving as an experimental farm. We have a dream of one day having an agricultural college there, accessible to small farmers.