Gilberto Aguirre — El Profe
Our friend, partner and inspiration
On 18th June we received the desperately sad news that our good friend, partner and inspiration Gilberto Aguirre (El Profe), had passed away. He had been rushed into hospital for emergency throat cancer surgery in the middle of May and unfortunately, complications arose after this.
Gilberto has now continued his journey into the arms of a loving God. He will always remain in our memories as a man who brought hope, who showed the loving gospel of justice and liberation in action and who brought fun and laughter into our lives.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Dámaris (the Director of CEPAD), his children Gilberto Jnr, Carmen, Richard and Edgard, who are in the States, and all his friends — especially those at CEPAD. Sadly his children were unable to be with him during his illness.
Gilberto’s life story
Gilberto — (known as El Profe), began his career as a high school teacher at Rene Schick and the Baptist School in Managua in the 1960’s. As a consequence of the 1972 earthquake, which left Managua economically and structurally devastated, El Profe joined the efforts of Rev. Gustavo Parajón Dominguez in forming the Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua — CEPAD.
For the next 40 years, El Profe worked tirelessly for the mission of CEPAD to help those in need. He focussed on reconciliation and peace negotiations, the provision of aid in response to the natural disasters that have affected Nicaragua, and economic relief and education to poor communities.
In the 90s, as Nicaragua sunk into debt and increasing poverty under the various new governments, his work at CEPAD was even more needed — advocating for and working with the poor of the country. Although Profe had retired from CEPAD, he continued to volunteer his time to the organisation on a daily basis.
Some joked that he never actually retired as he continued to run programmes at Radio CEPAD and was very busy chairing La Concha Baptist School (Avocado Tree School), and successfully seeing it through the financial crisis that had recently jeopardised its existence.
Founder of Amos Trust
“At Amos we say, “Nicaragua is where we learn.” Gilberto was one of the key people who raised our understanding — alongside Rev Dr Gustavo Parajon (CEPAD’s Founder), and Dámaris Albuquerque, (CEPAD’s Director and Gilberto’s wife), not only about CEPAD and Nicaragua, but also about living out the gospel in action.
With them we shared the art, poetry, music and politics of Nicaragua. Many will also have known Gilberto as a man of much wisdom and humour, and that’s always been good therapy! We valued Gilberto as a great friend of many years and we have had many adventures together.
Gilberto Aguirre with his wife and CEPAD Executive Director, Dámaris Albuquerque. Managua, Nicaragua — February 2020
Back in January 1993, my wife Gill, myself and Sue and Simon Plater (chair and trustee of Amos respectively), were doing the initial exploring of Nicaragua to consider Amos having a partnership with CEPAD. This was the first time that we met Gilberto.
At that time, CEPAD was working on the Atlantic coast to help communities that had been extensively damaged in a recent hurricane. Gustavo and Gilberto took us up ‘the hidden river’ (Rio Escondido) — an amazing journey from community to community in a motor boat. They were looking at laptops donated by friends in the US to keep communication open. That sounds very normal these days but it was revolutionary at that time — we were open mouthed. It ended up as a song ‘Up The Hidden River.’
In the early 90’s Gilberto and Dámaris took us to the little town of La Concepcion. I sang and spoke at the Baptist Church. He then took us to a place where they had plans to build a school, because there were not enough schools in the area following the civil war. This became the La Concha Baptist (Avocado Tree) School which Amos has supported over the last 25 years. We have watched the school grow and develop and play a vital role in the development of La Concepcion .
Gilberto was a key player at my favourite radio station, Radio CEPAD. When Dámaris and Gilberto first asked me be a guest on the programme, I said I would love to and they said, “Good, we’ll be round at 6.30 in the morning to pick you up.” — that’s normally a difficult time for me!
Once In A Lifetime: Gilberto speaking at Amos Trust’s Climate Justice summit in Cambridge — September 2019
So we did a deal — they would be there at 6.30 but they would have a good cup of Nicaraguan coffee waiting for me! Gilberto made Radio CEPAD prophetic, inspirational, and humorous, chatting about Nicaraguan and world issues, reflecting a gospel lifestyle of justice, dignity and hope.
Gilberto will always remain in our memories as a man who brought hope, who showed the loving gospel of justice and liberation in action, and who brought fun and laughter into our lives.”
Former Amos Associate Director
Sue said, “My husband Simon and I were the first of the Amos clan to travel to Nicaragua, visiting in 1989 with fellow trustees Meg and Martin Wroe. We already had a link with CEPAD through Gustavo Parajon who had been to Greenbelt at the invitation of the Festival Board, which included Garth and myself. When we returned in 1993 with Garth and Gill, we were delighted to find that CEPAD had another wise leader in Gilberto Aguirre. The four of us travelled with Gustavo and Gilberto, as Garth has recounted.
On all our subsequent visits, and as Gilberto increased his visits to the UK to speak at Greenbelt and take part in Amos tours, we felt that we had gathered wisdom from Gilberto — in particular we remember him explaining the way that CEPAD made decisions and set policies.
He told us: “we listened to the people...” and it really struck me as the opposite of how most decisions are made in organisations. Gilberto always spotted the potential in people — every time he saw my husband Simon (an architect), he said he was going to kidnap him to help on building projects in Nicaragua!
He and Damaris were such a very good team, and we are so glad that Amos had the chance to hear them both again last September. Damaris herself has proved to be an excellent Director of CEPAD — an organisation not afraid to promote women on merit way before that was seen as even possible in the UK. Our hearts go out to her. Another of our great mentors has left us, but we will remember him.”
Amos Trust Director
Chris writes, “My abiding memories of Gilberto are of his story telling and his love of young people. Elephants were always a popular theme. I vividly remember the first time I heard him tell the story of the ‘Mother Chicken and the Elephant’. As I listened, I was finally able to really understand what was so different about CEPAD’s approach.
Elephants were always a popular theme with Gilberto.
He had such passion and enthusiasm for the Avocado Tree School (without which it would have closed), but also for young people generally. And young people also loved him, as they recognised a kindred spirit.”
Former Amos trustee
Peter says, “It has been my great pleasure to call Gilberto — El Profe — a good friend for over twenty years. For me and many others, he lived up to his ‘teacher’ nickname — he taught by example, and with great simplicity. He dedicated his life to serve the poorest, and to proclaim to them the good news: which he said was “life in abundance”.
I’ve lost count of the number of times that he used my skinny frame as a visual aid to what life in abundance is not. Whether in a rural church in Nicaragua, at Greenbelt or at last September’s Climate Justice Summit in Cambridge where he effortlessly distilled theology, passion and politics into simple, clear calls to action, like “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
The Amos Words of Hope service speaks of leaping from the shoulders of giants. Sadly, we have lost a great giant today.”
Amos team member
Katie writes, “I first met Gilberto when he was over for Amos Trust’s 25th anniversary in 2010. Since then I have been lucky enough to spend time with him and Dámaris in Nicaragua and in the UK on several occasions. Last Autumn, when Gilberto and Dámaris came over for Amos’ Climate Summit in Cambridge, we travelled together to Liverpool and London for a number of supporter events.
It was great to spend an extended period of time with the two of them, listening to them talk about their work and having the chance to enjoy downtime with them. What an amazing team they made — both on and off stage.
When I think of Gilberto I can hear him sharing the story of mama chicken and the elephant, or saying again that God came to give us abundant life: “abundant like me,” he would say as he patted his tummy before going on to explain that CEPAD radio has the best DJ in the world — “can you guess who it is?”.
Gilberto’s warmth always shone through, whether he was speaking of his family or the communities he worked alongside in Nicaragua.
I last saw Gilberto in March, in Granada, Nicaragua on the final night of our supporter trip. We sat together at dinner — the streets lively with musicians and dancers everywhere. It was not always easy to hear as he shared a story with me about a very “special evening” last Autumn.
Gilberto and Dámaris had returned from the UK via the US so they could visit his daughter Carmen and her family in Michigan. Much to his surprise, he arrived to find that his 3 sons had come from other parts of the States.
Gilberto spoke of how wonderful it had been to all be together and he told me with a twinkle in his eye how when everyone else had gone to bed, he and his children had stayed up talking into the early hours of the morning.
Gilberto’s warmth always shone through, whether he was speaking of his family or the communities he worked alongside in Nicaragua. Every time I visit CEPAD’s central office in Managua and go out to the communities we work with, we are greeted with so much warmth — you can see the love and respect they have for one another, staff and community members alike — a passion and dedication for the work, a feeling of family and a strong underlying faith and sense of hope in the hardest of circumstances.
And thinking about it now, you can see the legacy of Gilberto and Gustavo — all that they began, all that they have done and all that they were. What a legacy.”
Gilberto Aguirre (El Profe) — Presenté
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Gilberto Aguirre passed away on 18th June, 2020