El Porvenir’s Impact on the Community – Spring 2011
At the end of El Porvenir’s 5-day Casas Viejas, Nicaragua construction project the community members of all ages and the volunteers celebrated together in the school yard with a piñata for the children, a local band, students performing folkloric dances, and lots of happiness.
The Casas Viejas community received three new latrines, a handwashing station and a re-connected water line to a school that had been without any of these basic needs for many years. In terms of personal relations even more was accomplished. Although all construction materials and planning was handled by El Porvenir, community members learned to work together and with the volunteers; from Jose, the foreman of the work crew, to his wife, Chepita, who handled all the lunches for the volunteers, to the women and children of all ages who arrived everyday on site to help with whatever jobs were necessary: hauling sand, site clean-up, digging lines, carrying water, etc…
The pride of accomplishment shown in all of us, foreigners and community members alike, as we danced, sang and celebrated the completion of our goals – the addition of basic water needs for the primary school of Casas Viejas.
I’m updating my spring trip with El Porvenir with an impact statement which will appear in the El Porvenir newsletter by Jo Buescher. Thought the rest of you might be interested since I never finished my NIcaragua blog. Sorry.
Next post will continue my struggle with public relations for Free To Bloom.
Back on the road with El Porvenir, a national NGO, we travel the Pan-American Highway, trashed with plastic bags and bottles, through Nicaragua to Sebaco and check in to one of the only hotels. We are in the breadbasket of the country. Fields of sugarcane, rice, beans, peanuts, tomatoes, and at higher elevations, coffee, surround the valley. Semi-trailers and buses carry workers, animals and vegetables to and fro. The town is a trade center disguised as a truck stop with lots of banks, prostitutes and gas stations on a contaminated river.
The afternoon is free so Bob and I hike into town for some local color. We hail a bicycle taxi and ask for a tour. To alleviate drabness the storefronts, though neither colonial nor quaint, are painted in gorgeous bright colors, especially pink and purple. The market, filled with friendly vendors, is a profusion of mounded fruit and vegetables shining in the afternoon sun. We return unharmed from our rich experience to admonitions of“Stay out of Sebaco! It’s a dangerous haven for robbers, gangs and prostitutes.”
The next day we’re off to Casas Viejas on a rutted dirt road rough enough to break an axle. Stark serene mountains on both sides frame the dry dusty terrain clotted with brown stubby trees. The tiny village is far enough away and hard enough to reach that it is isolated not only from the crime and politics of the big cities, but also from the ‘basic necessities’ of potable water and sanitation. And that’s what we’re here for.
The village has been approved for a project by El Porvenir. Three latrines and a hand washing station with piped in potable water will be built by community members and volunteers (us) before school starts. All materials and training are supplied by El Porvenir. We are greeted by the teachers and children the first day. We volunteers do mostly grunt work along with the children – carrying sand for cement, rocks for the drain field. There’s no electricity so everything is hecho por mano, done by hand. The locals like to see and get to know the volunteers and vice-versa. We four Gringo volunteers and two El Porvenir staff drive up two plus hours each day to help. Jose is the local foreman and his wife Chepita cooks lunch for us at their house. Walking through the village we get a view of the valley below, meet the neighbors, check out the mud/thatch houses, doors flung open to catch the light and breeze. I’m surprised to see the contented, though not easy, lives they lead. A teacher says, “the children like to work, they want to help. They’ve been raised that way.”
Casas Viejas has almost 500 inhabitants, approximately 6 per house. There is a church, a primary school with no water or sanitation, a clinic open only once a month, and no stores.A truck with a bench along one side for riders comes once a day from the closest town, Dario. After six years of school hardly anyone continues their education. It’s too far and costs too much ($1 ea. way).
Learning to live and work together is inherent. Older children take care of younger and all have chores: in the garden, feeding the chickens, milking the cows, grinding corn, washing clothes. The women and children handle the stuff of life in the village. Most the men are either non-existent or have work far away. Self-sufficiency is a necessity. If a job is available, average pay is only $2 per day.
On the third day of construction I hurt my back and can’t dig or carry. I become the Pied Piper and gather the children together for English lessons. They are thrilled and eager. With only the occasional cry of a baby, the children are happy and busy. Siblings don’t fight, parents don’t scream. Talking with them I find that they’d like to continue their education past sixth grade. Young Jose, who comes every day, takes a liking to Bob and me. He says sadly, “This is my last year of school. We don’t have enough money for the trip to town.”
Check in next time – Getting to Know You Nicaraguan People.
Bob and I are on our second trip to Nicaragua, this time to contradict T.S. Eliot’s quote, “The journey not the arrival matters.” We are building three latrines and a hand washing station at the primary (and only) school in the little pueblo of Casas Viejas. Our first trip to Nicaragua was a joint venture with Water for People and El Porvenir. On our second trip Bob and I are going it alone with El Porvenir. Since our Costa Rica life borders on Nicaragua and the hotly contested Rio San Juan, we’re a bit anxious, but mostly excited to help our El Porvenir neighboring villages with their basic needs.
My partner, Bob Burnett, has come up with a great way to help those in need and have a wonderful vacation tour at the same time. Here’s his letter about our trip appearing in the Tico/Nica Times this week.
Dear Tico Times:
Nicaragua is the large, mysterious country that lurks across Costa Rica’s northern boundary from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Río San Juan currently divides the two nations. I wanted to learn more about Nicaragua by seeing it from the inside.
For $1,020, not including travel to Managua, I found a ten-day, all-inclusive tour to a rustic village called Casas Viejas in Matagalpa, about two hours north of Managua. Included were all meals, mostly home-cooked, an interpreter, guides and transport. The package also included a night at Selva Negra Resort, which features a German menu; tours of Managua, Grenada, Masaya, Matagalpa, Dario; three nights in Managua; and the chance to work.
El Porvenir sponsors tours that let people like us expats in Costa Rica, and others, express our feelings toward helping out our neighbors in need. My group of four volunteers helped villagers install a waterline, a basin sink and three latrines at the elementary school in Casas Viejas.
When the work was finished, residents threw us a fiesta, with speeches, music, dancing, poetry and a stuffed piñata. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Their homes of adobe, wood and brick reminded me of homes that Costa Rican campesinos used 30 years ago.
Catelina and Marcos from El Porvenir shepherded us through the whole trip, from pickup to departure, to make sure we were safe and comfortable.
Accommodations are basic, but we always had hot water and air conditioning at night. Work was hard, hot and dusty. I carried Hemingway’s “The Green Hills of Africa” with me, and the Matagalpan landscape looked just like his descriptions of east Africa.
A tour like mine, with its many options, can satisfy people who like a taste of the “hardy life” and might be curious to know more about our northern neighbor.
Sitting on the porch Of Chepita (our cook in Casas Viejas) and Jose’s (our village crew chief for the project) house, we hatch our dream of starting a little tourist retreat while eating wonderful typical food and enjoying the cool breezes and gorgeous view of the valley below. From left Catalina- our guide, driver and cook, Jill-volunteer, Marlon our El P leader, Connie-volunteer, Chepita-cook, daughter, Jose-village chief, front Bob-volunteer