Monday, October 12, 2009

The People We Meet: Marsela

We met Marsela at Hostel San Jorge. She keeps the hostel clean as a whistle. Marsela is 16 years old. She works at the Hostel from sunrise until sunset, then walks through the market to her mother's vegetable stand. She spends another hour or so chopping up the extra vegetables that were not sold. Later, those vegetables will end up in pickled salads and stews. I detailed an idea to join Marsela and her mother for an evening's work in the "Preliminary Appointments" post. I would like to ask her mother if she would be interested in participating in our potential project: Ceña con las Madres, or if she knows of any other women in her community that would be interested in becoming involved.
As for Marsela, I would like to learn more about her dreams of attending the Public University in Managua. Nicaragua's Public University is called Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN). UNAN offers a substantially more affordable education than many private colleges in Nicaragua. However, this Public University is very difficult to attend. In a nutshell, one either has to graduate high school with perfect grades and high class rank or know people who have connections within the system to get it.
Fortunately for Marsela, her grades have always been excellent. She is confident that she will win admission to UNAN. The problem that remains is the cost: although it is a Public University, it still costs more than the average Nicaraguan has to offer. To accommodate the modest means of many college students, many colleges in Nicaragua offer weekend classes so students can still work . The most common schedule for a typical student would be to work six days a week then attend classes on either Saturday or Sunday from 8 to 12am then 1 to 6pm. Without this arrangement, most Nicaraguan college students could not afford higher education.
One large difference that I see between higher education in Nicaragua and in the US is that students in Nicaragua must work to attend College-University on the side as compared to students from the US who attend College-University and maybe work on the side.
Marsela would like to join UNAN's specialized program for tourism. She told me that this program is far more expensive than the other degrees offered at UNAN. The program would last 5 years and cost Marsela 80 dollars a month plus transportation and books. By comparison, a standard degree at the UNAN costs each student around 80 dollars per 10 months! As Marsela informed me, "que vale la peña" (It is well worth it) because evidently a tourism degree from the UNAN makes one far more likely to land a decent job.
I would like to learn more about how and where the tuition fees are spent within UNAN, especially those fees that make the tourism program significantly more expensive than any other. If the tuition fees are directly returned to the students through program development and job placement, I could understand them. If the short-terms costs of higher tuition fees strengthen the tourism industry in Nicaragua, then future graduates from the tourism program will reap the long-term benefits of numerous job opportunities.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The People We Meet: Silvia

Silvia- My first native Nicaraguan friend. I met Silvia at my first hostel, San Angel, a family-run mid-range accommodation right in town. She cooks delicious meals for the hostel's guests and keeps the place spotless. She has 4 children: three teenage boys and a 7-year old daughter, Jael, who comes to work with Silvia whenever she is not in school. Silvia works really hard so she can afford to raise her children. While she is not married, she has lived with the father of all her children for her entire adult life. This situation is not common in Nicaraguan culture, but she is happy and believes that the formality of marriage is not what is important in a relationship. She doesn't have abundant amounts of money but she does not live in poverty. When I asked her about her day she told me that she works at the hostel from sunrise to sunset, then returns home to cook for her family and care for her children before they all go to bed (her three teenage boys share a small room!!!)
Silvia is one of the women who I hope to incorporate into our program Ceña con las madres. She could help us connect to her community, which lies on the outskirts of Granada. I hope to meet with her this week and ask her if she would be willing to show me her home and introduce me to her friends from the barrio.

Potential Projects: Ceña con las Madres

Ceña con las madres (Dinner with the mothers)

We want to develop a network of women who will prepare and serve typical Nicaraguan dinners for paying guests. We expect that this program would appeal to tourists looking for a taste of authentic Nicaraguan cuisine.

Benefits of the program:

  1. A substantial amount of revenue for participating families.
  2. Tourists looking for an "off-the-beaten path" experience could explore a community outside of Granada proper. The average traveler does not venture into these surrounding communities, which offer fresh perspectives on Nicaraguan culture. A homemade meal in the intimacy of a residential neighborhood would be a rewarding travel experience.
  3. Communities will improve. Tourism would bring more money into them, and greater awareness by the tourism industry would encourage economic development.

Preliminary Appointments

Today I made two important visits.
The first was with Silvia and the second was with Marsela. I went to the two hostels where they work, Hostel San Añgel and Hostel San Jorge.
I discussed our ideas surrounding Project Ceña con las Madres with Silvia. I was happy to find out that she thinks our ideas would help the women of her community. She offered to ask a few of her neighbors if they would like to sit down with me and discuss ways in which we can work together to make this program successful. I asked her if I could accompany her to her neighborhood one day next week after she was done work so I could personally meet some of the women in her area. She said it would be her pleasure!
My second visit was to Marsela at Hostel San Jorge. She came out to greet me with a beaming smile from ear to ear. She showed me the vegetable stand where her mom sells their families produce each day. Marsela works at the Hostel from sunrise until sunset then she walks through the market to her mothers vegetable stand where she spends an hour or so chopping up the extra vegetable for pickled salads and stews. I told her I would like to help her chop vegetables one day with her and her mother and asked her if she would first check with her mother to see if this would be okay. If her mother agrees, I hope to explain our potential program Ceña con las Madres to them and see if Marsela's mother would be interested in participating. If she is not, I hope that the two of them may be able to direct me to a family that could participate and benefit from this program. If nothing else I hope to learn the secret to the amazing pickled vegetables down here!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Getting Started

Alex and I are both safely in Granada, Nicaragua. We are excited to have arrived in the location where we will be settling down and making our home for the next year or so. Speaking of homes, tomorrow we are looking at a shared home located a mere 5 min walk from the city's center. If we like what we see we will be moved in by Friday the 9th of October! Until then we are staying at San Jorge's Hostel tucked away in the far corner of Granada's bustling market.
Today is our first full day in the City. Currently we are attempting to maximize our work day by spending time developing the website, blogging our experiences, exploring Granada, connecting with other NGOs in the surrounding area, getting to know the local businesses and people and last but not least improving our ESPAÑOL!