Friday, November 27, 2009

Investment in the Future: Barrio Avelardo Enrique Electricity Project

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all of my fellow American readers out there. I have to say, eating a plate of nachos in 95 degree heat doesn't feel quite the same as eating my Grandma's broccoli casserole after the Thanksgiving Day parade. Regardless, yesterday was pretty amazing for a Nicaraguan Thanksgiving .

Well, let's start from the beginning. On Wednesday night, we hosted another Trivia Night for Esperanza-Granada, where we raised upwards of 600 cords (about $30 USD) for the group. In the middle of the game, the Executive Director, Pauline, called me over to tell me about a great new barrio that is forming in the outskirts of Granada, called Avelardo Enrique. Esperanza has already built a three classroom schoolhouse out there and they are in the process of putting up another three rooms right now. However, as you can see by the picture above, the electrical lines that the members of the neighborhood have put up are quite ineffective and very unsafe. Pauline invited Isabel and me out there to see if there was a way that we could help.

When we arrived yesterday, the neighborhood was bustling with hope and energy despite the fact that its inhabitants were living in little more than cardboard and iron-scrapped shacks. The members of the barrio are INCREDIBLY organized in spite of the lack of much money or decent living conditions. They've already received quotes from a local engineer on the estimated costs of installing better power lines in their barrio. The 40 neighborhood families have even raised about 2,000 cords ($100 USD) to go to the project. Just to put that into perspective, the average Nicaraguan in these parts lives on about 20 cords a day ($1 USD).

So that's where we come in. For less than $5,000, we can build the six cement posts needed to mount the transformer (provided by the local government) and provide adequate electricity to the entire neighborhood, including the new grade school. If these families are able to receive electricity, they will be able to work after dark (about 5:30 here) to create products for sale in the markets and vend items that require refrigeration.

We still have to meet with the community leaders to make sure that our help would be most effective there. Upon first evaluation, however, it looks like a great project that is much needed. It's true that yesterday was not quite the typical Thanksgiving, but it was definitely an experience for which I will forever be thankful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Warm Welcome

About a month ago, I ventured out to the outskirts of Granada with my friend Silvia. Silvia is the hired help at the hostel San Angel, my first home upon arriving in Granada. We went to her neighborhood, Sabaneda. I intended to present our proposed program, Cena con las Madres, to interested mothers.

Upon arrival, Silvia invited me into her home and introduced me to her 4 children. There were no doors; curtains separated areas of her home and the floor was simply dirt. Despite this, everyone seemed happy. Then I heard a noise coming from the corner of the room. Sure enough, there was a television tuned to the World Series. In no time I was chatting with Silvia's teen-age son and his two cousins about how much I wanted to Yankees to lose! They found my passion very amusing. Like most Nicaraguans, they were quite indifferent on the outcome because Nicaraguans are Dodgers fans. The pitcher Vicente Padilla, who was Nicaraguan born and raised, is a Dodger. While we were chatting about the players we liked and disliked, Silvia went outside and gathered up the women who had displayed interest in the program.

Silvia's sister, Alba, lives next door. We all gathered outside Alba's home so I could personally meet each woman. My goal was to explain to them what I hoped could potentially come out of this program and receive receive their feedback. This meeting was particularly stressful for me because not only did the women interested in the program come out for the meeting, but also THE WHOLE COMMUNITY.

As dusk set upon us and the outdoor lights began to shine, I broke out into a nervous sweat. It seemed like the entire neighborhood was gathered in a semi-circle before me. I was personally introduced to each and every person. I also received a hug or a kiss from everyone in attendance. Then I spoke with the group at large while the younger children chased a pet chicken throughout the crowd.

By the end of the meeting my audience was excited about the program's potential. When I asked for feedback, people were shy at first. Then I explained to them that in order for this program to reach its potential we all needed to work together to eliminate any weaknesses in the structure. Soon enough, a gentleman spoke up with a suggestion. Conversation spread like wildfire.

I believe that the meeting was a success. I was able to connect with the community and gain their trust. I also presented our proposed structure of Cena con las Madres and received plentiful feedback from the community.

Everyone gave me another hug or kiss upon my departure. Silvia, her daughter and two friends walked me back towards Granada's center until I assured them that I felt completely safe to continue alone. Silvia also believed the night was a success, and gave me a wide smile and a big thank-you as I walked away.

Speaking of smiles, as I walked home thinking over the night, I too was grinning from ear to ear. The feeling of acceptance by the community was empowering. My evening in Sabaneda with Silvia, her family, and her friends was one of the best experiences I have been fortunate enough to have in Nicaragua.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Update from Nicaland

Good evening, fellow PHP Global supporters:

First off, I have to apologize on behalf of Isabel and myself for our lack of blogging skills. We have been working diligently to get everything done here before we leave in mid-December, and it has been quite the task. Every time we think we are nearing an end to our research, we get a ton of new leads. Let's be honest, though - this is a great problem for a new NGO to have.

So, let's see what has happened over the past month...
  1. We just got our website approved by our parent company, so it's officially open to the public. Check it out and let us know what you think of it. PLEASE let us know if you have any suggestions that could improve the site. It's
  2. We're working on a potential project with another NGO called Women of the Cloud Forest. The group works with women in the rain forest regions of Costa Rica to create jewelry which is sold in many museum gift shops and fair trade stores in the United States (e.g., Ten Thousand Villages and the Museum of Latin American Art). Our task would be to help them develop a new branch with Nicaraguan women cooperatives. It's an exciting project. We'll have to see how it all works out.
  3. Right now, we're trying to put together a few kick-off parties in the States for when we get back around the holidays. Two of our big programs will be an event somewhere in Burlington on the weekend of the 19th (here's the short list: Skinny Pancake, Flatbread, Three Tomatoes, Bangkok Bistro) and a New Years Eve event (probably) at Baja Bean in Richmond.
  4. We're developing a relationship with Equal Exchange right now to be able to sell their fair-trade coffee as an ongoing fundraiser for our organization.
  5. We're scouting out some places that we would like to convert into the Granada Hostel. We're putting together some proposals for the owners to try to lower the cost or take a tax write-off to help out our organization. We'll keep you updated on the progress of this project.
  6. We're hosting a pub trivia tonight at a place called O'Shea's here in Granada. Teams of 6 pay 10 cords a piece (or $0.50 USD) to play a trivia game. The winners get a bottle of rum and 100% of the proceeds go to Esperanza Granada, a local NGO that focuses on education programs. It's a great way to network among the local expat and traveler communities.
  7. We're reaching the roll-out point for our first Business Development Project, Cena con las Madres. Isabel will be posting something in the next few days detailing what we have developed - for the moment, I'll just say that I'm really excited about it.
I'll stop the serious information overload for now. We'll stay more on top of this blog after Cena con las Madres gets going. Thanks for following us. Please spread the word about our organization, sign up for all of our different media (Facebook, Twitter, Causes, and Our Newsletter), and of course, if you can, donate.