Friday, March 26, 2010

A Trip out to Caña de Castilla

Being back in Granada for the past couple of weeks has been quite a great experience. Isabel and I have had the opportunity to reconnect with a lot of our old friends, and it feels like we never even left the place. Today, I just wanted to tell you about a couple of those old friends and a trip that we took out to their neighborhood a few days ago.

The little guy with me in the picture above is my younger, Nica brother, Jorge. Jorge and I lived in the same house for about three months during my last stay here in Nicaragua. He, Isabel, and I would make up games, watch Curious George, and fumble through elementary Spanish together (although I have to say that 3-year-old Jorge may have had a better grasp on Spanish grammar than myself, haha). Jorge is the son of Claudia, one of the maids that worked for the hospedaje where we last stayed, and one of the perks for them at the time was that they got to stay in the maid's quarters in the back of the house. The time that we got to spend with them, and Claudia's newborn, Mary Elena, was priceless. So, when we got back to Granada, one of the first few people that we had to visit was obviously Claudia and the crew.

We lucked out on Monday, because we ran into Claudia, and she just happened to be off the next day. So, Tuesday morning, we got the chance to head out to her house in Caña de Castilla, about a 10 minute bus ride to the southwest of Granada. This was our first trip out to her community, and we definitely didn't expect to see what we did.

The trip out to her place took just a little over an hour. During that time, we had the opportunity to describe to her what our organization does, and we got to learn a lot about her experience as a housekeeper at our old place. First of all, she gets paid less than $3 a day for anywhere between 10 to 14 hours of work. Some days she even has to come in at 4:30am to cook breakfast for a big tour group. It's great because these big groups usually leave a pretty hefty tip; however, despite this extra work, she never sees a dime of it. Secondly, she was allowed to stay at the house, but her kids were forever banned from staying there overnight.

Anyway, when we got out to her neighborhood, we were blown away by the beauty of the landscape. There were tons of various fruit trees lining the road back to her house, and the shadow of the active Mombacho volcano was lurking over us (don't worry, it hasn't erupted since 1570). Claudia's house was nestled in the middle of this beauty, and they even had an avocado tree and a plantain tree to add to the ambiance. The only problem is that 14 people are confined to little more than 300 square feet of space.

Claudia and her 9 brothers and sisters share the space, along with her 3 children and her mother. Her father died less than a year ago when a bus struck him while he was standing on the side of the main road at the entrance to their town. Her sister works 2 to 3 days a week, so in all, the household brings in about $21 a week for 14 people (or a little over 20 cents per person per day). Before the father's death, things were not such a problem. However, after his income stopped, things got a lot harder.

Needless to say, this family is in extreme need of help, and they have some great ideas to change their lives around. Claudia's mother plans to start a business selling a new product which is not available in Granada. She plans to borrow enough money to rent a space in the market and purchase enough goods to begin sales very soon. In fact, they plan to fill out the paperwork in the next week and start selling this coming weekend during Semana Santa (Easter Week). We're really excited about their energy, and our level of trust and belief in this family is very high. We can't wait to report back to you the incredible things that they are able to do in the next few months.

Thanks for reading about our adventures! Until next time,


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hello from Nicaragua!

Happy belated St. Patty's Day and Happy March Madness to all of you basketball lovers out there. I just wanted to make a quick post to let you all know that we arrived safely in Granada Monday around midnight EST. This week we plan to lay low and assimilate back into the culture before ramping up our projects. We plan to make initial contact with our Cena con las Madres group, in hopes to roll out the project within the next few weeks. We also have a meeting with the folks from the Pittsburgh-based group, Women of the Cloud Rainforest, to discuss a partnership on a few projects that we expect will create many new jobs for Nicaraguans. Additionally, we have started our quest for a permanent location for the International House Project.

Things haven't really changed here too much over the past few months. High tourist season is nearing its final weeks until it ramps back up in the summertime. From what I've gathered, it wasn't nearly as bad as everyone had projected. With the high tourist season comes a huge over-saturation of street kids and beggars. And unfortunately, they all compete each other out. Due to the overwhelming numbers, tourists and well-to-do locals tend to get more callous towards these groups, in turn destroying the market of begging for food and money. In a way this is good since a beggar lifestyle is not economically sustainable; however, it still hurts the heart to see these 7 year old kids begging for food only to be turned down time and time again (and, yes, I am part of this denying population).

However, thanks to the tons of generous donations that we have received from all of you over the past few months, we are able to start changing these individuals lives. We plan to work with the parents of children like Animal (pictured above) to create a sustainable business and generate sufficient income for their families. And by the way...I'm pretty sure that's his nickname, although he hasn't broken down to tell us another name despite our pleas.

Thank you all for the support that you've provided us so far. We look forward to reporting back many stories of successful implementation over the next few months here in Granada.

Until next time!