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8 de Julio, 2011

Friday was a relitively quiet day for the group in Nicaragua in terms of activities, but a busy day academically.  Today was the day that the 6 undergraduate students in the group cranked out the majority of the group paper discussing our first 3 weeks in country and hilighting the organizations we have visited through the lens of international sustainable community development (that is after all the point of the class and our primary reason for being in Nicaragua).  As Jason would say, this is not a vacation, so some days of mainly academic work are warrented, and San Ramon isn´t a bad place to write a paper.  The group split the paper into several topic areas related to community development, including community engagement, entry points for organizations in terms of their local projects, labor relations, and environment and health among others.  Writing a group paper is a challenge…but with a large amount of information from all of our organization visits and observations throughout Nicaragua, the task was less daunting than it could have been.  Tomorrow the group will wrap up the paper and have the first of our two courses in Nicaragua complete.

While most ofthe group worked on their paper, Dr. White and the graduate students took a day trip back to Matagalpa to finish up some logisitical planning for the upcoming final week of our time here.  We´ve got one more day in San Ramon before heading off to our various sites for the final week´s practicum.

Today we met with Samari from our Hotel, Sueno de la Campana or “Dream of the Bell.” It is part of economic stimulus project funded in part by a Spanish NGO. As the project nears economic sustainability, their focus has shifted to job training and getting certified by the Rainforest Alliance to increase their visibility.
    Next we met with Adec, another farmers’ co-op that manages programs to help diversify agricultural products to mitigate the effects of crop loss due to unpredictable weather. They also manage a seed banking program to empower farmers who don’t have the capital to purchase new seed varieties. Farmers participate in the “pound for pound” program where they receive a “loan” of free seeds that they are required to “repay” after they harvest.
    Finally we met with another group of women artisans who make jewelry from local seeds and nuts.

Today was a wonderful tropical day in Matagalpa.  Blue skies, warm air, gentle breeze and a lots of sun.  We hiked out of the city and away from our hostel, into the jungle and towards the town of La Pita.  La Pita is a small coffee co-operative village that is ran by 25 families and sits at the base of the mountains in Matagalpa.  It works both in Fair Trade sales and organic farming practices.  Making less then $1 a bucket, families scale narrow trails up into the higher altitudes to pick coffee beans one at a time. The process consists of snapping them individually from the branch they grow on, starting at the top of the plant and working down.  All members of the family are allowed to work and once your bucket is full, you carry it back down to the processing building (about a mile).  The beans are then stripped of their shell, washed and sorted by size.  They are then laid out for 24 hours to dry.  100 pounds of coffee fetches a price of $10.

Farmers today are dealing with the challenges of global warming.  As beans mature before harvest season their quantity dwindles, making it harder for these families to meet the demands of Europe and America.

Tuesday July 5th

Today we started our research into the coffee industry of Nicaragua. You may not know it, but a lot of the coffee that we drink in the U.S. comes from Nicaragua. Often times, coffee growers are exploited by large corporate buyers and have little control over their product. We visited Cecocafen, the Central Coffee Cooperatives of the North. A collective of 2600 families, members are able to leverage their collective voice and receive a fair price in addition to directing profits into social programs for their communities. We toured their processing facility, Solcafe, although harvest season is not until November. You might recognize some of these brands…

Wasting no time, we also made the trip into the hills on the opposite side of Matagalpa to talk with the women of Telares, a cooperative of five women in the community of Malina Norte. The women weave bags in order to gain economic independence and social empowerment. We are all learning so much every day from the amazing people of this country.

July 4th, 2011

HAPPY AMERICA DAY!

Today we awoke in our hotel rooms at Hotel Aponte in Maltagalpa and promptly went over to visit Prodessa. Prodessa is a agricultural Community Development organization focusing on community building and empowerment for those in rural who often get left behind by the government. We climbed into a pick-up truck and drove up into the mountains outside of Maltagalpa and witnessed an encounter, as it is called by Prodessa, which is like a community meeting. It was a very impressive meeting of the women of the community, but only two of us were sitting by our translator, so it was tough to understand for most.

After catching a ride back down the mountain, we had a more in-depth meeting with Prodessa about their practices and techniques. It was a very valuable experience to learn more about an organization like this.

Later that night, a few of us went out and celebrated the Fourth of July with Eduardo, our driver. We had a nice time on the forth here and spoke Spanish with Eduardo, experiencing a little bit of night life in the wonderful city of Maltapalgpa.

July 3rd, Sunday

Today we woke up in a classroom, literally. We spend the night at the local school. La China is a small farmer community, approximately 100 households. In the morning, Owen, Michael and I decided to do a mental mapping exercise while walking around the town. Very quickly we realized that our exploration might be limited to the central part only. The reason – all three roads, leading to this part of the town, involved crossing the river without bridges. At one crossing we observed a woman pick up her little boy, place him over her shoulders and try to cross over stones that she found along the way. At another, a teenager picked up his bicycle and carried it over. Cars and animals would just go into the water. I couldn’t help but thinking how isolated this part of the town becomes when it rains heavily.

Next we all got together, and visited the sprawling moon bean business of our host family. Nearby, four women started worm composting with the assistance of a local NGO. We spent some time with them talking about their achievements. We also heard about the local baseball game taking place between La China and the other small town and decided to stop by. It was an interesting community event. Mostly men of all ages were present and the elders in the community were clearly mentoring the young players. Unfortunately we had to leave somewhere in the middle, but as we could see La China’s team was winning. Trip to Matagalpa was very short. As soon as we arrived it started to rain heavily. Rest of the afternoon we had free time to catch up on journaling, blogging and so on.

What a wondrous place to find one’s self, at Norome Resort and Villas, with a whole morning of exploration ahead. Waking up in a hammock after a warm night to the sounds of the jungle, I joined the others in breakfast up the hill. From watching howler monkeys scour the trees above for mangoes, to the team-building ropes course, to diving into the deep, clear water of Laguna de Apoyo, the festivities were endless. As we debriefed the last two weeks, a sense of tranquility washed over the mountainside. 

Noting this would be a great place to bring the family, we packed up and drove to La China later that afternoon. La China is a small rural village about twenty minutes away from Matagalpa. After a warm welcome from Ismarys Alonso Bectancurt and her family we visited a USAID sponsored papaya project on the outskirts of town and the organization Assoccion Pro Desarrollo, whose work focuses on re-forestation in La China.

As the sun went down on the long day, Dr. White and Jason settled into their host families and the rest of the group, our driver Eduardo included, rested their heads on the floor of the local primary school, slumber partying among the desks and chalkboards, falling asleep to the sounds of the community around us and Metallica, among other things :)

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