As of today, I have been in Nicaragua for exactly one month. I have been living with my incredibly kind and welcoming host family in the community of La Granadilla for most of that time. La Granadilla is a relatively large rural community that lies under the shadow of the volcano Mombocho, and is about a half hour bus ride from Granada. It is part of the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, UCA Tierra Y Agua, along with 5 other communities. UCA Tierra Y Agua promotes, to name a few of its aims, self- sufficiency and agricultural and environmental sustainability and security. The cooperative does this by initiating and supporting a number of different projects in its communities, project which range from the development of rural tourism to the introduction of new agricultural techniques. The project that I have been lucky enough to participate it, learn about and witness has to do with the latter. Casa Canadiense is supporting the construction of a number of family and community gardens in the cooperative communities, all of which are being created and maintained using new agro-ecological techniques. “Agro-ecological” simply means that the gardens are being created and maintained in ways which respect and take advantage of natural ecological processes. In other words, these gardens are meant to exist harmoniously with the environment, without damaging any ecosystems. To provide a concrete example of how these techniques are environmentally friendly I will mention that organic fertilizer, not pesticides or insecticides, are being used to maintain these gardens.
This project is important for a number of reasons. It is building and strengthening environmental consciousness at the community level and it is encouraging self-sufficiency and greater food security. If anyone is interested in learning more about the techniques used in these gardens I would direct you to bionica.org, a website which details exactly what the techniques are that the community members have learned about and are using in these gardens. It is in Spanish, so if you are, like me, new to the Spanish language have a dictionary, google translate or a Spanish friend you were able to commandeer for the afternoon at the ready.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been working with men and members of La Granadilla’s youth group on these gardens. Each garden has between 3-5 plots that measure 8 metres by 120 cm by 60 cm. The work is physically demanding, something I have come to appreciate through observation and experience. My participation in the construction of these gardens is necessarily restricted by my limited agricultural skillset and poor Spanish so the lion share of the work is done, and rightfully so, by community members and not by me, the unskilled volunteer. While participating in this work I have definitely gained a new appreciation for food and a richer understanding of the vast amount of work that goes into its preparation. For example, I was able to watch and help out one morning in the creation of 5L of binadre, or organic fertilizer, a process which took 3 hours of labour on the part of 6 people, and then 5 more hours of patience as we waited for it to collect.
I have been mulling over what else to say in this first blog post. I could talk about the community dynamics here, what life is like in rural Nicaragua for those I have been living with or the difficulties faced by many in the community who live with insufficient income and without income and job security or stability. I could talk about the rich Nicaraguan culture I’m slowly getting to know or my interactions with people that range from incredibly humbling and inspiring to awkward and slightly uncomfortable. I could talk about the incredible food I’ve been eating, how I’ve fallen in love with gallo pinto and guanavanas, or about how awe-inspiring it is at night seeing Mombacho framed by networks of glittering stars. I’ve decided to end this introductory blog post by sharing the principles which led me to my trip this summer. Those principles were solidarity, community and development. More specifically, my trip to Nicaragua had to do with my desire to live and work in solidarity with members of a Nicaraguan community and to experience and observe both human and community development. I am definitely getting the opportunity to do both of these things. I have been incredibly humbled by the relationships I’m had the opportunity to form in Nicaragua, especially with my host family. Donya Reina, the mother in my house, is a strong, unfailingly kind woman who has been teaching me how to cook some classic Nicaraguan dishes and how to make the soap that she and Isabel, another women in the community, sell in Granada. Leo, her 15 year old son and the leader of the youth group here, patiently and jokingly puts up with my incessant questions about the Spanish language and introduced me to the community and to the work I have been doing here. He has little free time, as he works Monday to Friday with his father in Managua and attends school on Saturdays, and a generous, playful heart. His sisters Maria, Adrianna, Veronica and Daniella are similarly wonderful. I could continue on but I am meant to be writing a relatively shot blog post so will end here.