Sunday, September 28, 2008

Business Projects and More

Last week I made a visit to the far Northern point of Nicaragua. There is literally a peninsula that stretches out into the Gulf of Fonseca which is the open body of water that separates Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. On a clear day you can see the miles into all three of these countries. As part of my work with a Nicaraguan organization called Fundacion Lider I am working with a cooperative of communities that want to develop an eco-tourism project in this region of Nicaragua. The inferastructure is severely lacking, however the natural resources more than make up for the defeciencies. We will be using a solar panel for electricity, well for water, and most all the food that will be prepared for travelers will be from fruits and vegetables raised in the community. This is a really neat project to be a part of because up until now there has been no real tourism businesses established in this part of Nicaragua. It's hard to believe that one of the most beautiful regions of this country is still completely untapped. There are hundreds of acres of land that just sit completely unused. Much of this area is protected by the Government as there are Wetlands, sea turtle nesting grounds, and exotic wildlife galore. There are Islands of rock that spur out of the ocean like glaciers. These "pierdes" serve as landing strips and nesting grounds for the birds of the open seas. The only down side to working on this project is that it's nearly 4 hours by bus to get to the point. The distance is less than 40 miles, but the roads are very bad and you end up spending most of your trip bouncing from rut to rut as your 1970's school bus does it's best rendition of "mudslinging".

In another project I am working with two different cooperatives in a beautiful coastal community just an hour outside of my pueblo. One group is a farming cooperative that has come together after receiving the funds to build a production center. They are now working weekly to develop strategic plans for how to grow and become more effecient. My job is to help them identify new markets and to teach them things about business concepts such as marketing, start up capital, and flow charts. These farmers are very advanced and already more than 60 perecnt of their produce is being sold to Hortifruti Inc. which is the official produce purchaser for Wal-Mart in Nicaragua.

The second group is a fantastic group of ladies who have begun making their own jam from fresh pineapple and papaya. There product has been tested and meets all quality standards needed to sale in supermercado's all over Nicaragua. Currently we lack only a barcode and a good marketing plan to bring this business up to the level that it can start to improve the financial conditions for many of the people involved. I must say the jelly is pretty tasty. Don't be surprised if this is what you get as your Christmas present from me this year.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Getting back in the Flow!

Not so different from life in the U.S. after a long weekend it can sometimes be a challenge to get back into the flow of things. I can report that the waves were wonderful this weekend, and it's really nice to get out and surf with some good friends. I love the beaches here in Nicaragua, and if your reading this blog you should probably consider coming down sometime to visit. Work here is really slow right now because it is raining every day, and when it rains here it is not the same as an afternoon thunderstorm in North Carolina. Usually the rain starts in the early afternoon and does not stop until after I'm already asleep. During the 6 or 7 hour downpour's electricity is nonexistent, the streets flood, and it is impossible to do anything outside of your house. It's actually impossible to do anything inside of your house. We patiently await the last rain which will come sometime in November and then for 6 months we won't see a single drop. Of course the temperatures will average somewhere around 110 degrees for the dry season, but at least you can leave your house. It's hard to understand how difficult it can be to travel from my town to others pueblos when the rains are bad, but if you can imagine walking through waist high puddles of water, climbing onto a packed bus, riding into the center of a Central A merican market and changing buses, only to have the second bus break down and return home later in the afternoon water logged, you are starting to have an understanding of what it's like in the rainy season here in Nicaragua.

Many of the homes are without much needed rough repairs so during these storms the buckets are scattered throughout the rooms, sometimes on top of beds and collect water so fast that it is a full time job to empty the buckets and replace them throughout the night. If you neglect even one bucket the dirt floors in the homes will rapidly turn to 2 inch deep mud without realizing it. This is not a reality that is reserved for the poor here, but for the general population in Nicaragua. Sure there are folks that have tile floors, and others that have homes that would rival some of the more decorated pads in downtown Raliegh, but they are few and far between.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Business Competition and More

It's been a while since I have had a chance to update my blog and upon the request of "mi amiga Blair" I am throwing something together today before I start my long weekend. We have an Independence Day Celebration that will be taking place on Sunday and Monday which means that school will be cancelled until Thursday or Friday. While that doesn't seem too logical it is the way things are done here. I must take this opportunity to brag on my students. Yesterday "El Instituto Miquel Jarquin" hosted it's second annual Business Competition. After just 5 weeks with the students I must say that I was not completely convinced of their capacity to show off their newly learned entreprenurial skills in a formal setting. After getting a call early in the week that Peace Corps would be sending our national director to the competition in El Viejo I became a little nervous about how all of this would work out. When I got to the school on Wednesday morning I realized very early on that the students were more serious about this competition that I had given them credit for. Nearly all of the groups where setting up at 7 am, which is the time I asked them to be setting up. Keep in mind "Hora Nica" as we call it is entirely different that a set time as we are accustomed to. Generally 7 am would warrant expectations that your students might show up by 8, but for the competition everyone was in their places by 7. The only issue I had with the competition at all was that when the judges were passing each of the tables the students were not able to keep their presentations to the given 4 minute time block, thus pushing everything back. Our final presentation of the awards had been planned for 10 am but did not end up taking place until nearly noon. The best thing about all of this was that the director of my school, who I have really been trying to improve my relationship with, was able to deliver the commencement speech. I believe that he was impressed that our competition had been deemed worthy of having the Peace Corps Director in attendance, and thus he complimented everything about our competition, something he hasn't done since I arrived at his school. Perhaps the greatest success in all of this is that the students business ideas were fascinating. The display of creativity, organization, and personality was tremendous. I have many students who I am really begining to see the brilliance in. The winning idea is really a form of art. After taking recycled trash, mostly paper out of the streets and processing it, the group uses a formula to create a paste that is used to fill a frame. The us color markers and draw interesting landscapes of Nicaraguan culture on the mushy substance, and then after 3 weeks of curing this framed concoction is full hardened and ready to sale as a unique work of art maded completely of recycled materials. "Dog Beauty" another winner that will continue on to the regional competition is a group of very smart young girls who has designed beautiful doggy clothes that would probably work better in a rich childrens clothing boutique. The best marketing tool they had is pictured above in their cute dog who slept most of the day in a series of different dresses. There were 5 winners in all and more than 25 participants. The competition was a huge success and I am so proud to have been a part of it. On top of everything I had one of those Peace Corps moments last night when I was walking back home just before sun set and I heard a "Profe" in the distance. It was one of my students who attends school in the mornings and then works hard for his parents delivery service in the evenings. He rides a bike with different products all over town sweating and breaking his back for a few cordobas a day. He had a big smile on his face and let me know that "No ganamos, pero la competencia fue divertido" We didn't win, but the competition was really fun". For some reason it just made me realize that this program and these activities are defenitely not missing the mark, and when you have that kind of reassurance it makes you know that you are right where you need to be.

Aside from the work I've been doing in the schools it is always nice to show off some of my new friends in "Villa Santa Catalina" where I am working with a micro credit program. There is a pattern that has been developing over the last several years of my life and it has to do with my infatuation with the female gender. Specifically the young girls, I am talking about the very young girls. It seems that everywhere I go I seem to fall in love with a "nina". This can be troublesome because it often renders me completely useless to the people around me, of course that is everyone but the cute little girl that has become the object of my affection, and for her the world is at her fingertips. I laugh as though there is nothing in the world I wouldn't do for my new crush, and in reality there probably isn't. If you can recall your first debilitating crush, the boy or girl that you just absolutely had it in for. Most every night you probably listened to songs and every world pierced your heart as you thought specifically of that person's eyes or voice. Well, that is kind of what it's like to have a little girl who is perfect in your eyes, go without food, be left at home for hours at a time by herself in a hammock, and constantly be sick with everything ranging form a productive cough to heat rash. But when you show up a smile just comes over her that tells you no matter how bad things might be the Love you bring in to this room and the way that you look at me makes my stomach full and heart complete. So while I am still able to do my work I look forward most to the second I walk in the door to see her face smiling up at me. She knows that I will pick her up and we will just walk around with out a care in the world.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nicaraguan Classroom