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This year in Nicaragua we have launched our Regional Project, an expansion of our 30-year mission to reach more Central American families with the resources they need to work their way out of chronic poverty. In preparation for this launch, we have performed extensive land assessments to identify properties in Nicaragua that are capable of supporting agriculture, housing, water, and other critical human needs. When we found La Bendicon, we knew that we had found the right place for the next families to live. We have broken ground, and have begun to build houses and design a water system to provide potable water for the community. In the months ahead, families will move into their homes, plant crops, and begin a journey to land ownership and economic growth.

Also part of our expansion is the work we have started with families in the areas surrounding the communities where we work. These families live in small, separate communities, often squatting on land, some with just a little access to land that they may own. But they do not have access to agricultural training that can help them improve their income. We work with these families and area agencies to ensure they have resources to improve agricultural production, health, access to clean water and sanitation, among other things.

The family of Jose and Isaida is one of the families who started working with Agros as part of the extended regional project. After working with Agros, they decided to apply for a place in the new La Bendicion community, and will soon move onto that property. We're excited to welcome them to their new home!

Meet Jose and Isaida:

It’s just after noon when we meet Jose  and his wife, Isaida. They sit outside their wooden small shelter no more than 100 square feet that serves as a home for them and their four children between the ages of 2 and 13. They rest on a makeshift bench and recline against a piece of scavenged and slightly rusty metal roofing.

Their eldest daughter, Cindy, 13, is at school. The other children: Marcus, 10; Maria, 8 and Abriana, nearly 2, play in and around the home.

Although it is nearly lunchtime, no smoke filters out from the walls as it does in nearby homes. The coals in this kitchen are cold, evidence that they probably haven’t been lit today. The only food on their shelf is a few bananas, a small bottle with a couple tablespoons of oil and a bit of salt.

Isaida explains that it costs about 300 cordobas (roughly $11) to feed her family of six with basic food (rice, beans, tortillas) a day. Right now, they don’t have that money. When Jose Alejandro is able to find work as a day laborer he earns about 100 Cordobas (about $3.75) a day. But, he doesn’t find work every day. Isaida also works, selling snacks outside the school nearby. Last year she got paid 50 Cordobas (less than $2) a day. But, as the school year is just getting started, she is coming off a long season of not working and has yet to receive her first payment for this year’s efforts.

Despite their difficult circumstances and their hunger, they don’t complain. “As poor people, we are used to ‘making it work’,” explains Jose Alejandro, noting they are used to skipping meals or small portions when there is nothing else.  “Right now, we are eating soup because we don’t have enough money for anything else,” he adds.

Neither Jose and Isaida have ever experienced abundance. They have rarely even had enough. Poverty runs in the family. “Everyone (my father, grandfather) have been day laborers, working on farms,” explains Jose.

Although Josewas able to get a basic education, Isaida never had the chance to set foot in a classroom. “I was very young when I started to work in the coffee fields,” she says, noting that she was just 13. “This has been what I have done my whole life.”

Neither their past nor their present circumstances keep them from dreaming that one day things will be better: better for them and better, especially, for their children. “We always think [about the future],” says Jose Alejandro. “But, as someone in poverty you can’t do anything [to change your situation],” he explains.

Their situation and circumstances are very real. Today, their eldest daughter, Cindy, 13, is the same age they were when they started working. But, they want something different for her. “I don’t want my daughter to work like I worked,” says Isaida. “I want her to be able to study. I don’t want her to suffer like I suffered when I was young. I want her to be able to study, to get ahead in life,” she adds, noting that Cindy dreams of becoming and engineer.

Although they have lived in poverty their entire lives, Jose Alejandro and Isaida are optimistic about the future. They hope to leave their small home, where the wind and rain come in through the holes in the walls and the roof behind and be able to move to the new village that Agros is creating. There, in addition to access to land, they aspire to have better living conditions. “I imagine the house [we will have in the future] in my head,” says Isaida. “In my house, I’m going to have water and electricity,” she says with a smile.

They know that the dream of buying their own land one day is like chasing the stars without the support of an organization like Agros. But, they also know that land ownership is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty that has trapped both of their families for so many generations. “Maybe, with help from Agros and from God, we will be able to get ahead and at least provide food for our family,” says Jose Alejandro, hopeful.  

 

Learn more about Agros International: www.agros.org

Visit us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AgrosIntl

Nicaragua continues to be a priority country for Agros, and we are excited about the regional project work that is under way in the Matagalpa region. Communities where we are already active have paved the way for this new regional work, including the community of San Jose. Here are some highlights of the activities for this remarkable community.

Community Organization:

Training continues with the leadership team to advance their skills and knowledge around community development.

Land Tenure:

New crops have been established. The irrigation district has been reactivated for vegetables, passion fruit, and achiote. New planting techniques are being used, including: contour plowing, construction of dikes, and hedge rows.

Economic Development:

  • New crops were established, including: peppers, vegetables, yellow passion fruit, and achiote
  • Crop yields were negatively impacted by a virus transmitted by the white fly. Agronomists are working with the partners on how to deal with this pest.
  • Crops were sold in both the formal (Hortifruti) and informal market, including: 5,275 sweet Nathalie peppers, 3,724 pounds of jalapeño peppers, and 1,963 dozen Chiltoma peppers.
  • Training in modern agricultural techniques was held, with 24 men and 4 women participating.
  • A training exchange was held with the Matagalpa regional families to improve knowledge of modern agricultural techniques
  • Technical training was provided to 28 families in the general management of their coffee crop and in the cultivation of rice
  • Families are currently working with Hortifruti to be able to sell their passion fruit


Community Health and Well-Being:

  • 93% of the families participated in a parent school. Topics included family relationships, joint decision making, and respect.
  • Revolving credit funds were used for boots, machetes, school supplies, and medications
  • 25 families participated in growth groups
  • 41 children are involved in preschool or primary school
  • Community leadership training was held with six members of the board. Work focused on community planning, roles and responsibilities, and leadership activities
  • Staff worked with families on safe water and hygiene in the home. Containers with lids were purchased for community members. They were taught how to use bleach and how to boil water to make it safe for human consumption. The goal is to reduce the cases of diarrhea and parasites in community members.
  • Counseling was provided for one pregnant woman to ensure she is getting proper prenatal care and understands the benefits of an institutional delivery
  • One woman who recently gave birth was counseled on exclusive breastfeeding
  • Six children under the age of two are having their weight monitored. At this point, only one child appears to be underweight (a sign of potential malnutrition).
  • Children in the community received vaccines
  • The assembly chose new health leaders. The medical cabinet was transferred to a new volunteer in the community.


Lessons Learned: 

  • Health volunteers need better training and assignment of activities to ensure that the work is being done
  • Relationships with formal markets need to have contingency plans for when there is excess production
  • Each production process must have timelines that include sufficient time for land preparation, irrigation fittings, and supply purchases in order to avoid delays, losses, and increased production costs


Meet Francisca and Petronillo:

Dona Francisca and Petronillo live in San José with their six children. Before coming to San José, Francisca worked as a domestic employee and Petronillo worked on neighboring farms. With a meager diet of rice and beans, they struggled to find the strength to work and care for their children.

“Before we moved to San José, I had to leave my children and go outside the house for work,” shared Francisca. “Sometimes I would be gone for a month or two and others had to care for my children. But now, my energy is focused on my own children.”

Petronillo continues to work their land. He has planted passion fruit and coffee. He shares, “I feel good in San José because God has given us the strength to work the land. I feel so much better than before. We have food to eat. I don’t work for anyone. I know that what I produce is my own and the land gives us what we need.”

Petronillo continues to dream of the day that they pay off their land loan and own their land. “My dreams are to pay the land and keep working for the well-being of my family. I look forward to passing on to my children a place where they can work.”

Periodically, Agros staff accompany donors on trips to view the work they help to fund. Our colleague, Emily, has worked at Agros for more than a decade, and for the first time was able to visit the village of San Jose, Nicaragua. What follows is a journal entry from her first day there.

---

Oh I have heard about San Jose for so long!  The village that didn’t have a JWAV partner at first – the trial run for what would it mean to have a village funded without a partner visiting them regularly?   Since then of course San Jose has two awesome village partners – Greenwood Christian Church and ELM!  So I eagerly anticipated my visit to this community and my expectations were exceeded.  What a gift to see this community today.  We got off Oscar’s bus, to an awesome sign saying:

"Agroaldea San Jose

29 familias beneficiadas

Acceso a tierra y asistencia tecnia especializada

'Creando oportunidades, rompiendo el ciclo de la probreza'

Enough Said!  I love this – in writing right before the entrance to San Jose publicly stating the facts of this village – 29 benefiting families with access to land and specialized technical assistance.  Creating Opportunities and breaking the cycle of poverty – what a mission!  Wow – makes me what to have a sign outside of my house stating my family’s goals and mission – what would you write on yours?

Past the sign we looked up the hill to see the members of San Jose greeting us with smiles and warm welcoming faces.  They were everywhere - standing next to the school (recently put in by Build On), up on the balcony of the community center peering down,  and peaking out from behind their flowers in their homes.  The word had gotten out that we had arrived and everyone was ready to greet us. 

Moments later we found ourselves in the by now very familiar white plastic chairs in their community center.  Armando, the president was the first to speak and gave a short and eloquent welcome.  I stared at his face – it was so familiar to me – his eyes and the way he talked and I just didn’t know why.  I had never been to San Jose.  Perhaps I am on Latin time as it took me until the end of the meeting to realize – oh the video!  Armando is in a video taken a few years back!  I have, like Isabel, been watching his face over and over for years. It was great to meet him finally. 

After dancing and singing and introductions, we proceeded with the full and wonderful remainder of our day.  We “worked” in the fields and spend time visiting individual families in their homes to chat and help with chores.  I also went with Noe to see some jalapeno pepper plants that were amazing!  Just as you described Anne – just perfect. 

The highlight for our team was the home visits.  We broke up into 4 groups and each went to spend time with families.  Each had a chore to work including making tortillas, cooking, and sorting beans. 

In Rosa’s home, we talked and sat on their patio around a big table.  We sorted beans for a long time helping them to discard those damaged or cut. I think the 4 women in my group could have sorted beans for hours and hours if it meant being able to sit on that patio with Rosa and her family.  We heard of their lives before Agros working in Costa Rica as gardeners and in construction and when asked his favorite thing about living in San Jose was, Mario answered with a heartfelt expression of providing for his family.  Having a proper structure for his family meant everything to him and having food to provide and a farm that he can pass to his children was such a high value.

This is a very typical response that I have heard countless times in my visits and yet the way he answered blew me away.   With tears in my eyes (and many other women on my team) I thanked him for sharing that with us.  

The time ended too quickly and we were off to El Tuma again.  What a sweet and bold and loving community San Jose is – I hope to return.

We are off to bed so we have energy to debrief tomorrow.  What a rich experience.

Good night.

(May 21, 2014)

Each year, every Agros community undergoes a participatory planning process that involves the community members and Agros staff. Please click on the attached document to view the full community plan for Tierra Nueva. There are many exciting activities and developments that we can't wait to share with you, including plans to build new preschool classrooms, a middle school, and housing for teachers. And thanks to a growing partnership with local government, plans are under way to develop a health center. Without you, this would not be possible. Thank you for your continued support!

 

As always, you can learn more about Agros International and the amazing people we work with by visiting our website: www.agros.org, or by finding us on Facebook.


Attachments:
Carmen is a health promoter in Tierra Nueva
Carmen is a health promoter in Tierra Nueva

In order for donors to Agros villages to get a better sense of the impact they are having on the lives of people there, we periodically lead groups on vision or service trips. On these trips, the groups spend time with community members, hearing their stories and often participating in the daily life of families.

One recent trip was a Women’s Vision Trip, made up of a group of women who support communities in Nicaragua, or who are exploring ways to support them. Our colleague, Emily, led the trip, and it was her first time to see the newest village, Tierra Nueva, which is home to 150 families (about 750 people). Here are a few of her comments:

Now I know what all of the fuss has been about with this Tierra Nueva place! Wow. It is amazing! I didn’t want to leave. As we drove in this morning, Oscar (our bus driver) pointed out where the property line started and soon to our right we saw San Benito on the hill across the valley and moments later pulled into Las Cuarenta. It felt like the combination of all of the good things I have seen throughout other Agros villages blended into one community. The gardens stood out to me right away – what care families have taken to decorate their property – it showed to me dignity and pride in where they live.

Our first stop was Carmen’s home, a short and gorgeous walk up the path from the school past multiple homes with gardens that were drawing me in, asking me to sit and be and have a cup of coffee – I wished that I had time to do just that in every home with every person I saw but no, not today and so I carried on to the home of someone I will now admire forever. Carmen is a health promoter in Tierra Nueva and lights up a room! Her eyes are wide and bright, and with dimples deep she smiled with pride telling us about her children and her work as a health promoter and her role as the VP of the community board, and the list goes on. Her care for the people of her community is outstanding and extends beyond what she signed up for because she can’t stop caring and serving and advocating for those that don’t yet know how to do so for themselves. What a rock.

The people who live in Agros communities are incredibly inspiring. Thank you for being a part of their lives through your generous support.

Learn more about the impact Agros is making in Honduras by visiting agros.org.

Follow Agros International on Twitter @AgrosIntl or "like" our Facebook page to get day-to-day updates from the field.

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Organization

Agros International

Seattle, Washington, United States
http://www.agros.org

Project Leader

Christa Countryman

Grants Manager, Resource Development
Seattle, WA United States

Where is this project located?