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May 16, 2019

Students, Parents and Teachers Dig In

San Antonio School students planting their garden
San Antonio School students planting their garden

In previous years, work in SosteNica's school garden program has been restricted to the oldest students (5th and 6th graders) in each school, working with SosteNica staff.  This year, the Garden Program is unfolding very differently.  Thanks to the collaborative training and curriculum design workshop between SosteNica EcoCentro staff and schoolteachers, a tremendous interest has emerged on the part of faculty.  At the start of the school year, teachers shared principles of agro-ecology and techniques such as double digging beds and the use of compost with students and their parents, who became highly engaged.  At every school, parents have taken a new role, helping with the heavy work of double digging into highly compacted soils to expand the gardens.  With so many people getting into the act, even the youngest students have taken an interest, showing up in the garden to contribute their part. 

Soil preparation is always the first step in reactivating gardens.  Unlike previous years, this year SosteNica staff offered only guidance and supervision while students, parents and teachers did the heavy lifting of double digging the beds. Two feet wide by two feet deep, every bed was prepared to receive baby seedlings.  "It's not only that the garden produce vegetables.  It's also about the students and the parents having a better understanding of garden science.  In the past I have tried to grow tomatoes, but they always get infected with disease and die.  Here I have seen that by planting natural repellant plants, the vegetable plants stay healthy.  I want to try this in my home garden and experiment with companion planting." commented a parent from Silvio Mayorga school during the inaugural opening of the school garden season.

Teacher Luisa from Betania School predicted with pride "We are going to win the prize for best school garden this year." But there will be stiff competition.  At Candelaria Elementary one enthusiastic student is leading his peers.  They call him "Señor Lopez", a term of endearment earned by his maturity and commitment. "We never have to call him to help out.  In fact, often we will notice that this little boy has let himself into the garden where he is happily attending the plants." observed teacher Aurora.

In previous years, the school gardens have awaited the start of the rainy season to reactivate their gardens.  But this year, all six schools began working their gardens in March, thanks to newly installed gravity fed drip irrigation systems, paid for by donations to SosteNica through GlobalGiving.  The schools are now demonstrating that, despite climate change, rural families can produce three crops per year, even through the dry season by taking advantage of sustainable appropriate technologies.  

All of the schools in this year's program are well on their way to producing healthy nutritious food for the children.  At the same time, they are acquiring confidence and understanding for self-sufficiency.  Who knows? Before long, these children may become successful entrepreneurs, producing non-traditional crops such as cucumber, pepper and tomato, produce normally imported into the region and too expensive for a rural family to afford.  Only time will tell.

 

 

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Signing the School Garden "Contract"
Signing the School Garden "Contract"
Candelaria Elementary student "Senor Lopez"
Candelaria Elementary student "Senor Lopez"
Parent and teacher preparing Candelaria soil
Parent and teacher preparing Candelaria soil
Earliest stages of bed preparation
Earliest stages of bed preparation

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Feb 25, 2019

Promoters spread the word

Candelaria proud Promoter Aurora with stove
Candelaria proud Promoter Aurora with stove

2019 marks the start of SosteNica’s third year working to provide clean cook stove technology to rural households in Nicaragua. This year our EcoCentro staff has trained 8 rural promoters living in the impacted communities. All of the promoters are simultaneously, teachers in the rural schools where our School Garden Network programs operate. The promoters’ role is to identify those families in need of an improved wood stove that will benefit the family’s health by enhancing the quality of the air inside the homes. The promoters serve as strategic allies, multiplying outreach of the field technology. Each promoter has printed material to explain both the stove and the program. They also have access to a model stove for demonstration purposes, allowing them to disseminate the technology to nearby neighboring communities. Rural communities such as Candelaria, located 18 kilometers from Nagarote, often do not have skilled labor or access to materials needed to provide themselves with this important technology. By spreading the word through SosteNica's eco-technology promoters, awareness of the dangers of smoke inhalation and deforestation reaches very rural families.

“I am proud to be collaborating with SosteNica. This organization has come to an almost forgotten community, bringing us new ideas and technology to improve the quality of life here. I am the rural school coordinator for the community and I know the needs of my community. SosteNica and its programs are a real support for us. As a teacher and as part of this community, I am happy to support with my people.” said Teacher Aurora, one of our promoters. “I was born here. Together, we can multiply these stoves, and in the process, improve the conditions of many. I assure you, it will be fast.” she predicted excitedly.

One of the benefits of being a promoter is the installation, free of charge, of an in-home cook stove. Immediately after having installed a stove in Teacher Aurora’s home, neighbors began requesting stoves for their kitchens. One example is that of Mirelis, one of Aurora’s neighbors. She said: “Since I saw how little firewood the teacher needed to cook with, and that there was no smoke in her house, I said -- I want one too. It will help my family stop getting sick. Within a couple of days of placing my request, our friends at SosteNica built me one. I am very satisfied with the result, and I've decided to make other improvements to make my kitchen look more beautiful. Before the new stove was installed, when my children returned home from school, they could not even open their eyes due to the amount of smoke. I have been very sick, with a constant cough. Plus, the ceiling of my house is pitch black. I asked myself -- if my home is black, what must my lungs look like? And my children were headed in the same direction. Now I am much happier. I have no smoke, this stove is much safer. It does not heat up on the outside, It cooks faster and I even think that the food tastes better.

SosteNica's Nicaraguan program director Leysman smiled when he heard her comments. “Teahcer Aurora and Mrs. Mirelis are our inspiration. They are why we do this work. We are certain that they will promote this program without advertising, other than by word of mouth, throughout the different communities where we will build stoves. Thanks to the generous donations by people reading this report, families will get a subsidy towards the purchase of a new stove, fewer of their children will get sick, and fewer mothers will fall ill. It all translates into better education and better quality of life. Please become a promoter and support this important effort."

Mirelis and children stand by their new stove
Mirelis and children stand by their new stove
Building a stove
Building a stove

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Jan 22, 2019

Curriculum Development

Final remarks
Final remarks

Unlike in many other parts of the world, the school year in Nicaragua begins in January (not August or September).  2019 marks the start of SosteNica's fifth year promoting school gardens in rural elementary schools around the city of Nagarote.  In the past, our staff has directed the school gardens with the approval of the Ministry of Education and the individual school teachers.  The school officials teach the standard subjects such as math, Spanish, science and geography (to name a few) while SosteNica has been responsible for teaching topics that relate to garden bed preparation, soil fertility, seed germination, pest management, irrigation and nutrition.  This year will be different.  During the first week of January, 2019 faculty from six elementary schools gathered for two days of training at SosteNica's EcoCentro in Nagarote.  During several days of intense collaboration, teachers and SosteNica staff worked together to find areas of overlap, working lessons from the garden into the complete curriculum.  

During the multi-day training session teacher Luisa from the Betania School observed: "Elementary school teachers have been prepared to impart the basic curriculum.  But most of us know little about bio-intensive gardening.  We've never been taught to double dig a bed, or to prepare compost.  This year we are being trained by the SosteNica agronomy team so that we can reinforce the lessons that our students are learning."  During the same training session teacher Kenya from the Silvio Mayorga school shared: "Think about native and non-native plants.  These are perfect topics for teaching geography.  From which part of the world do these plants originate?"  Similarly teacher Asalia from San Antonio Elementary remarked: "We can integrate common and scientific names of plants as a way to teach both Spanish and science.  When working with spices we can engage students at multiple levels: geography, math, language and nutrition."  Teacher Hervin from the Candelaria Elementary expressed enthusiasm about learning and then imparting information about making organic insect repellants and how to create bio-fermented foliar fertilizers.  "These are practical skills and valuable life lessons that will serve the children throughout their lives, in addition to being great ways to teach theoretical topics."

Together, the SosteNica staff and the school teachers worked hard to craft an agreed upon curriculum that will enrich this year's school garden program.  SosteNica is very grateful to all of you who have donated to make this program possible.  Recurring gifts are especially useful because they allow us to plan for the future.  The more funds we have donated, the more schools and school children can be integrated into the program.

 
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