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May 31, 2017

School Gardens Under Way

Nicaraguan school children working in their garden
Nicaraguan school children working in their garden

"Learn by doing" -- that's the motto at SosteNica's School Garden program.  Students have been "doing", and "learning" a lot lately.  Even though, here in the U.S., it's still springtime, school gardens in Nicaragua have been working overtime. During the first week in April, a delegation from the Talmadge Hill Community Church (Darien, CT) went to visit the schools participating in the School Garden program.  Nicaraguan kids and congregation members worked side by side to reactivate gardens that had lain dormant through the dry winter months.  That one week was enough to jump start the gardens and to animate the students, renewing their commitment to learning about food production.  As one of their final gestures of generosity, the Talmadge Hill group huddled to decide how to respond to the discovery that the drinking well at the San Antonio School had gone dry.  The delegation passed a hat amongst themselves, raising enough money to deepen the well, install a new pump, with enough left over to finance the uniforms of a Pee Wee Soccer club for boys 10 and under -- "Los EcoCentro Tigres"! 

This year, the Nicaraguan National Ministry of Education has fully endorsed SosteNica's program that serves five rural elementary schools (Valle de Jesús, Betania, Silvio Mayorga, San Antonio, La Chilama) and one urban school in Nagarote (Marvin Palacios).  This endorsement means that each of the students participating in the program are allowed one hour per day to work and study in the garden.

One of the core messages has to do with the rational use of water.  Because of climate change, Nicaragua has suffered severe drought, as well as increased temperatures, for the past three years.  Students, teachers, and SosteNica staff at all six of the schools worked together to install low pressure, gravity fed irrigation systems, using a drip system to maximize water utility.  In addition, students learned how to make organic fertilizers which they applied to both the roots and leaves of their plants.   

To our great delight, parents have been very involved in the activities, doing some of the heavy lifting not feasible for elementary students.  One of the principal roles for parents has been to reinforce the perimeter fencing needed to keep stray animals (dogs, cows, pigs) from entering the beds.  While the parents have been busy securing the gardens, the children have planted a seedling nursery complete with tomatoes, green peppers, canteloupe, watermelon and cucumber to be transplanted into the beds, once prepared.

All told, 40 first year students have received an introduction to garden design and basic skills, while an additional 80 students have been trained in garden management.  25 parents have also accompanied SosteNica in this educational prcess, which we hope will translate into having an impact on food production, not only at school but also at home. 

SosteNica sees this work as something more than just garden education. We are changing the diet of our youngsters by supplementing the kinds of foods to which they have exposure - including a native seed beverage, rich in nutrients.   We are delivering art classes that relate to nature and botany.  And we are giving them opportunities to feel the pride of a job well done.

We thank our donors for their generosity and support, and encourage everyone to spread the word.  The more money we raise, the more schools and children we can serve.  Special thanks to the Gupta Family Foundation who have elected to join as sponsors of the program. 

Installing a rain barrel irrigation system
Installing a rain barrel irrigation system
Nicaraguan moms get into garden design mode.
Nicaraguan moms get into garden design mode.
May 16, 2017

Meet Darlin Figueroa

Open fire cookstove
Open fire cookstove

Darlin Figueroa lives with her two children and eight other family members in a very small dirt-floored home on the edge of Nagarote.   In Darlin’s neighborhood, she is famous for her red beans and for her fried plantain chips. Selling beans and chips earns Darlin a modest living, and requires hours of cooking. For years, Darlin has prepared her beans on an open fire in the back room of their humble home. Like 57% of the Nicaraguan population (roughly 800,000 households), Darlin and her family breath unventilated wood smoke every day. Scientists estimate that exposure to indoor-air, contaminated with smoke, for more than 100 hours per year (less than 20 minutes per day) can cause Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD affects about 174.5 million of the global population. In 2015 COPD killed 3.2 million people. More than 90% of these deaths occurred in the developing world.

Thanks to SosteNica and to donors like you, Darlin's family no longer has to breathe smoke in order to survive economically.  She proudly cooks on an improved, vented, fuel efficient stove.  Her family now breathes clean fresh air, and Darlin buys much less fuel wood every week.  On weekends, she invites neighbors to her curbside "fritanga" -- a buffet of gallo pinto (rice and beans), fried chicken, cole slaw, fried cheese, plantains.

SosteNica's EcoCentro team, led by Leysman and Mario, has built more than 100 stoves and is now on track to build one per week for the near future.  We already have a waiting list of customers.  High on the list are the underpaid elementary school teachers at the six rural schools where SosteNica teaches school gardening.  Those teachers who participate agree to measure the change in air quality at their homes, estimate the reduction in fuel wood consumption and bring word of the technology to the mothers of the children in their classrooms.  

We have a lot of work to do.  We want to reach all of the families in need of stoves.  But for SosteNica, while it is important to improve indoor air quality and to reduce fuel consumption, it's not enough.  Nicaragua's population is one of the fastest growing in the world.  A nation of 2.9 million in 1980 is now approaching 7 million.  The Indio Maiz biological preserve, one of Central America's most important tropical rainforest areas is under asault by families in search of land.  In recent years colonists have been moving in and cutting down and burning trees.  While we can't stop the deforestation happening in the rainforest, we can support families in our region to plant their own wood lot, making it possible to grow their own fuel, essentially capturing solar energy and atmospheric carbon in the form of burnable tree branches.  With the support of INAFOR, Nicaragua's National Institute of Forestry, we have established three new rural tree nurseries which will distribute tree saplings to new stove owners who have land enough to support reforestation.  Each family in the program will receive a minimum of 80 trees. 

SosteNica cannot reach the many families who need stoves and trees without the support of you and your contacts.  Please urge people you know to donate what they can to support social justice and address family health and climate change.

Darlin Figueroa with her new stove
Darlin Figueroa with her new stove
Feb 28, 2017

Banner Year for Food Security in Nagarote Schools

La Chilama boys cultivating their school garden
La Chilama boys cultivating their school garden

What do we mean when we talk about food security? Perhaps the topic is best understood by looking at food insecurity. Incredibly, in this age of global abundance, more than 800 million people, nearly 11% of the world’s population, suffer from hunger every day, not knowing how they will feed themselves and their families. These people live with food in-security.

By contrast, people with food security live with the knowledge that they have reliable access to adequate quantities of affordable and nutritious food, without fear of shortage now or in the future.

When SosteNica speaks about running a food security program at five rural elementary schools in Nicaragua, nutrition and sustainability provide our context. Our staff teaches young children, their parents, and teachers how to guarantee the production of adequate and nutritious food at school and at home, regardless of employment or economic circumstances.

Our staff employs a learn-by-doing pedagogy and embraces “agro-ecology” as their guide. Children learn that they can grow their own fruits and vegetables without recourse to expensive and dangerous chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides. Healthy soil produces healthy plants. When children learn soil ecology, they are well on their way to becoming small-scale organic farmers.

As part of the homework, SosteNica encourages students to take the lessons learned at school and apply them to their family backyards. While we cannot require students to bring gardens to their families, many of our students have done just that.

One of the primordial lessons for a successful garden is the rational use of water. In each of SosteNica’s school gardens we have designed and installed a low pressure, gravity fed drip irrigation system. Students have installed and now operate drip irrigation systems that deliver only the amount of moisture needed without waste. Drips of water are delivered directly to the plant, when the plant can use it best. We also teach our students about the production and application of organic fertilizers, both foliar and directly to the plant’s roots.

Throughout 2016, SosteNica staff made regular visits to teach elementary students in Copatepec (15 kilometers from Nagarote); Silvio Mayorga (8 km); Valle de Jesus (5 km); Betania (10 km) and la Chilama (12 km). In addition to the irrigation system, each school fenced in their garden and grew not fewer than ten crops. Over one hundred students learned garden management, while an additional 50 participated in our pilot art and drawing program.

SosteNica also supported all five schools in improving their sanitary facilities. We have not yet gotten composting toilets installed. Neither have we given up on that ambition.

For 2017, funds permitting, SosteNica will work with our students to develop a reforestation plan for nearby neighborhoods. This year we will add two additional schools, while maintaining the original five in production. The new schools to join the network will be San Antonio, and the urban Marvin Palacios School. With the addition of San Antonio, SosteNica will have a teaching presence in half of all rural elementary schools in the region of Nagarote.

The addition of an urban school (Marvin Palacios) advances an experimental pilot program – teaching gardening to children from the city. In all, we will serve 140 students this year, plus their teachers and parents. Our art classes will also be expanded to include 140 students, with a focus on natural resource conservation and recycling as themes.

Without the generous support of SosteNica’s donors through Global Giving, we would not have been able to provide these enriching experiences. The children of Nagarote thank you for your generosity and on going support.

Art Project Exhibit grand opening
Art Project Exhibit grand opening
Students with SosteNica backpacks
Students with SosteNica backpacks
Silvio Mayorga student harvests cucumber!
Silvio Mayorga student harvests cucumber!
Irrigation system at La Chilama Elementary School
Irrigation system at La Chilama Elementary School
 
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