Support Sustainability for Nicaraguan Farmers

by Agros International
Vetted
Migdalia is a brigadista in Luz, Nicaragua
Migdalia is a brigadista in Luz, Nicaragua

Zika. You’ve probably heard frightening stories of a new virus in Latin America causing terrible birth defects. This month the World Health Organization called the outbreak a public health emergency. We wanted to give you an update with the facts you need to know about the virus, how it’s spread, and how we’re responding to protect our families.

But first, the good news: we've seen 0 instances thus far of zika among our families. And the great news is, that's what we'd expect, thanks to our heroic brigadistas, community health volunteers who provide stable and trusted preventative healthcare 365 days a year within our communities. Read on to learn more ...

WHAT IS ZIKA?

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus in the same family as dengue and yellow fever. Zika was first discovered about a half century ago in the Zika forest in Africa, but didn’t spread into the Western hemisphere until spring of 2015.

For most people who contract zika, symptoms are mild. The effects of the disease are similar to, but less intense than, those of dengue fever: rash, joint soreness, and fever. Many zika carriers experience no symptoms at all. There is no vaccine or treatment available right now.

The greatest danger posed by zika is its link to microcephaly, a condition where children are born with an unusually small head and incomplete brain development. Microcephaly has surged in countries like Brazil where zika has spread rapidly and appears to be triggered when a woman contracts the virus during pregnancy.

WHERE IS ZIKA NOW AND HOW IS IT SPREADING?

Zika has been seen in 26 countries, including all of Central America, where we operate. Zika is primarily spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Doctors are also examining cases of transmission through sexual contact as well as mother-to-child.

HOW IS AGROS RESPONDING TO PREVENT ZIKA?

We currently have 0 instances of zika in our villages. That’s because – thanks to you – our communities already have a trusted system in place to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses like zika: the valiant brigadistas.

Within each of our communities, a group of villagers, often women, are chosen to become the brigadistas - members of the health brigade. Brigadistas receive training on preventative healthcare areas like clean water and hygiene, domestic violence, and maternal and new baby care from the Ministry of Health. They then act as the stewards and watchdogs of their communities' health.

Because they live within the community, brigadistas are trusted and can monitor health conditions like pregnancies closely over time, referring their patients to the hospital quickly if problems arise.

Prevention of mosquito-borne illnesses, like dengue, yellow fever, and now zika, is already part of the brigadistas’ training curriculum for our communities. We're grateful to see that so far prevention is holding off the disease. The system works!

Our brigadistas will continue to be our families' first line of defense against zika, boosting preventative practices within the community and watching carefully to see if any cases develop.

In addition to preventative action at the family level, we’ve requested that the Ministry of Health spray nearby mosquito-breeding grounds around communities, like areas of standing water.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

There are two ways: please pray for our families, especially mothers and vulnerable children, that the virus will not reach them and cause harm.

You can also consider investing in our brigadistas with a donation today. These heroic community health volunteers – often women in their first leadership roles – are thwarting diseases like zika and saving lives every day from preventable health conditions like pregnancy complications and water-borne illnesses.

$50 would cover a Healthy Baby Session, where brigadistas weigh and measure children under 2 to stave off malnourishment and ensure healthy development.

$100 would support one mother’s journey through pregnancy with a brigadista at her side, providing pre-natal care, help getting to the hospital for a safe birth, and early childhood support.

Your donation of any size will invest in the health of our families and support this crucial component of our holistic system of community health & well-being, financial services, agricultural training, and education.

NEXT STEPS

We will keep you updated on the status of our families’ health as the zika outbreak progresses.

Thank you for your generous support of families in Nicaragua!

Brigadistas helped Carlos feed & care for Carlito
Brigadistas helped Carlos feed & care for Carlito
Juana, a brigadista, teaches about safe pregnancy
Juana, a brigadista, teaches about safe pregnancy

Links:

Walter, Yamile, & Walter Jr. with their guitars
Walter, Yamile, & Walter Jr. with their guitars

Your support will empower Nicaraguan farming families and transform their lives in the pursuit of safety, health, and prosperity.

Shelter, Sanitation, Community Design: The infrastructure for La Bendición, our first community, is nearly complete. To date, 45 of the 50 homes have been built and are occupied by 45 families. Thus far the project has served 139 regional families and the 45 families currently residing in La Bendición. Their homes have sinks and water storage tanks. We are in the process of completing latrine construction, and all families have access to clean water, but the water systems at large is in the final stage of completion.

Now they have homes with walls that don’t leak and cement floors rather than dirt that can be kept clean in a community of determined, collaborative families like themselves.

With regards to the latrines, the original plan was to build ten latrines that would serve five families each. Based on feedback from families, we’ve altered plans to share the costs of building a private latrine for each home. Families raised safety concerns around having their very small children accessing latrines away from the home, and offered Agros a compromise: in exchange for private latrines at each home, they would provide the labor, some materials, and finance a portion of the project. This fit within our goal to offer safe, hygienic access to the latrines. These added latrines are being completed over time, moving forward, as they are able. The construction will be done by the families, much like when they built their homes.

Our goal in developing communities is to equip families with the resources, tools, and know-how to achieve prosperity through their own labors—we plan to exit communities once they’ve achieved sustainable success. But when you’re building a new village, you have to start from scratch. Many families uproot themselves in order to build a new and more prosperous life. Moving into a new community can threaten families’ food security as resources are stretched to the limit, so all participating families receive food assistance initially in order to mitigate that effect. In total, 184 families from La Bendición and the regional project received food security inputs.

Right from the outset, we also provide families with technical assistance to grow high yield crops of corn and beans. Many families have been farming for decades, but never received an ounce of training. By implementing techniques like contour planting and strategic fertilization and irrigation, they exponentially improve their yield and quality. Across our Nicaraguan communities this year, corn harvests averaged four times the national average (Source: FAO: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). One La Bendición farmer produced 120 sacks of corn per manzana (1.72 acres); his previous harvest was only 19 per manzana. This exponential improvement in yield can change a farmer’s life.

Your investment is laying the foundation of social infrastructure – safe homes, clean water, food security, and healthcare – that will give Walter, Yamile, and the 49 other families of La Bendición a secure base to begin educating their children, developing community organization, and acquiring the financial and technical knowledge to become agribusinessmen. Your helping hand is bridging the gulf of inequality to give these deserving families the opportunity to build lives of dignity and prosperity.

Walter and his wife, Yamile, know as well as anyone how hard it is to escape poverty’s grip.  Like many, they were born into poor families and have spent much of their lives working as day laborers for others. Yamile has worked in the fields, planting and harvesting corn and coffee since she was six years old.

Walter and Yamile successfully built their home while conducting the rigorous, physical work of preparing their first crops of corn and beans. Both endeavors require backbreaking work, but Walter and Yamile were more than up for the challenge.

 “I’m so happy to be here,” says Water. “This is a fertile land… We know that if we plant corn we will harvest corn and if we plant beans we will harvest beans,” he says. “It is a blessing. I feel happy and at peace here.”

Walter taught his six year old son Walter Jr. to play the guitar, and the family enjoys playing together in the evenings after their work is done. 

With the help of Global Giving partners like you, Agros is helping families like that of Yamilla and Walter to change their lives for the better. Thank you for walking beside our families as they move from poverty to prosperity.

Links:

Walter on his farm
Walter on his farm

In early 2015, after many months of evaluation and negotiation,  Agros purchased two parcels of land in the Matagalpa region of Nicaragua, the sites on which we are locating two new communities. The first communitiy, La Bendicion (The Blessing), has nearly completed the 50 homes in which families will soon live. From May to July, our Nicaragua office identified the best partners to design and build the community water system. Our long-time partner, Global Studio, stewarded future residents of La Bendicion through a process of choosing where their houses will be situated, where their land parcels will be, and how the community will look.

We have made significant progress this year to ramp-up and implement activities for the Nicaragua regional project. Currently, the regional project is serving 189 families—139 regional families, and 50 families who will live in La Bendicion. All of these families are receiving food security assistance with supplies and technical assistance for growing corn and beans. These crops are intended to stabilize families whose limited resources are inadequate to meet their dietary needs. For the families moving into La Bendicion over the next year, this intervention helps to reduce the unintended consequences of lack of food that could occur as a result of relocation to the new property as they establish their crops and household operations.

In general, the timeline for the Nicaragua Regional Project is proceeding as planned, with some adjustments and postponements becoming necessary as design and planning for some critical components (water system, housing, roads) have taken longer than initially planned. In some cases, we are planning to move forward with noncritical and unbudgeted aspects of the project as additional funds become available.

With the help of Global Giving partners like you, Agros is helping families like that of Yamilla and Walter to change their lives for the better.

Walter and his wife, Yamile know as well as anyone how hard it is to escape poverty’s grip.  Like many others, they were both born into poor families and have spent much of their lives working as day laborers for others. Yamile has worked in the fields, planting and harvesting corn and coffee since she was 6 years old.

“The situation is quite complicated,” Walter explains. If you want to improve your situation, the first step is to rent a small piece of land so that you can produce the food you and your family eat and save some of your salary. Renting land, however, isn’t easy. In order for someone to rent you a manzana (roughly 2.5 acres) of land you have to be able to pay them the rent, in cash up front,” he explains.  And, even when they have had been able to rent land the outcomes have not always been positive. “Sometimes we had bad luck,” says Yamile. “Sometimes instead of harvesting for our consumption, we were only able to make enough to cover what we invested and sometimes we even ended up with debts,” she added.

For people like Walter, often even more difficult than the physical poverty is the emotional effect that poverty has on people over time. “[Not being able to have a job to provide for my family] makes me feel inferior and useless,” explains Walter. “Even if someone wants to get ahead they don’t have the opportunities to do so,” he adds, noting how over time this can lead to depression. “Why would someone be happy without shoes, [without food]…eating just two times a day?” he asks.  

It was Yamile who first heard about Agros. The very next day after learning about Agros and the new project, she convinced Walter they should use the little money they had earned harvesting coffee to visit Agros’ offices. “I asked him, ‘What are we waiting for?’”

Although Walter and his family are only just beginning their journey with Agros, their joy is contagious. “I’m so happy to be here,” says Water. “This is a fertile land… We know that if we plant corn we will harvest corn and if we plant beans we will harvest beans,” he says. “It is a blessing. I feel happy and at peace here.”

Instead of giving families living in poverty a handout, Agros gives them a hand up. By providing rural families living in poverty access to land, Agros builds a bridge over the breech of inequality and makes it possible for people in poverty to access opportunities.  Join us, and witness the power of lives changed.

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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.”

 

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Organization Information

Agros International

Location: Seattle, Washington - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.agros.org
Project Leader:
Anna Lehn
Seattle, WA United States
$10,295 raised of $15,000 goal
 
109 donations
$4,705 to go
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