If you thought Peace Corps was all fun no paperwork, guess again! Here is one of the recent ¨success story¨ work reports I submitted. Note heavy use of international development buzzwords like ¨grassroots¨ and ¨sustainable¨ and ¨dissemination of information¨.
If you want, you can send me one of your work reports as payback for making you read this.
As a volunteer with the Peace Corps, it is important to take note of the resources of the community and develop innovative ways to improve those resources. As an agricultural volunteer in Nicaragua, I have to look at ways to improve/create food security and income generating opportunities for the people in my community. In one of my recent projects, I was able to rectify my roles of international development volunteer and member of the rural community in which I live and work.
Water has become an increasingly valuable resource throughout the world, especially in agricultural production. Nicaragua is a country that has a wet and dry season dynamic where, during the wet season, there are heavy, inundating rains. During the dry season, there is little to no rain for months on end. Many places, however, have rivers or streams that continue to flow for almost the entire year. However, because the manual lifting of water is so strenuous, river water is rarely used for irrigation. I saw this as an opportunity to help the people in my community to tap into a resource that could both help increase food production and possibly even create income generating opportunities through dry-season production of cash-crops.
In collaboration with Peace Corps staff, we were able to develop an existing appropriate technology that I had learned about in college which was relatively new to producers here in Nicaragua: hydraulic ram pumps. The technology has been in existence for at least 3 decades now, but its application to small-scale farming has remained largely unexplored, especially in Nicaragua. We wanted to change all that. So on one hot and sunny day (all days are hot and sunny) using all locally-sourced parts and using a fixed low budget, we were able to build a functioning hydraulic ram pump in the community where I live. We were able to explain how it works and demonstrate its effectiveness to many members of the community. What really surprised them, though, was at how inexpensively it could be made. Traditional electric or gas powered motors can cost in the hundreds of dollars (well out of the price range of many members of my community) and carry a high operating cost in the form of gas or electric bills. The hydraulic ram pump only costs around US$65.00 to make and since it runs on gravity power only, carries no additional cost to operate.
After the initial construction of pump, I was fortunate to have been involved in the construction and installation of several more hydraulic ram pumps in various other communities. As we built more and were able to see and understand how this technology worked, we were able to streamline the design of the pump and further reduce the construction cost and increase pumping efficiency. Peace Corps staff even held an In-Service Training event to teach all the other agricultural volunteers how to construct and install hydraulic ram pumps. This dissemination of information has led to several other pumps in other communities across the country.
But the sharing doesn’t stop there! I was also able to organize an informational session with several members of the host agency INTA (Instituto Nicaraguense de Tecnologia Agropecuaria) where we invited them out to help with a hands-on installation of a hydraulic ram pump. INTA has since shown great interest in working with this technology as it shows great promise in helping small-scale farmers as an inexpensive and effective water-lifting technology. Peace Corps has also continued to work with INTA and at the grass-roots level with local producers to continue promoting this technology. Hydraulic ram pumps built by volunteers and members of their host communities are currently being used in irrigation of home gardens and pumping water to the house for home consumption, and with zero operating cost. Adelante!
As part of one of the grants that I recently got, I have been building ovens for a womens group in my community that I started. I unfortunately have no pictures of the oven building due to data loss. However, recently, as part of the women’s group’s wishes, I brought out the lovely and talented Nicole (a third year volunteer) to the sleepy town of La Danta and had her help me by putting on a baking class to help them learn how to use their new ovens for things other than the traditional Nicaraugan baked goods, rosquillas. While I have come to enjoy rosquillas in this country, they can be unpalatable, cardboardy, and generally unsavory little morsels made out of ground corn, cream and salt. I decided that we needed to diversify this monopoly on the baked goods market and show Nicaragua the finest in obesity causing agents. We made carrot cake, vanilla cake, brownies, egg white frosting, sugar cookies and tasty breads. Thanks to Nicole, we all now hold the keys to the bakery!
Also, the response was so good that we are going to continue holding baking class/recipe swapping every two weeks!!! Not too shabby
As part of my increasing involvement with the hydraulic ram pumps, I went out to help a great (and now conspicuously absent) friend and agriculture volunteer to help her install a hydraulic ram pump for one of the producers in her community so that he would be able to water a citrus tree grove and garden that he maintains throughout the dry months. After the long and unfun process of applying for and reciving the grant money to get the materials, the day was finally upon us. Janelles site was as beautiful as it was adequate for the ram pump (not my best simile) and her host family was incredibly accommodating. Our friend Mary also came up with us to help.
On the first day we got there, we worked with the producer to build the pump and give it plenty of time to dry. I believe it was one of the best that I have made. We also went to go see the site where we were to install the pump. It was a hell of a hike, but definitely worth it as you will see. Later, Janelle, who is an aspiring yoga instructor, taught me about true muscle pain with such moves as “the warrior” the “three points” position, and my favorite – the corpse position where you just kind of lay there and relax all your muscles.
The second day we invited our INTA counterparts out to help install the pump and teach them about how it worked. So after we lugged all of the equipment out to the site, we spent about 8 hours installing the pump because the first place we put it in didn’t work. It was incredibly hot, so I decided it would be a good idea to turn on my “nica AC” which means you roll up your shirt exposing your belly. Bonus points for occasionally fingering your belly button and sticking your stomach out as far as it can go. The result is a somewhat less-professional look, but a much cooler belly. We also took a couple of swim breaks in the waterfall. Finally we got it to work and relaxed for a while before having to go all the way to the house and eat a 3:30pm lunch. Food has never been eaten faster. We all yoga’d again (I did a little better this time) and went to bed.
The third day we took a trip into the mountain town of San Francisco del Norte and picked up some internet time and baking supplies to make some tasty treats in the oven that Janelle had built. Other than that we played scattegories, watch telenovelas with her family, tried to name world capitals, tried to guess the meanings of various random words in the dictionary, and played with Janelle’s cat, Sunny (aka Sunny Buttons aka Sunny Boy, you drive me craaaazyy). Another song sung way too many times that weekend was “if you get lost between the moon and New York Ciiiiiityyyy” by Chicago. Shut up. This is how we entertain ourselves in the campo.
May 15th marks the celebration of the patron saint of La Danta, San Isidro. He is the patron of (who else?) farmers! The patron saint celebrations are ubiquitous throughout Nicaragua and range in size and debauchery depending on the size of the town it is held in. For example, Managua’s patron saint celebration includes huge beer tents, all kinds of sponsored stuff, a hipica (which is like a horse show), half naked ladies dancing on floats, etc. I had been to one of the bigger ones before, but I was very excited to see the small-town vibe of the La Danta celebration. Needless to say I was surprised when I came into my house one day to see it filled to the roof with booze.
Turns out the alcaldia (mayor) pays for all of this booze up front and then sells it to the small vendors at wholesale prices to promote the event. I know very well how hard and costly it can be to transport anything out to where I live, let alone a mountain of alcohol that would put most MSU frat parties to shame. It must have cost thousands of dollars.
Anyways, the celebrations last 3 days culminating on the 15th with baptisms when I got to see my little host sister Diana Benadice get baptized,
a procession of the image of the patron saint up to the church,
and my favorite part, cock fighting!!!!(not pictured) I was able to learn the intricate system of weighing and betting on the roosters, and how to root for your favorite cock (a series of unintelligible screams followed by something like andale, cometelo jodido!, or when you’re losing, que gallo mas caballo!
And finally I leave you with a picture of me eating cake…
Just another successfully installed hydraulic ram pump. hooray science!