This a very sad post which I have to write. Basically, the Mariposa can no longer survive financially in its present form. We are caught between three major impacts which I will try to describe. To all readers – please accept that I do not mean to “blame” anyone. Everyone in this world does what they consider to be the best possible for themselves, their own family, community, country, occasionally the planet. Though undoubtedly some of us focus rather more on the individual than on the general! And of course one person´s best course of action does not necessarily have a positive impact on their neighbours! But not to bore you too much with my philosophizing!
Let me make one thing VERY clear! I am not one of those who hates all forms of government intervention – on the contrary I believe in paying taxes and, on the whole, keeping the laws of whatever country I happen to be living in (though laws are man-, and I mean man, made and there fore open to challenge and, in the best case scenarios, change!!). But, after all, my social workers salary was paid by taxes in the UK and now my pension. And to date we have paid all of the local and national taxes required of us at the Mariposa. Until, that is, we were told, only a couple of weeks ago (feels like a lifetime), that in the future we have to pay social security for all of our workers. Previously this law applied to only permanent, full-time staff. But now I discover that teachers are to be included in this – and to cut a very long and distressing story short, this means an extra monthly bill of approximately $2000 per month. We simply do not have it. Our teachers are, like every other Spanish school, only employed when we have students – they are however paid more per hour to make up for the fact that they are, or rather were, not treated as full-time staff. During the quiet periods of April/May and August/Sept/Oct we can give them far less employment – last Oct for example we had two weeks with only one student. How can I employ 16 teachers on a permanent footing? Answers on a postcard please……
We have made the obvious appeals to various levels of officialdom, including the Mayor of la Concha going to the Social Security offices in Masaya to make our case, pleading especially the amount of money we put into all of our community projects. None of it made the slightest difference. Well, not quite fair – the threatened fine for not having paid for the last two months has been waived. Though I appreciate the kind thought, sadly it really makes no difference at all to our situation.
And we can´t put up prices without risking losing our level of students, which ironically enough, has been hugely successful. Many Westerners, though absolutely not all, treat Nicaragua to an upsetting extent as a cheap option. Some of our visitors are spectaculary generous, including often those on very limited incomes and it is thanks to them that we have managed so much on the project side of things. But, it needs to be stressed that Nicaragua is not cheap in anything except wages which are at an outrageously low level in general. We have tried to rectify that a bit at the Mariposa but not very much.
There are a few adjustments we are thinking of eg charging for Saturday outings but really it is just pissing in the wind. And the problem with too many such adjustments is the negative impact it will have on the general “laid back” atmosphere here. Part of the reason some folk are super generous and enjoy coming here – a high proportion of our students are returnees, some for the 3rd and 4th time! – is precisely because we do not charge down to the last cup of coffee or banana, as of course most places do. So we are pretty much stuck on that front.
The third, and final, problem has been the attitude of the teachers themselves. With very few exceptions and including, I am afraid, those who are most students´favourites – the response of the teachers to the problem has been that it is all my fault. They prefer to deal with the situation by gossiping behind my back (and some of it really nasty) rather than try to find ways to help. Or at least offer some emotional and moral support which is how the rest of the workers have reacted. Isn´t it always the case that the most privileged group react with the least sympathy for anyone else? Suffice it to say that I have been tremendously hurt by them, though buttressed by the loyalty and sympathy of Bergman, Ismael, Franklin, Aracelly and the rest of the staff too numerous to mention by name. I also now have a terrific lawyer, Silvio, who is doing his best…his advice is that I should transform myself into a efficient business manager……well, I can try!
Well the upshot is I have to fire everyone (and the level of severance pay here will take most if not all of the $20,000 we currently have in the bank) and start again with the teachers on very clear 3 month contracts. And I will almost certainly not be able to reemploy everyone who is currently here though I will do my best with the kitchen staff, the maintenance staff and Franklin´s team.
So we will continue to book people in, though I will recommend that they read this blog!! And we will continue to provide the best service we can though with fewer workers.
For me of course the saddest thing is it is the end of my employment project. For me the best way of helping development is not to provide “aid” but sustainable employment and we had got to around 45 or so workers. It WAS sustainable before the latest blow but no longer…..
Pleaes note – we do though have every intention of keeping up with the community projects as they are not subject to this law. And we are vigorously pursuing the NGO option though it doesn´t get us out of this particular financial quandary.