A brief note to wish all of our students and supporters a Happy Xmas and a Great New year. And to give an update on where la Mariposa is up to. Plus a little bit of personal stuff!
2014 has, on the whole, been a very good year for La Mariposa. A major development has been our purchase of a piece of land right in the center of the pueblo but ideal for setting up a small nature reserve which is what we have spent the last 5 months working hard on. The land has some beautiful enormous trees, covered in bromeliads and orchids (flowering now!) as well as plenty of good coffee. With the help of numerous volunteers, we have planted a few thousand more trees, created a butterfly garden by planting whatever flowers we can get our hands on, building a frog pond, bat boxes, a dual purpose latrine (use number one is obvious, the other is collecting urine for compost!!!) and in Jan we start building the first straw build cabin there. We also use the land as a base for some of our community projects…especially re afforestation and the eco cooker project (we have so far donated, no cost, no strings attached, some 200 eco cookers to the poorest families in the poorest communities with the hope that their use will reduce firewood consumption. And thus reduce the felling of trees around here which in general, as everywhere, goes on at an alarming rate. Meyvi, the worker employed on this project visits all of the families afterwards to ensure they are being used correctly. Success rate so far is about 95%!! A personal project is my “heritage” chicken project!! Yes, I have finally lost my marbles. Actually they are lovely. In contrast to the dreadful explosion of factory farmed chickens in Nicaragua, these are chickens of varied breeds (some have no feathers on their necks and heads, others have feathers on their legs which look like trendy boots and still others have their feathers ruffled up the wrong way!!) – they get on reasonably well with yet another bunch of rescued dogs. I have become a bit of a bird fanatic in my dotage so we now have bird feeders (mostly bananas) everywhere and they are attracting a wide range of birds both resident and migrant! Seeing a couple of aricaris (like toucans only smaller) feeding from a bunch of bananas quite makes the day!! I am really excited that this year we are going to do a bird count on our land, together with some of the other conservationists nearby.
Linked in with the Nature Reserve is our new program of rural tourism. The idea is to offer an alternative set of afternoon/weekend activities in some of the poorest communities close to us. I was truly shocked to discover quire recently that there are still families with no running water, no sanitation and no electricity and remote from any school! But they have the great advantage of being situated close to the Masaya Volcano national park with spectacular views over the volcano, great birds and wildlife – all in all excellent tourist potential! The new program will be a mix of horse riding and hiking the trails, bird and animals watching (we are building a special observation hide), visiting and talking to local families, learning about their history, some of the local myths and legends. Agriculture around here is interesting too – there are small scale coffee and tobacco farms where students can take part in the harvest as well as pineapple, pitaya, fruit trees of all varieties, corn, beans, squash…….some of it is organic and some not. Students can learn a lot about environmental issues around here, most of which of course are not just relevant here but globally. One of these communities, Venecia, is situated on the shores of a stunning, but hugely polluted, crater lake. We are of course doing a lot of project work in these communities such as building latrines (for the use of the community and visitors), funding a teacher to help the kids read and write in the community of Los Aguirres, helping with laying water pipes, regular clean ups of the lake, reforestation and so on. It is a demanding project but an exciting one and we are hoping to get the first takers for the new program in the New Year.
Aside from this project, we currently support around 15 projects in La Concha generally. Several of them are children’s projects…reading corners, out of school clubs, community centers and support units within schools. We are even funding a night guard for a school where there are no resources to pay for one. Our work with Los Pipitos, a project for disabled kids, has really taken off this year. We now employ a physical therapist and, thanks to a generous grant from Peaceworks, we have been able to put in electricity and furbish a therapy room. For the past few months Wednesday afternoons have been horse therapy afternoons. We simply brought together two projects…the rescued horses (of which we now have nearly 20) and the disabled kids. They love it and we now have a horse and cart to take the kids who cannot sit on a horse. A huge benefit of this has been it gives Guillermina a job to do which uses her strengths; she enjoys herself enormously and has just expanded her repertoire to organizing a football team for the kids twice a week.
Life however is not all work and I am increasingly taking time out for myself and Guillermina. This is helped greatly by the new team that I now have around me! For those of you who have been here you may well remember Marlin, now the head of the Spanish school and doing an excellent job. I never thought I could find someone as good as Bergman (his leaving was pretty horrible, not suitable material for a Xmas letter!!!) but Marlin is good at the job and also honest and communicative. He really enjoys helping with the projects. Then Richard was promoted to run the activity program…also a runaway success. We have a new admin worker and accountant, Hazel who is also terrific and of course Rosa continues as head accountant though she will leave us for a while in Jan to have a baby. Chester now heads up the administrative team and the interns. So I am surrounded by wonderful, competent young people who really go out of their way to be supportive and involved. The rest of the staff group has been pretty much unchanged for some time…Ismael still runs everything; Emilia heads up the kitchen….we now employ 60 people, possibly the achievement of which I am most proud! Management meetings are great fun!
What this means for me is I can take more time off. A few months ago Guillermina and I moved out of La Mariposa where we have lived for some 8 years and into our little hobbit house on the farm. The house is built mainly out of straw with a tiled roof, lots of patios and a garden that I just love. Much to my surprise, Guillermina enjoys being there with me…we potter about, she helps feed the rescued dogs and cats (too many!) and put out food for the birds. I listen to music and read a lot, I am trying to read more and more in Spanish. We have planted a flower garden that is attracting butterflies, special trees to help bees and other insects. Apart from the odd scorpion, all life is welcome! It is a great getaway for me.
It is hard to leave the house now but I still want to travel some more in Nicaragua. Especially because I have become more and more caught up in environmental issues and I want to go see first-hand what is happening in the areas where campesinos (of course not the rich!) are already being forced off their land to make way for the canal, the zona libre, a tourist complex and I dread to think what else. I have this year visited Bosawas, the biggest stretch of rainforest in Central America but rapidly disappearing. I saw part of it burning– huge, magnificent trees being burnt to make way for yet more cattle ranches – and now the canal. But I have written blogs on these, please read them because these are global issues not just local Nicaraguan ones!
This year I got my Nicaraguan citizenship which means I can happily start to get involved in some form of environmental activism: that is my goal for 2015!! I can be sent to prison but I cannot be deported!!
Well I think that is about it!!
We wish you a happy holiday and a globally aware New Year!
Paulette, Guillermina and La Mariposa team.