Archive for Nicaragua

Other Victims of Zika

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Restaurants and hotels in Granada are empty, the Masaya market weirdly deserted, even the popular Laguna de Apoyo is suffering. And, together with the rest of tourism in Nicaragua, La Mariposa is  reeling under the impact of zika. The outcome for us could well be fatal. The whole of 2016 saw a massive drop in the numbers of our students especially from the USA –  adverse publicity around the upcoming Nicaraguan elections (Nov 6th) may be partly responsible. But almost everyone is agreed that the main reason travel plans are being changed or cancelled is the zika scare.

If you are thinking of travelling to this part of the world then obviously you must take into account all of the risks – I would just enter a plea that in the case of zika, you read some of the more detailed evidence and commentaries, not just the scary headlines. On the 4th October 2016 there were precisely SIX  confirmed cases of Zika in the municipality of La Concepción (population over 50,000).

The link between the zika virus and babies born with microcephaly is far from proven and there are some important questions that need to be answered before firm conclusions can be drawn. My head is buzzing after several days doing internet research – one of major questions in my mind is why does Colombia (with the second greatest number of cases of zika) not show the same rise in numbers of microcephaly as the northeastern part of Brazil – and why only one part of Brazil? Mosquitoes don’t generally respect borders. Is it also pure coincidence that most of the mothers affected are the extremely poor or could malnutrition also be responsible? And that this is a region where pesticide use has been particularly intensive? Could any of these other factors be significant in causing microcephaly? And what of the existing 25,000 cases in the USA that have no link whatsoever with zika – what has caused them?

The Foundation for Children with Microcephaly lists as possible causes – rubella, fetal exposure to the herpes virus, mothers drug or alcohol abuse, toxoplasmosis, malnutrition….no mention of zika which seems rather odd (http://www.childrenwithmicro.org/causes.html). I have listed below some of the internet sites I have found helpful in putting this situation into some perspective, as well as the basic World Health Organisation and CDC sites.

At current rate of income, we have sufficient savings to survive another 6 weeks or so with all of the workers already on half time and everything else pared down to the bone . Our estimated income for October is $8000, the outgoings are $16000. So at some point, and not too long in the future, we have to make some hard decisions. At the very least we will have to close down the community and environmental projects, saving $1500 per week. A back up plan is to sell part of La Mariposa in the hope that we can keep the school and hotel going until the zika crisis passes. Complete closure is a last resort – I am having nightmares about 75 families losing their income and what will happen to 50 rescued dogs and 20 horses, not to mention the monkeys and parrots! We have already started trying to get some of them adopted. Of course some workers have been able to find other work and we have already lost some of our best Spanish teachers to call centers. Hopefully we can entice them back if things improve. But for the majority, especially those who do not speak English, it will not be so easy. Below is a photograph of our project for disabled children.

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Here at La Mariposa we rely on natural predators to control mosquitos, keeping the place clean of trash and stagnant water and regular applications around the gardens of lime, a strong repellent. The wonderful golden orb spider helps by spinning vast webs which are great mosquito traps.The number of cases of chikungunya last year (carried by the same mosquito as zika) was the same as in the community in general. We also have a natural repellent (alcohol, oil and cloves) which is very good though most people prefer to use DEET (see http://responsibletravelnicaragua.com/2016/02/10/why-war-on-zika-could-be-bad-for-your-health/).

Our advice to travellers is to use plenty of repellent, of whatever sort suits you best, wear cover up clothing and be especially alert around dusk when mosquitoes are at their most numerous.

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/45297/title/Brazil-s-Pre-Zika-Microcephaly-Cases/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/brazil-opens-probe-as-cases-of-zika-babies-defy-predicted-patterns/article31268428/

COMMENTARY: Taking a close look at the Zika-Microcephaly question – Part 1

http://necsi.edu/research/social/pandemics/statusreport June 2016

https://anticorruptionsociety.com/?s=Zika

http://kff.org/news-summary/who-drug-companies-researchers-focus-on-zika-rd-priorities-viruss-potential-links-with-microcephaly-guillain-barre-syndrome/

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/2015/06/20/disease-definitions-linked-pharmaceutical-companies/14347224002008

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/health-who-future/

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/health/what-is-zika-virus.html?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/douglas-haynes/tackling-zika-requires-ta_b_9376294.html

http://sitem.herts.ac.uk/aeru/footprint/es/Reports/197.htmhttp://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC35735#Ecotoxicity

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BIODIVERSITY AND LA MARIPOSA

How much do we understand about the importance of biodiversity? The answer, it seems, is very little.  We cannot plant a bunch of mango trees and call it a forest…..acres upon acres of teak trees is a plantation, a monoculture crop not a forest.  A forest is one of several eco systems (meadow lands, coral reefs are others) that make up the planet, each supporting a massive diversity of life. Even though human life is dependent on this diversity, we do not, apparently, think biodiversity is worth preserving. Each day around 100 species become extinct. Matthew Schneider-Mayerson argues in “Extinction : A Radical History” we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet, in which 25 to 40 percent of all species are expected to disappear by 2050. Because extinction is generally a silent, invisible process, we are rarely forced to confront its inherent tragedy and the potentially vast ecological ripples of even a single species’ eradication”.

This silent but deadly process ought to be scaring us into taking action. Consider the case of bees, whose path to extinction is being relatively well documented though there is still debate over the cause – possible offenders include pesticide poisoning and malnutrition. Microwaves from radio towers could also be destroying their ability to navigate. Their disappearance would be a direct hit to the human race as nearly all fruit and most vegetable species (ie much of what we eat) owe their pollination to insects; mostly bees. What will happen without them?

Such processes are interwoven with other parts of the jigsaw of factors destroying the planet – a jigsaw that is very much in evidence in this area around La Concha. Continued deforestation and land clearance for monoculture crops such as pineapple and pitaya have led to the virtual disappearance of plants that provide food for the bees. One, the beautiful abejon (which actually means “big bee” – see photos above) has virtually disappeared from fields and hedgerows. 10 years ago they were plentiful…now hardly to be found, along with most other wild flowers. The variety of garden flowers which used to help nourish bees and other vital insects has been replaced almost uniformly with plants providing instant color, such as bougainvillea, and don’t take too much work to grow. However, they are utterly useless as a source of bee food.

You can take any species virtually at random and just the quickest internet research will give you the same story (except for the scavengers – vultures, cockroaches, rats – they are doing very nicely, thanks to us!). Over and over again. Take frogs as another example – almost one third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction. This not normal – 200 species have gone since 1980 – pollution, disease, habitat loss and so on. I recently found a mutant frog with a large lump growing on its back. In this area I am sure that highly toxic fumigations carried out to control mosquitoes are at least partly to blame. And the sad irony of course is that the noxious gas kills many natural predators, including the frogs, whilst mosquitoes seem to be becoming resistant!

red eyed tree frogs

So what are we doing at La Mariposa? We plant the widest possible range of trees and plants with minimum bougainvillea!, always taking into account which birds, animals, insects will any given plant help survive. We use almost 100% organic methods to grow our veggies. We dig ponds to help frogs in their fight for existence – frogs, lizards, spiders and bats are particularly welcome at La Mariposa as voracious mosquito eaters.  We are also planning to hold an Environmental Fair in June – a mix of educational stalls, tours around the vegetable patch, veggie food and herbal teas for folk to try, competitions…..one of our ideas is to hold a competition for the best bee and butterfly (also good pollinators) friendly garden, offering a substantial prize for the winner.

But I often feel we are just hanging on by our finger tips, as I notice another hedgerow plant or type of wild flower seems to have completely disappeared, I hear yet another chainsaw hacking yet another tree to pieces…….to quote Schneider-Mayerson again “conservation efforts have widespread support and can boast a few modest (and temporary) victories, they have been overwhelmed by the ongoing wave of anthropogenic annihilation”. That about sums it up….but nonetheless we shall keep going in the hope that others join us and we can save at least a few species!

 

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Trips out and other things to do……

 

Mariposa students who opt for our activities package are hard put to find a better way to appreciate the diversity, beauty and interest that Nicaragua offers – both the country and its people. We plan activities on a monthly basis, every weekday afternoon and weekend, there is something going on. We include things-to-do close to home, such as riding our rescued horses, and longer trips to some of Nicaragua’s most famous historical towns, volcanoes, lakes and Pacific beaches. Each activity is carefully organized and we always provide transport and bilingual guides from La Mariposa.

And if you want to go somewhere that is not scheduled during your time with us, we can organize a separate trip.

The variety is truly awesome!

Saturdays are our day out, rotating the cities of Granada and Leon, Mombacho (a dormant volcano covered in cloud forest), and La Boquita, our closest Pacific beach. Sundays we do local hiking or horse riding on our rescued horses.

Other trips out include visits to San Juan del Orient where students can try their hand at the local pottery and buy unusual and beautiful gifts in the workshops.  Masaya is the home of traditional handicrafts including world famous hammock making, leather goods, guitars, wooden jewelry and there is a lively market where we take you to stroll around, souvenir shopping.

Of course we also include activities designed to help you get to know something of Nicaragua’s fascinating history and culture, often picking up on themes students will have discussed in Spanish class – popular topics include the revolution and how Nicaragua has emerged form a period of war (the Contra War) into a stable peace. We also hold regular discussions around current day issues, such as the proposed Canal – will it happen or wont it?? Many of the trips out have historical interest visiting, for example, the gorgeous San Francisco Museum in Granada. You are always accompanied by an expert bilingual guide from La Mariposa and we use local guides when appropriate.  And we don’t forget local culture – we invite students to have go at cooking, learn some salsa and watch folklore dancing.

La Mariposa is renowned for our work with local community and the environment. We support a number of different projects – varying from equino therapy for our disabled children to maintaining nature reserves and growing organic vegetables (which we eat in La Mariposa).  Monday afternoons are dedicated to showing you some of our work.

Thanks to our hard work in environmental projects, especially establishing nature reserves near La Mariposa we are also now offering bird watching tours – both as part of our normal program and, for those interested in going further afield we can organize outings with one of Nicaragua’s leading bird experts.

Having organized activities now for 10 years, we are well able to vary activities according to the season and to local events, ensuring students always get the best possible experience.  Night time walks when the moon is full in the dry season, Easter parades by boat around the islands of Granada, Christmas meals out in the barrio after watching the parade in San Juan – are just some examples of how we respond to local events and culture!

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COME AND JOIN US!

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Volunteer with the birds and bees – organic gardening in Nicaragua

La Mariposa has possibly the most varied range of volunteer projects anywhere in Central America! Children’s reading projects, working with disabled children, including helping with hydro and equino therapy (using our rescued horses!), helping out in a women’s cooperative bakery……just some of the options available – our website tells you more.

We offer a volunteer package –

  • Mornings volunteering at a supported placement and working alongside workers from the local community, this also gives opportunities for practicing Spanish
  • Afternoons in Spanish classes – our Spanish school is one of the top rated in Central America, the classes are one on one
  • Living in the house of  a local family.
  • You get to eat your produce at lunch in La Mariposa with the other Spanish students.
  • The cost of the whole package is $280

One of our most popular placements has always been on our organic veggie farm. Paulette, the founder of La Mariposa, also lives here with her daughter and a few rescued dogs, in a small straw built house.

 

Over the 6 years it has been operating, we have developed the farm on sound permaculture principles and we are always looking to improve. Though very small, half an acre or so, you will find we grow an impressive array of vegetable and native fruit trees which are consumed mostly by La Mariposa guests. We have taken the Principles of Permaculture to heart – you can see how we value diversity and the marginal – this applies to our relationships with people as well as to the land. We believe in looking for small, appropriate solutions and don’t have to feel we have to move faster and faster in order to find immediate answers. Change is often difficult, especially when it involves destruction or death (of a person, a dog, a tree) but has to be integrated into the way things are. This does not, of course, mean that we do not take a stand when the causes of change are exploitation and greed.

On a practical level we are undertaking the following…

  1. Water conservation is of course critical. The local municipality supplies us with water twice a week and we store this in the “pila”, a large tank which holds water both for watering the vegetables and for Paulette’s house. We water by hand in order not to waste any – this also helps us maximize local employment. We also use a number of ways to conserve humidity in the ground. For example, we spread straw around the vegetables and split the trunks of banana trees, which contain a lot of water, putting them on the ground to maintain moisture. Grey water from the household is reused on flowering plants. Building with straw also uses  very little water, as opposed to concrete dwellings.IMG_0073
  2. Although the original house has an indoor flushing toilet, we have built a latrine from bamboo which we ask everyone to use. It uses no water at all and is perfectly sanitary. In the wet season we collect rain water using a very simple system of gutters and pipes. IMG_0062
  3. Constant use of organic material to fertilize and enrich the soil is essential. We use a mixture of rice husks, soil from our worm project (the worms consume manure bought from local families who are still using oxen as a means of making a living), as well as compost from garden waste (leaves etc) and kitchen waste from the house. We also practice a rotation system and plant nitrogen fixing plants such as the marengo tree and plenty of beans! IMG_0066
  4. We have learnt to respond to local conditions – for example for a long time we tried very hard to grow root vegetables such as carrots and beets. But they do not work well in our conditions so we now concentrate on what does well…lettuce, eggplant, okra, tomatoes, spinach, kale, beans…..IMG_0060
  5. We have planted a number of trees on the land. Some are fruit trees (papaya, mandarin, orange, avocado, coconut) and offer food for both humans and birds. Dogs too enjoy a slice of avocado! Others provide shade for the house and resting areas thus eliminating the need for fans in hot weather. And some are specifically for the benefit of birds, both for food and to provide living and nesting space.IMG_0079
  6. We are proud to share this precious piece of land, not only with humans, dogs and cats but with as much wildlife as is possible in a place so close to the town center. We do not allow toxic fumigations to take place, preferring to control the mosquito population through natural means such as spreading lime on the ground. We also try and ensure the survival of natural predators such as spiders, frogs, lizards and bats. We do this by ensuring their food supply and also, where necessary, providing housing for them. When we have a fallen orange tree, which happens from time to time, we leave it on the ground to provide food and cover for lizards etc. Not only does all of this help the veggie production, it also ensure a relaxing and peaceful place in which to work, live and just be!IMG_0068
  7. Over the years we have placed special emphasis on encouraging butterflies and birdlife. The latter has been so successful that it merits a separate post! For the moment, note that the bananas hanging in the aceituna and capulin trees (native trees which provide food for wildlife, including our pair of variegated squirrels) are there, along with seeds and water, to encourage birds. We are proud to say that we now have a large group of red legged honeycreepers who spend a good part of the year with us as well as 25 or so other species.

    The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

    The stunning aracari, known here as felices (happy birds!)

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN VOLUNTEERING WITH US – read the website thoroughly, it will give you a good idea of how we work and your options. Write to us at lamariposaspanishschool06@gmail.com. We will send you a simple form to fill in, telling us your preferences.

Please note – your money also towards maintaining our employment project as well as all of the other environmental and community projects we support.

https://justlists.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/principles-of-permaculture/

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