A Short History of La Mariposa

written by Paulette, founder and director of La Mariposa

I am often asked how the Mariposa came into being so this is an attempt to describe its progress from egg to caterpillar to fully fledged butterfly! It goes without saying that this is my personal version – I am sure Guillermina or any of the workers here would have a different story to tell, though hopefully not too divergent.

Inevitably, the history of the Mariposa is totally interwoven with the history of Nicaragua… which is essentially one of colonization, invasion and generally being taken advantage of by the West, the “civilized” world, for approximately the last 500 years. The central goal of the Mariposa is to bring as much Western capital (starting with my own) as possible into Nicaragua in order to try and pay back a tiny, an infinitesimally tiny, amount of the debt which the First World owes to the Third World.

Back to the personal… I first came to Nicaragua in 1988 having extricated myself from electoral politics in the UK and wanting to see what a real revolution looked like. So I did a study tour with the NSC (Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign) – visiting agricultural co-operatives, women´s groups, the museum of the revolution in Managua, health centers, schools – I was super impressed with how much the Sandinistas were achieving especially in the face of a (then) 7 year long war with the US. But pissed off with myself that I couldn’t speak any Spanish, not even enough to say thank you. So I came back again for three months to learn Spanish. I ended up staying for two years or so and returned to the UK with Guillermina. She is a war orphan and we kind of adopted each other in the children’s center where she was living and I was doing voluntary work.

To cut a very long story short, Guillermina and I came back to Nicaragua whenever we had accumulated sufficient funds (more or less every two years) to visit, stay in touch, learn some Spanish and a little more of the history and culture of this extraordinary country which is home to Guillermina and now myself.

On one of these visits we met Bergman — as my Spanish teacher he tried so hard to teach me the subjunctive (he is still trying!!!). The school where he was teaching was (in my opinion) appallingly badly run, and he and I had an ongoing joke that one day we would have our own Spanish school which we would manage properly (e.g. by paying the teachers on time)!! I am not sure either of us thought such a dream could possibly come true!! Anyway, through Bergman we got to know his family, the community and the stunningly beautiful green surroundings of La Concha. Both Guillermina and I felt good up here from Day One and it wasn’t hard to make the decision to buy a small piece of land here in around 2000. To begin with I couldn’t quite see what we could do with the land but it somehow felt like the right thing. There were certainly no plans at that stage to build a school or anything else for that matter.

The actual decision to move here was finally made one day when Guillermina came home extremely distressed following yet another round of racist insults, this time from a group of girls hanging around in our street. There were of course lots of other reasons for moving, but that was the final decision provoking straw! Since we have been in Nicaragua, Guillermina has commented quite frequently how much better she feels living in an environment where she doesn’t feel threatened, or constantly scared of being threatened.

So we sold the house – a small two up, two down terrace in Sheffield – and pretty much everything else; I cashed in part of my pension; several family members and friends gave generous donations; and with that capital, we built the Mariposa. The building team we recruited here in La Concha was fantastic – a couple of the workers from the construction team stayed on in different capacities and are still here, 5 years later. They started work in April 2005 – everything was done by hand, there was no tool on site bigger than a hammer. Once the second floor was started I could hardly bear to watch the guys at work as the scaffolding they used was made on site out of bamboo. Though I am now prepared to agree that bamboo is a lot stronger than it looks we were nonetheless lucky not to have had any major accidents. Guillermina and I had moved in by December 2005. We had our first hotel guests and Spanish school students in January 2006 and haven´t really looked back since! Last year we built a three room cabin in traditional choza-style to provide an extra three rooms as the eight we have in the hotel get pretty full most of the year round. We now do homestays, volunteer work and a dozen other projects out in the community.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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