SUSTAINABLE BUILDING WORKSHOP – Hard Work and Fun!

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We were not just looking for a building to house our project for disabled children, Chispa de Vida, but for something connecting our project themes, in this case – providing services for disabled children and their families, using sustainable building techniques, situating the project in our nature reserve so that the kids can enjoy and learn from nature and –not least – involving students from ‘the developed world’.

Below – bringing in the recycled tires for the playground, stomping down the straw in the walls and nailing the wooden frame together

A group of women friends and their kids from Portland, Oregon came and helped with the building, learnt about our techniques and contributed their own ideas. Such was the energy and enthusiasm generated between the group and the Mariposa construction workers that progress was remarkably quick. There was a lot of mutual learning. And a lot of fun was had by all!

Below – The Chispa de Vida help out painting tables and seats made from recycled tires, the education building begins to take shape and Heidi and Erika after a hard days work!

The project itself will consist of rooms and patios for physical therapy, educational support, a kitchen and dining area (to be completed in stages) as well as a mini house where kids can learn household skills such as making their own bed. A playground and specially designed garden are also underway. Hopefully, we will have sufficient funds to employ a third worker to help Margene and Marisol.

Below – Hopscotch, trying out the play horse and a colorful bird

Walls are constructed from straw stuffed into wire cages, sewn together and then covered with homemade adobe. All the materials are, as far as possible, sustainable and recycled – we incorporated a couple of old cartwheels for a fun child height window. The playground emerged from the combined imaginations of Mauricio (a director of Asocacion Tierra) and the Portland kids and was great to see. Ideas on using recycled tires seemed to multiply daily – discarded bicycle tires became pretty birds!

Below – Fun windows at child height, a passing horse nibbles the walls! but the building continues to progress

The group process was as wonderful as the building progress. Initially there was some nervousness amongst the women that La Mariposa building team would live up to the macho image many have of Nicaraguan men. Instead, there was a tremendous sharing of ideas and techniques as well as humor and life experiences. The head of our team, Pablo, laughed and smiled much more than is his custom and the group shared an emotional moment or two on their last day, as well as a large cake! Lori, one of the women, said to me “Did you hear what Pablo shared during our closing circle? He said that our group ‘brought something out of’ the Nicaraguan workers. His comment made us all tear up and I’m pretty sure it was mutual”.

Below – Tina and Gabriel working side by side and Erika sewing up the walls

And Tina commented “Our experience at La Mariposa was profound. It was a reminder to me that anything is possible when in community. I feel so blessed to have had my daughter, new and old friends together in a space of creativity. This was one of those experiences that will be remembered for many years to come”.

Below – the closing circle with Melissa (who organised the group of women and kids) in the blue Tshirt

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This, perhaps, was the most significant part of the whole workshop!

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Let’s Explore: Cooking Class

written by Hannah Chinn, La Mariposa Intern

On Monday afternoon, we have cooking class!

We pile into the Mariposa van and drive to a spot on the outskirts of San Juan, where we take a short walk down a dirt road and arrive at a small house. A man directs us to the back, where we find a circle of chairs, a table, a bowl of dough, and a very large artisan oven. Our driver and guide, Josue, explains that we’re learning to bake three different traditional Nicaraguan bocadillos (snacks): empanadas, rosquillasand viejitas

We start by washing our hands (always an important first step in cooking) and then mixing the masa (dough), which is made with flour, cheese, butter, oil, eggs, and milk. When we arrived, it was already partially mixed… so we pour all the rest of the ingredients into the giant bowl and four of us knead it with our hands until it’s soft and easily formed into shapes (and Josue gives it his stamp of approval and tells us we’re finished).

It’s quite messy!

The baker then shows us how to take spoonfuls of dough, flatten them into circles, and fill them with a sweet-salty mixture of cheese and sugar — fairly common in Nicaraguan baking (and incredibly yummy… would recommend highly). With the help of a round plastic base, we fold the circles in half around the filling. Then we seal the edges shut with our fingers and lay them one by one in a long rectangular pan. Just like that, we’re finished with our first snack: empanadas.

We make viejitas next (literally translated as “little old ones”, which is rather confusing at first, but that’s just the name of the snack). Taking balls of the same dough, we press them with our fingers and form shallow bowls that would later be filled with a sweet brown sugar (it was very dark and tasted vaguely of molasses — several of the students taste it before we put it in). We place them carefully in the pans, and two students spoon sugar into each one of them before baking.

Finally, we roll all the leftover dough into small doughnut-like circles and put them into the pans as well — these, the baker tells us, are rosquillas
It’s harder than it sounds.
Hannah’s note: if you Google “rosquillas” you’ll see something that looks a little like a doughnut rolled in sugar… but Nica rosquillas are different! They’re crunchy and a little bit salty (because of the cheese in the dough, probably) and definitely more like biscuits than like doughnuts. They were still pretty great, though.

Once we put everything into the pans (we go through all the dough and filled up four large ones!) to the baker’s satisfaction, he and Josue slide each pan into the oven.

Speaking of which, the oven itself is huge… about as tall as I am (5 feet) and easily 6 feet wide and long. It’s also very hot, since the fire has been burning brightly since we arrived, so the baker uses a long staff to push the pans into the side of the oven between the wall and the hot coals.

We wait about twenty minutes for the baking to finish, telling stories while we sit. Then we pour coffee and eat lots (and lots, and lots, and lots) of piping hot pastries… the baker even gives us bags so that we can take some back to La Mariposa with us!

they’re delicious.