Project Update – May 2017


This is a summary of the projects currently being undertaken by La Mariposa and Asociacion Tierra – if you would like to donate, please go to our main website and scroll down the homepage to the Mas Mariposas ”Donate” button.

There are six categories of projects, although they don’t have rigid boundaries since we try and be as holistic as possible. Please note that the core project of La Mariposa (and indeed the reason for our existence) is to assist the local community through providing as much sustainable employment as possible, using the income earned through the Spanish school and eco hotel. There were 10 employees when we opened, there are now around 70 though not all full time. The projects listed below not only provide help in the way described but also through providing additional employment. As we say in our Responsible Tourism policy – we aim to “Maximize employment…teachers, guides, admin, kitchen, cleaning, building maintenance and construction, gardens, animal care, project staff. We do not pay high wages to a select few but pay above minimum wages to as many workers as possible, thus assisting as many local families as possible”.

  • Children’s projects: One of them (the Ruben Dario project) is currently situated in a school, with a library and a paid worker to help children with the basics of reading and writing – the project worker also organizes holiday play schemes based more on having fun. She has planted a surrounding garden with our help and other schools are interested in following this model. Normally around 30 children use the project daily. 3 children’s projects (La Soya, Karen’s Cultural Center and Los Martinez) are situated in community based locations and in addition to the above services we offer folklore dance classes and will be offering English classes in the future. Around 70 children currently attend the 3 projects. There is in addition a small project in our own nature reserve – La Reserva.

Costs – Each of these projects costs between $150 and $200 per week – this covers the “ayuda” for 2 workers and provision of extra materials – most of the play, art and reading materials are donated by La Mariposa students. It does NOT cover one off costs such as building a covered patio area in Karen’s Cultural Center

  • Our newest project, opened in April 2017, is the Panama project — this one specifically focuses on offering English classes to younger children. Panama is one of the poorest barrios in La Concha so the idea is to give these children a head start with a basic knowledge of English classes (in general it is only taught in secondary schools). It also allows us to offer additional work to our Spanish teachers who also speak English — especially important during the low months! Currently there are 5 teachers working there.

Costs – Including teachers’ pay, transport and some materials (again the majority is donated) – around $250 per week. The costs of constructing the space were $1350 plus $470 for tables chairs shelves and basic materials

  • Finally, we have the disabled children’s project. We employ 3 workers who provide a variety of educational opportunities and physical therapy. We also provide equino therapy (on our rescued horses) and hydrotherapy. Recently we started with a small employment project for some young disabled people working in the organic veggie garden. Currently there 28 children and adults registered.

Costs cover salaries for the teacher, the physical therapist, and materials, transporting the children and young people to and from the various parts of the project, payment to a local swimming pool for hydro therapy, salaries for the workers who care for the horses taking part in the equino therapy sessions. We also provide the neediest families with help for the purchase of medicines, nappies, milk and food. The total is over $600 per week – $80 is the weekly salary cost for half time (the workers will return to full time in a few months).

  • Environmental projects: This includes donation of eco cookers to the poorest families (so far over 750 at a cost of $12 each), and purchase of land threatened with monoculture or development to create nature reserves and preserve local sources of water. It also involves working closely with local communities eg Palo Solo to assist with their immediate needs in return for helping with conservation efforts. In the case of Palo Solo we deliver a truck load water per week to supplement the municipal deliveries and are planting 6 acres of trees specifically for firewood for local people on the Nature Reserve. We also do reforestation on our land and in the communities (to date we have planted over 25,000 trees). This category also includes our ecobuilds, use of solar power, recycling, water reuse, growing vegetables organically, establishing a medicinal garden, minimization of trash……

The costs of reforestation etc are difficult to estimate but we can itemize the following. Purchase of Cañada Honda (in the community of Palo Solo) was $97,000, the land for La Reserva was $100,000. We employ 5 park guards specifically to look after the land – $400 per week. Provision of water costs $130 per week to 2 communities.

  • Health Projects: We assist the local health clinic in La Concepcion with volunteers and donations of supplies. To help out the volunteers need a medical qualification but we can also set up observation placements. Recently we have started to work with their Natural Health Clinic – they can take volunteers with experience in massage etc. We also provide them with medicinal plants for their garden.

No ongoing costs are involved here but we do respond to one off request for help – eg provision of medicinal plants at a cost of $75.

  • Animal projects: We care for rescued dogs, cats, horses, parrots, and monkeys, and return many others to the wild. Over 1500 dogs and cats from the community have been sterilized. We also support the very little wildlife that still exists in this area… that includes birds, insects, reptiles, and some mammals.

Costs for food for horses (higher in the dry season when grazing is limited), dogs, cats, monkeys, parrots, rabbits etc – around $500 per week. Plus purchase of bananas and other fruit to maintain local wildlife. Plus vet bills – $50 to $200 per week.

  • ”One off” projects: The bakery, eco builds, are examples of projects with definite end points! We also help individual families with medical needs and, in the case of several disabled children with very poor families, with food etc. In one case we repaired the house of a disabled boy.

Examples – the bakery – $10,000. Jader’s operation (not included in section on Disabled Children) – over $4000. (You can read Jader’s story here). 


  • Building a center for the disabled children’s project. It will be built from sustainable materials – such as straw from the rice harvest and adobe. It will have rooms for physical therapy, education and occupational therapy for the older children and adults. Its location is in a corner of La Reserva, close to the road and very accessible for the people of San Juan who use this project, but surrounded by trees and other plants. We will plant a special garden and create a sustainably built playground. Though designed for disabled children, the children from other projects will also use this facility thus encouraging more interaction between disabled and non-disabled children. Cost will be in the region of $15,000 — we have already raised $10,000 towards this.
  • Working more intensively with the community of Palo Solo (where Cañada Honda is situated) to improve their access to water (currently no houses have running water) and firewood (see section (4) above). WE will use a small accessible area of the reserve to build a storage space for local peoples dragon fruit harvests (this does not include those responsible for large monoculture farms) and a “comedor infantile” – a communal eating area for children. Costs of construction will be around $5000 and we are also looking for a sponsor to help provide the food on a long term basis.
  • The Los Martinez Children’s Project needs an extension on its patio to accommodate the high numbers of children who attend. Cost will be $1500.

Learning to live with emphysema, drought and one more big project…..

Mantled Howler MonkeyJPG

I chose to ignore the diagnosis of mild emphysema. It was not denial – I like to think – rather a conscious, and unregretted, decision to live life as long as possible without the constant worry and pressure of a chronic illness. Two years later, it has progressed to moderate – now, I assiduously follow the advice of my wonderful lung specialist. Though unconvinced that driving through the grime and smog of modern Managua to get to her does not do more lung damage, I always feel much better after a consultation. Marie Elena is a large, buxom woman, ready with an enormous bear hug and her extravagant outfits always impress! Her father is a Palestinian exile, arrived in Nicaragua in the 1950s, married a Nicaraguan. Marie is Catholic but most of her friends are Muslim and one of her favorite fiestas is the feast after Ramadan.  Nicaragua is just so full of constant surprises!

And the medical advice has been pretty effective too. Going to her after a series of problems, a debilitating tiredness all the time, and then a particularly nasty episode – whilst translating on a walk suddenly I just could not breathe……quite scary. Now a mixture of inhalers and nebulizers has stabilized the breathing. The other challenge, of course, is dealing with the emotional impact….I don’t know whether researching on the internet helps or just terrifies!! Marie has had to reassure me more than once that awful internet stories do not necessarily reflect my prognosis. Right now I feel physically good and emotionally calm and focused.

Strangely enough the combination of feeling fit, healthy and not tired (oh what joy!!) has led me down two apparently contradictory paths. Firstly (doctors’ advice but also my own volition) to work less….and I do now spend less hours in the office. My truly amazing group of workers has, almost to a person, responded by being even more committed and helpful. This is especially true of my unbelievably loyal and supportive “admin” team… has been an up and down year for many reasons and they have taken over much of my work….but more than that their personal friendship and understanding has more than once brought me close to tears.

So I should be relaxing more and enjoying the sunshine, horse riding more, spending more time with Guillermina and tending my garden. All of which actually I do. But the second path is more one of experiencing, reading, learning, reflecting in a way I have never done before, discussing, teaching a bit, and above all feeling…..about the horrors we are inflicting on this beautiful world which is all we have to call home. Let me be a little more precise. Let’s talk about just one aspect…water.

Living through a drought…. a city girl in the UK, I was barely aware of water and its importance….I just turned on the tap and out it gushed, ready to be turned into a cup of tea or a bubbly bath (I am sure that much has changed in the 10 years I have been away – at least now it would be a shower!!). Where does the water come from? How much is there? How is it replenished? Who else is using it and for what?  Is it being polluted in any way? I would not have known the answers to any of these questions but now I do…..

The water we use at La Mariposa comes from deep municipal wells, water which has been stored for who know how many millennia in an underground aquifer. You don’t have to be an expert to realize that this water needs to be replenished nor to understand what will happen if we just keep on taking, never replacing. Demand increases incessantly…not just from the local population but from massive construction and the demands of sweat shop factories, especially on the southern side of Managua. I admit I have become more than a little obsessed with water…saving rainwater, digging latrines everywhere I can (do not require flushing…I hate with a vengeance the amount of water used to disappear from view our excrement!!), reusing cooking water to water plants, and on and on!!! I try and persuade others to use the latrine, shower less, not wear clean clothes every day (unless actually dirty!!)….but I know I run a risk of becoming very boring indeed. And for Nicaraguans who have been fighting the stereotype of being “unclean” ever since the Spanish conquest, that is a difficult change to make.

Back to the drought, happening in spite of all my best conservation efforts. The Nicaraguan wet season is – should be – May until November. Six months dry summer followed by 6 months wet (daily rain), sometimes stormy, winter. No rain equals no pressure on the aquifer (long term it also means there is no replenishment), therefore ever harder to extract water. So in a normal year, by April after 6 dry months, lower pressure in the aquifer means instead of water coming in twice a week from the wells (we store it in special tanks, often hotel guests have no idea that we do not have constant “on tap” water), delivery goes down to once a week and then even less……at that time of year, we often have to buy in water at a weekly cost of $500 to keep the hotel supplied.

Last year the rains were 3 months late. So the situation described in the previous paragraph was exacerbated. This year they are already 4 months late. ….though we have had maybe half a dozen showers since May…one just two nights ago started at midnight and lasted three glorious hours. I stayed awake the whole time, happy just to listen and smell the moistened earth through my open window……not a good rain by anybody’s standards, but something to hang onto. I now understand why indigenous peoples worship definite (I almost said “concrete” but that is the last thing anyone should worship) entities and not an abstract G/god. Made perfect sense to thank the rain for coming and plead with it to hang around a little longer!

One of my greatest comforts is to just sit in my tiny but lovely garden, carved out of the Mariposas vegetable plot.  This is where the emphysema and the drought cross paths! I am supposed to be chilling out, relaxing but instead I am deciding whether to use precious water on flowering plants or not. The arguments against are obvious. Those in favor not only include my emotional wellbeing, but also the food supply of insects, birds and small reptiles. I note gloomily that the plethora of butterflies and bees which I watched last year have all but disappeared….my colony of blue grey tanagers (only “mine” in the sense that I love them and care for them) is much reduced in numbers and there are far fewer bats around…..on the bright side, some of the frogs are surviving the drought in their specially built pond. So my relaxation time becomes my observing, feeling (sad, worried and then angry) time. Feelings which drive me to read and investigate. The next step is action….what can we do better? For example, we have learnt that the more ground cover we provide and the more nutritious it is, the less water we have to use. We have been putting this into practice for a while with vegetables, this week we will do the same for the flowers.

Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

I don’t wish to sound overly dramatic but something about being aware of my own mortality makes me more conscious of what is happening around…and it is not a pretty sight. The state of my lungs is not dissimilar from the state of the world around me…..both are being gradually starved of the basic requirments to survive. It is driving me to do as much as possible to save at least little slices of the land and biodiversity.

Hence the current Mariposa project….

La Mariposa (, in partnership with our newly formed NGO, Asociacioñ Tierra (, is embarking on its biggest and possibly most important project to date. We are hoping to buy over 140 acres of land, Cañada Onda (means Deep Gully), in Palo Solo which is way out on the ridge beyond our Group Study Center. Over half of this land is original forest and we have already started to reforest the rest. This is critical because

  • The area around us is fast becoming a monoculture desert. The ever increasing popularity of exotic fruits in the US and Europe has led to clear cut logging across our municipality. Mostly pineapple and dragonfruit – both of which like pure sunshine, absolutely no trees.
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  • The massive deforestation is having a negative impact on soil through erosion and the local water supply as well as disappearance of local biodiversity and destruction of habitat for animals and birds including migrants. There are rare nisperal and ceibo trees, several acres of heliconia, different types of fungus, flocks of parakeets visit in the early morning and an ocelot was recently spotted…we are in contact with UNAN (University of Nicaragua) to help with an inventory of species
  • Look at the size of this would be a crime to log it for dragonfruit

    Look at the size of this ceibo…it would be a crime to log it for dragonfruit

  • This land will form a vital part of a biological corridor, linking still forested land on the Pacific side of the Sierras to the Masaya Volcano National Park, allowing animals and birds to move naturally through their habitat, thus helping their chances of survival.
  • The land is on the other side of the ridge from El Nisperal, a nature reserve (and organic, bird-friendly coffee farm ( that is part of the Nicaraguan System of Protected Areas with whom we work closely to augment existing eco systems.  We are both planting trees close to the track dividing us to provide a bridge so howler monkeys who now live in El Nisperal can cross over into Cañada Onda thus doubling their territory.
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  • As in all of our work, we will involve the community at every step. An NGO, Lone Tree Institute (, associated with El Nisperal already funds a community library, and educational programs so our focus will be mainly on providing local employment wherever possible and raising incomes through promoting rural eco-tourism – we already offer weekend breaks with horseriding, hiking, bird watching, nighttime animal observation, using experienced local guides.
  • Met this little fellow on our first walk through Canada Onda

    Met this little fellow on our first walk through Canada Onda

  • For 2 years now, our rescued horses have grazed on part of this land. Stabled at the Study Center they have had a daily walk to and from their pasture – tiring especially for the older ones. Now we are renovating a rancho so they will live permanently at Cañada Onda!!
  • Chepe living in his new home

    Chepe living in his new home

  • We will work with AMARTE (an NGO with a long history of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife) to release appropriate wildlife on the land. This may include monkeys, sloths, deer, cats and birds.
  • We are already reforesting and several groups of young environmentalists from all over La Concha have asked to help. We also plan very soon to hold meetings with local small producers of dragonfruit to establish how we can work together.
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La Mariposa has over 10 years’ experience working in rural, eco based tourism and for the past couple of years we have successfully developed our (relatively tiny!) nature reserve here in urban San Juan.

Our track record of working jointly with communities will ensure that this venture too achieves its goals.

The cost of this land is $97,000 – this is a remarkable bargain (our nature Reserve was the same price but for 12 acres!!!). The reason is location – somewhat remote and not fertile for any crop except dragonfruit.  But perfect for our purposes! The current owners  want it conserved,  for that reason they have given us an extraordinarily reasonable price.

A deposit of $30,000 has been paid (Paulette’s accumulated pension!)

So we are looking to raise $67.000

You can help either through donation or taking part in one of our Mariposa packages.

For US donors opting for a tax-exempt donation, you may give on-line or via check to Lone Tree Institute (501(c)(3) non-profit organization). See for details on how to donate. Please earmark your donation “For Canada Onda”.OR through paypal on the homepage of our La mariposa website (also tax exempt)…

“UK tax payers can donate to the special appeal by Sustainability Partners, registered charity no. 1119345, which will increase the value of the donation by 25% through GiftAid. For details see “

Animal Rescue at the Mariposa – could you help us by sponsoring one (or more?) of our horses, dogs, cats, monkeys…….

Before the Mariposa had even opened its doors to Spanish students and eco-hotel guests, we started taking in stray and unwanted animals and providing them a happy and loving home. Even whilst the construction team was still at work, they had to step over puppies, kittens and a poorly horse wandering around the building site! And of course the numbers just keep on growing as we try never to say no!

It is not possible to generalize about the treatment of animals here in Nicaragua any more than in any other country but the ones who have come to us have not, on the whole, been physically maltreated. Rather they have not been fed. In some cases this is because they are living semi wild on the street and have to scavenge for their food. Sometimes local people do feed the street dogs – Foxy is an example. Though a street dog she came to us in a fairly healthy condition. Often it is the case that families are too poor to feed their animals properly and this applies to horses as well as dogs.  This was the situation Condor was in – he had an owner, it turned out, who was a very poor pineapple farmer and whose wife had died the year before. He was so poor and depressed that he didn’t feed himself let alone his dog! He agreed to us keeping Condor.

We now take care of 14 horses, 20 or so dogs, 7 cats, 4 monkeys and about 30 birds of various species. The monkeys and parrots came to us as creatures confiscated by the Nicaraguan police in their battle against the illegal trade in wild animals (at the time the zoo, which usually took the confiscated animals was full to bursting point). Not all of the dogs live with us; we help a small number of poor families to feed their pets by buying them supplies of dog biscuits.

As you can imagine this is all costly! Dog, cat, monkey and bird food, supplementary food for the horses costs us around $150 per week. On top of that we need to buy supplies for building horse corals, the large bird and monkey cages, rent grazing land, buy medicines and flea shampoo!! We also pay a worker full time at the Mariposa and we have a team of 3 caring for the horses. That is another $250 a week.

The animals are also neutered as soon as possible; the males by the head of the Spanish school Bergman who moonlights as a vet! We take the females to Granada where there is sometimes a clinic run by volunteers from the US. One of our future hopes at the Mariposa is to set up a vet clinic here in La Concha.

So if you can help us by sponsoring one of our animals we, and they, would be most grateful! You can either make a general donation or sponsor your particular favorite! You can stay in touch with her/his progress as we post regular photos and updates on our facebook page. You can donate through Paypal on the website and specify which animal you would like to sponsor. Even a small amount donate regularly would be so helpful.

Thank you from all of us!

Here we present some of our animals!!


Sultan came to us whilst we were still constructing the Mariposa. He was passed to Bergman literally in a shoebox, together with his sister Susie. Their mother had died and the owner felt he could not look after two puppies but thought that we could. The guys building the Mariposa had to step over the pups in order to get to the building supplies as they lived initially in the storeroom! Susie sadly died from a scorpion bite but Sultan grew and grew. He is now our biggest dog, resembling a Holstein cow, a well loved character who likes nothing more than to pester students, especially when relaxing in a hammock, asking to have his back rubbed!











About 3 years ago, Paulette received a phone call from an ex-Mariposa student who was helping out a vet brigade in Granada neutering cats and dogs. Donna said they had rescued a street dog “the cutest little lady” but they had no room for her at the rescue centre and she was being kept in the bathroom. Could I possibly find her a home? I said yes and Bergman immediately headed off in the pickup truck to bring her to the Mariposa. On arriving, Foxy jumped out of the truck, ran upstairs, found Paulette on the computer and sat down by her side. Foxy has held that position ever since!










Molly came to us as a very sick little puppy, her owners explaining that they could not afford the operation she would need for her hernia nor the necessary medicines.  Bergman had to operate on her twice but she not only survived, she became one of the Mariposa’s favorite dogs with the students. She is also however the naughtiest (maybe the two are not unconnected) and Paulette can often be heard shouting “Molly!!” for some reason or other. She especially loves to provoke the monkeys until they pull her ears!











Another one who came to us as a tiny unwanted puppy. At a few months of age, Jaz contracted a kind of canine flu and we thought we were going to lose him. He recovered but is now is our most accident prone dog. He is forever crossing fences that are too low for him or going though gaps that are too small. Brave and loyal, he and Sultan formed an incredible father/son bond, with Sultan carrying Jaz as a puppy around in his mouth. These days they still mostly hang out together and it is their job to look after the Mariposa at night, letting us know if anything untoward is happening.










The very first Mariposa dog! Holly was a Xmas gift (hence the name!) from one of the workers. Initially she lived with Paulette and Guillermina in their homestay. On one occasion, she was stolen and the whole family spent an entire day searching for her. Half way through the night Holly rushed into the house, dived under the bed and didn’t move for 3 days. She had chewed through the cord which had been used to tie her up and run home as fast as she could. She is now a very nervous, undemanding but affectionate dog who has produced two litters of 11 puppies and, extraordinarily, one litter in between of just one puppy before we could get her neutered. Though she has always been a great Mum (see below) she certainly seems very happy not to be running the risk of having more pups and runs around like a little puppy herself these days.











Whilst living in a homestay down in San Juan de la Concha in 2006, Paulette came face to face with a skeletal dog but who has the most beautiful eyes crossing the street. He was on his way to the rubbish dump to scrounge for food; she told Bergman that, come what may, they were going to adopt that dog. It took several weeks of offering food before he was confident enough to allow himself to be stroked. He was given the name Condor as he circled the house many times, knowing there was something there for him but not daring to come in. Now the grand daddy of the dogs, at around 10 years old, he prefers dozing on the terrace to going on walks with the others. Though he can still deafen us all with his loud bark, often setting the others off, welcoming the group home from the afternoon trip out!













A few months ago, the Mariposa received a phone call from the dog rescue centre in Granada advising us of a very thin and sick female dog with puppies in Ticuantepe (about 12 kilometers from us). We immediately set out in the pickup to bring her and the puppies home. Sadly, the apparent owner, drunk and belligerent, told us he had already sold the puppies but we were welcome to take Canela. At first she lived on the farm but she is big and ebullient, the farm is small and tightly packed with vegetables, and so she has been moved to the new study centre where there is a lot of space. Marlon, who lives next door and works with us, takes care of her with his own dog, Brandon. The two are now great friends. Plus a third, very timid and very thin, puppy visits and Marlon feeds her too. Eventually she will become part of the group.

The photos show Canela when she first arrived and now. You can even see the difference in the color of her fur and how it shines with health now! She still needs to put on a little more weight but we are getting there.
























Rosie was picked up in the street, where she was lying in the gutter, by a group of volunteer Mariposa students on their way to work at the Santiago community garden project. She was horribly thin and covered in sarna, a skin disease which eventually kills. Bergman, who treated her, and is holding her in the second photo, was surprised that she survived. For the first few days with us she lay curled up in a ball, only waking to be fed a mixture of milk and soaked dog biscuits with a tiny amount of minced meat. She is a lively bundle now. Still tiny but very brava and defends Carlos and the farm against all intruders!






















So named thanks to his coffee with cream coloring! He is our biggest horse and nearly always takes someone out for the Sunday ride. An ex- hippica horse means that Cappuccino was trained as a dancing horse (similar to dressage) and would have taken part in the celebratory parades that are part of every town’s yearly fiesta for the local patron saint. For some time after coming to us he would break into a little dance if the ride passed a house where loud music was playing. We don’t know his age exactly but think he is around 10 years and will retire completely from working within the next year. We will find him a green field in which to live out the rest of his days in well earned retirement!











Meaning ‘bird’ Parajo lost an eye in an accident so his previous owner did not want him anymore. He can be a little nervous if something happens on his blind side, such as a dog running out of a house barking at him, but he goes out with the group riding on Sundays as he is happy to tuck himself behind another horse and follow along!












Panuelo and Chepito

These two were the first horses to find a home at the Mariposa. Working all their lives as riding horses on the beach at La Boquita, their owners were looking to replace them because of their age. Chepe was actually very ill and almost died from a form of arthritis which can affect horses very badly. Rather than give him lots of injections and medicines (horses are very delicate) Paulette decided the best treatment would be keeping him warm and giving him regular massage. It worked and Chepe now gives horse rides once a week with the rest of the group.

The photo first shows Chepe when he first arrived.













Sadly this foals mother, Coralea, died after stepping on a rattlesnake (the horses have since been moved to a much safer grazing area) and she was left orphaned. We did not know whether she could survive as she was very young but, with the help of a volunteer called Karen (after whom she is named) and a lot of bottle feeding she pulled through and is a now a lively teenager.

Karencita now likes nothing better than to hang out with her papa, Panuelo!











Born 2 months ago this little baby is proving to be a big hit! He is already very tame and likes to be petted between the ears. He is still supplementing Mum’s milk with the bottle!! That’s Mum in the background, she is in extremely good health which is great. His name Ceniza means ‘ash’ as he was born on the side of the Volcan Masaya.