Solar Technology Alleviating PovertyGivePower, founded in 2013 by Hayes Barnard, is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to use solar technology in alleviating poverty worldwide. The United Nations reports that, as of 2019, “over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.” These water-related stress levels are expected to rise with increased population growth and global economic development. Ultimately, yielding a rise in poverty.

Solar Technology: A Solution to Poverty

Solar technology presents a solution to this growing, global, water crisis. This is because solar technology holds the power to supply clean water and efficient energy systems to communities located in virtually any part of the world. Since 2013, GivePower has worked to help some of the world’s poorest countries gain access to a source of clean, renewable and resilient energy. This has in turn allowed for more readily available, clean drinking water, agricultural production and self-sustaining communities. For example, in 2018 alone, GivePower granted access to clean water, electricity and food to more than 30,000 people in five countries. Since its founding, GivePower has completed projects in the following six countries:

  1. Nicaragua: Though education through the primary stages is mandatory for Nicaraguans, school enrollment numbers are low. During its first-ever, solar microgrid installation in 2014, GivePower, recognized the importance of education. In this vein, GivePower shifted its resources toward powering a school in El Islote, Nicaragua. The school’s enrollment has improved tremendously, now offering classes and resources for both children and adults.
  2. Nepal: In Nepal, access to electricity has increased by nearly 10% for the entire Nepalese population, since GivePower began installing solar microgrids in 2015. Installation occurred throughout various parts of the country. Rural villages now have access to electricity — allowing schools, businesses, healthcare services, agricultural production and other forms of technology to prosper. Part of GivePower’s work in Nepal includes installing a 6kW microgrid on a medical clinic in a rural community, ensuring essential services.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): During 2016, the GivePower team reached the DRC, where civil war has ended in a struggle for both people and the country’s wildlife. The DRC is home to many of the world’s endangered species, making protection of the country’s wildlife essential. GivePower has successfully installed solar panels for ranger stations in one of Africa’s oldest national parks. In this way, wildlife thrives. This power provides a means for rangers to meet their basic needs and increases the likelihood that rangers can protect wildlife.
  4. Puerto Rico: In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a powerful category four hurricane, devastated Puerto Rico. The disaster left many without shelter, food, power or clean water for months. GivePower intervened, installing solar microgrids and reaching more than 23,000 people. The organization provided individual water purification systems to families without access to clean drinking water and installed solar microgrids. In this effort, the main goals were to restore and encourage more disaster relief, emergency and medical services. Furthermore, the refrigeration of food and medication and the continuation of educational services were paramount in these efforts.
  5. Kenya: Typically, only about 41% of Kenyans have access to clean water for fulfilling basic human needs. Notably, about 9.4 million Kenyans drink directly from contaminated surface water. During 2018, using solar technology in alleviating poverty, GivePower provided electricity to Kenyans living in Kiunga. Moreover, GivePower also increased access to clean water through a large-scale, microgrid water desalination farm. The water farm provides clean water for about 35,000 Kenyans, daily. The organization has also reached the Namunyak Wildlife Conservatory located in Samburu, Kenya. There, GivePower installed solar panels to ensure refrigeration and communications at the conservatory.
  6. Colombia: In 2019, GivePower installed solar microgrids in Colombia to preserve one of the country’s most famous cultural heritage sites. Moreover, the microgrids helped to support research conducted in the area. The grids installed have been able to sustain a 100-acre research field and cold storage units.

Solar Technology Alleviating Poverty: Today and Tomorrow

Renewable, clean and resilient energy has granted many populations the ability to innovate. In this way, other basic, yet vital human needs are met. Using solar technology alone in alleviating poverty has been enough to create water farms that provide clean water to thousands. With water and energy for innovation — agricultural production flourishes. This, in turn, addresses hunger issues while also working toward economic development. Having already touched the lives of more than 400,000 people, GivePower and solar technology present a promising solution in alleviating global poverty.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

A Solution to Nicaragua’s Dust Bowl
“When the wind blows strong in León, the sky changes color. Doors and windows slam shut. Darkness swallows the daylight and dust falls like ashes over the houses, buildings, churches and offices.” This statement from Maynor Salazar describes a common occurrence in Nicaragua: giant dust storms. Heavy winds pick up fine dust that whips through towns and cities. The air can get so thick that it becomes impossible to see. Already one of the poorest countries in the world, Nicaragua’s dust storms have made life difficult for families trying to climb out of poverty. Moreover, these dust storms form through extensive and overbearing farming of brittle soil. Fortunately, there is a solution to Nicaragua’s dust bowl.

Problems

Nicaragua continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the World Bank, around 13% of Nicaragua’s population lives on less than $3 a day. The giant dust storms that ride through the country only exacerbate the problem. Winds can whip dust as fast as 18-30 mph. There is little shelter against Nicaragua’s dust bowl. Many houses in Nicaragua are not airtight, so the dust easily gets in. This also causes numerous problems. Dust storms can create clouds so thick that it makes it hard to see. Traffic slows to a near standstill. People can barely stay outside without masks. In addition, dust particles can carry bacteria which spreads disease and lowers air quality. Nicaragua has experienced increased cases of influenza and pneumonia, as well as skin irritation and contaminated water due to dust storms.

Additionally, incomes halt when a dust storm rages. Many Nicaraguans sell goods in stands outside of their house. Dust storms make it nearly impossible to continue their business, which many rely on to provide for their families. It is clear that these giant dust storms have created numerous problems for poor communities. A solution to Nicaragua’s dust bowl would provide relief for the millions of people living in poverty.

Peanut Farming and the Storms

Nicaragua’s dust storms do not have natural causes. These storms are a result of peanut farms. Peanuts are one of Nicaragua’s main exports, and the industry continues to grow. There are three problems with peanut farming that lead to dust storms.

  1. The soil in Nicaragua is very dry. Farmers simply cannot afford to have their soil irrigated all year. Only 10% of land used for peanut farming undergoes irrigation all year. This allows the wind to easily carry soil into cities and villages.
  2. Nicaragua has exploited its soil far beyond what is sustainable. Once farmers harvest the peanuts, they collect the “stubble.” Stubble is the remaining stem and leaves of the plant that root in the ground. In addition, farmers pack up the stubble and sell it as cattle feed. When the harvest is finished, there is nothing but dirt left. Peanut farmers in Nicaragua grind their land for every last resource. This means that the dried soil is not rooted in plants or nutrients. It has all been tilled by farmers.
  3. There are no trees surrounding these farms to serve as “wind-breakers.” Many peanut farmers have cleared all surrounding trees for their land. This means that once the wind picks up the dirt, there are no trees to block the dust from getting out. Trees are effective at preventing large dust storms. Unfortunately, many of these trees have been removed.

A Solution

Because these dust storms are a result of human intervention, humans can also prevent them. The Nicaraguan government has initiated a program to plant trees around peanut farms to serve as “wind-breakers.” The Nicaraguan government has also offered tax breaks for irrigation systems. Aside from stopping dust storms, this is a step towards sustainable and environmentally friendly farming. Nicaragua has long suffered from bad farming practices, and the consequences show. Additionally, by providing tools like irrigation and wind-breaker trees, Nicaragua can continue to grow its important industries without harming the environment and its people. Promoting renewable farming has proven to be a solution to Nicaragua’s dust bowl.

Already one of the poorest countries in the world, Nicaragua continues to suffer due to its numerous dust storms. These storms have many negative impacts such as halted traffic, slowed businesses and spread diseases. Furthermore, peanut farmers in Nicaragua grind the already dry soil so much that the wind easily carries it away. There are very few trees that surround these farms. As a result, this makes it easy for the dust to get into cities. Fortunately, this means that these dust storms can be stopped. Local authorities are planting trees around farms to serve as wind-breakers. The Nicaraguan government has offered tax breaks for irrigation systems to moisten the dry soil. Farmers are on the path to more sustainable practices. A solution to Nicaragua’s dust bowl has already begun to sprout.

Evan Weber
Photo: Flickr

Fight Disease in NicaraguaIn Nicaragua, 30% of people live below the poverty line, making it the poorest nation in Central America. Not surprisingly, the risk of major infectious diseases in the nation was labeled as high in 2020. Therefore, a major step towards fighting poverty is to fight disease in Nicaragua.

The Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC), Project Hope, and AMOS Health and Hope all fight disease in Nicaragua with different approaches. All of these organizations have similar health-related missions and make a considerable impact on the lives of those in need. Both FIMRC and AMOS focus their efforts on the youth impacted by diseases rather than the entirety of communities. Project Hope can assist a wider range of ages as it focuses its efforts on a smaller region than the other organizations.

The Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children

The Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children is a nonprofit working to create sustainable health services for those in need. For almost two decades, the organization has been helping vulnerable health communities through three areas of pediatric clinical services, health education and special initiatives.

The organization’s Nicaragua program Project Limón illustrates its success. Limón is popular for tourists; however, the surrounding areas are considered vulnerable as many locals are left without health services. For instance, 17% of children 5 years and younger in Nicaragua are impacted by chronic malnutrition. FIMRC is working to lower this percentage and disease in Nicaragua in general by catering its program around community needs. After assessing their needs, the organization began to build clinics and provide medical care.

Project Hope

Project Hope focuses its health services on those suffering from diabetes. It also stands out as it concentrates on supporting health professionals. For instance, the organization trains and assists health care workers to maximize the number of people they can help. It places a large emphasis on education rather than aid.

Project Hope began fighting disease in Nicaragua through its partnership with the University of León. Through the partnership, the organization began to establish itself in the nation and support the health infrastructure. For instance, with the help of one of its partners, it administered over a million vaccines of Pneumovax to the population. Also, one of its successful programs benefitted nearly 9,000 women and children through “health education as well as micro-lending training.”

AMOS Health and Hope

AMOS Health and Hope has a broader plan of action compared to the other two groups. The group’s mission statement is to ensure children are not dying from preventable diseases. Similar to FIMRC, it works directly with the community it aims to help to develop long-term health solutions. Its solutions to fight disease in Nicaragua are based around three main pillars: treat, prevent and strengthen.

Although its mission statement is broad, AMOS only works within Nicaragua, catering towards those in vulnerable communities. Within the nation, its efforts help 24 different communities in need. Thus far, it has trained 670 health services workers in those communities and has helped 74,600 individuals.

Overall, although groups have different approaches to fighting disease in Nicaragua, their efforts all work to assist those in need of health services. Supporting the health workers and those in need ensures that both sides of the issue are met.

Erica Burns
Photo: Flickr

Reforming Education in NicaraguaReforming education in Nicaragua has been a major focus of rehabilitation efforts over the past few years. Prior to 2015, there were over 800,000 people who were unable to read or write in Nicaragua. Because of the educational barriers that exist in the country, many students were kept from remaining enrolled at their schools or building the necessary confidence to pursue an education. However, over the past five years, Nicaragua’s Ministry of Education (MINED) has worked hard to create superior learning institutions so that Nicaraguan children can have a more accessible, comfortable and innovative education.

The Public Education System

Nicaragua is considered the most impoverished country in Central America. With the unemployment rate rising over 3% in the past five years, the government decided to implement concrete policies that could create enough incentives to keep people enrolled in school and pull them out of poverty.

In Nicaragua, education is not equally accessible to all, even though primary education is compulsory. The government has not yet found the necessary tools to instigate accessible community action and counter the factors that keep students from enrolling in primary or secondary education. Moreover, the struggle to enroll students is not the only obstacle the government faces as over 70% of Nicaraguan children drop out of school before they reach the sixth grade.

Un Ministerio en la Comunidad

The Ministry of Education has been working to improve its participation in society. The ministry’s motto is “un ministerio en la comunidad”, which is Spanish for “a ministry in the community”. The language employed suggests the active role MINED wants to establish in Nicaraguan society, including reforming education in Nicaragua.

In 2017, the government redirected approximately 4% of the entire national GDP to MINED. The repairs that have been done since then directly benefit countless public schools, especially in terms of providing better study conditions to the many children that go to these.

In 2020 alone there have been four reform initiatives focusing on infrastructure reconstruction, student hygiene and health, drug awareness and increasing disability awareness within school institutions and curriculum.

 Initiatives Taken by MINED

  1. Special Education Curriculum Strengthening: For many students with mental and physical disabilities, the traditional classroom setting and curriculum can be overly challenging and discouraging. Because of that many students are left hopeless and unable to learn, making it nearly impossible for them to get a job that pays a livable wage in the future. In February of 2020,  special education directors from Managua to Chontales met and discussed how to implement styling, cooking and music courses into their school curriculum so that disabled students can better adapt to school and to the job market.
  2. My Life Without Drugs Program: Drug use and addiction are one of the leading culprits of high school dropouts, leading many young Nicaraguans to stay in poverty for their entire lives. The Miguel Ramírez Goyena Institute held a drug awareness discussion in March of 2020 for grades nine to eleven, covering the kinds of drugs that are prominent in their community and teaching the students points of prevention.
  3. COVID-19 Health and Hygiene: MINED started as early as March 30 with COVID-19-focused prevention workshops. There have been several health and hygiene panels held to reinforce the awareness of COVID-19 and how to prevent it by washing hands, wearing facial coverings and social distancing students and staff. In addition to that, the Ministry put effort into bringing the digital wave to Nicaragua. According to the official data released, MINED created 23 mobile digital classrooms that help low-income students and educators alike have access to equipment such as tablets, printers, projectors and printers.
  4. Bertha Díaz Educational Center: On July 10, the reconstruction of the Bertha Díaz Educational Center in Managua advanced by 60%. The improved space exhibits a new roof, electrical system and 12 reworked classrooms. The project has taken five million córdobas or $143,856. MINED hopes to have the entire project done by the end of the summer so that the center is up and running for students in the fall.

What’s the Next Step?

The Nicaraguan government has a powerful Ministry of Education that is taking the broken Nicaraguan infrastructure by the horns and pushing full force for a brighter future for the young population. Out of the 6.1 million people living in Nicaragua, 40% of citizens are under the age of 15. Children are the future of Nicaragua and MINED knows that. Each week, new efforts are pushed by those in power towards reforming education in Nicaragua to help bring students to the top of their educational and mental potential. Additional financial support from outside nations will only help bolster the potential for Nicaragua’s students and allow the country to work its way out of poverty.

– Nicolettea Daskaloudi
Photo: Flickr

B Corporation

B Corporations are businesses that give back to the community by following a set of guidelines for transparency, accountability and that pledge a certain amount of profits for a greater purpose.

Five B Corporations You Should Know

  1. Salt Spring Coffee, Canada
    B Impact Score: 118.4/200
    Salt Spring Coffee is a fair-trade organic coffee company that works with the Nicaraguan farmers to sustainably farm, sell and serve the highest grade of coffee beans on the market. Salt Spring hopes to pave the way for the coffee industry in producing eco-friendly packaging and contributing meaningful donations. The company does this by donating to innovative, eco-conscious projects through their 1% for the Planet fund.  These donations have allowed the company to co-found a Canadian waste-reduction initiative, help install solar panels for isolated Nicaraguan farmers and assist a women-run Ugandan farming co-op.
  2. Hora Salud, Chilé
    B Impact Score: 117.8/200
    Hora Salud is a simple user-friendly app for the rural Chilean populace that allows individuals to schedule and cancel appointments and check-ups online without wasting time. The app uses SMS to schedule and cancel doctors appointments. This allows already-sick individuals to avoid the burden of traveling to a Health Center and waiting in line for hours to book an appointment. Hora Salud may also be used in tandem with other markets to spread relevant information including weather, national emergencies and public policies. Their mission is to “Improve the quality of people’s lives, optimize service delivery and decision making with reliable and quality data.” As one of many B Corporations, Hora Salud promotes healthy business practices and opportunities for rural Chilean people.
  3. BioCarbon Partners, Zambia
    B Impact Score: 177.3/200
    BioCarbon Partners (BCP) operates in and outside of Zambia to offset carbon emissions in the atmosphere by sponsoring payment for eco-friendly business operations. BCP is an African leader in the reforestation carbon offset program. With a mission to “Make conservation of wildlife habitat valuable to people,” BCP is cultivating an ecosystem that protects one of Africa’s largest migration sanctuaries. The company prioritizes community engagement and partnership to incentivize forest protection through long-term habitat protection agreements. BCP calculates the amount of carbon that is not released into the atmosphere due to its project and generates sales of these forest carbon offsets through independent external auditors. BCP then reinvests this revenue into conservation and development projects in local communities that rely on wildlife habitat for income. BCP has created 87 jobs for Zambians and continues to create opportunities for wildlife and humanity alike.
  4. Avante, Brazil
    B Impact Score: 136.1/200
    Avante is the largest benefactor of small businesses in Brazil with more than $200 million invested to serve “micro-companies” that are typically pushed out of the financial industry. Avante functions as a non-conventional financial technology service that uniquely combines credit, insurance and payments. It is currently the largest MFI in Brazil. Avante’s mission is to “humanize financial services,” through a combination of empowerment, ethical business practices and acknowledgment that small businesses are the foundation of a strong economy.
  5. Alma Natura, Spain
    B Impact Score: 153.8/200
    Alma Natura established B Corporation status in 2013 to give back to the Sierra de Huelva community of Spain. The first institution of the business began as a nonprofit. It eventually evolved into a limited partnership as Alma Natura continued to invest in rural businesses, guiding them towards a more sustainable and ethical future. With their increased profits, Alma Natura gave back by funding education, technological development and sanitation, ensuring financial equality and sustainable practices in towns with less government funding. Not only has Alma Natura functioned as a business consultant to guide rural communities towards a more equitable economic future, but their commitment to preserving the planet and providing care and education to disadvantaged agricultural centers places their ranking high among businesses that take responsibility for the betterment of humanity.

Natalie Williams
Photo: Pixabay

Nicaragua, although having made tremendous progress in recent years, is still one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America. According to the World Bank, 24.9% of Nicaraguans lived in poverty as of 2016. Of those people, 200,000 lived in extreme poverty making less than $1.90 a day. As a result of poverty and harsh climate conditions, hunger in Nicaragua is a prominent issue. Even though approximately 70% of the population works in agriculture, 300,000 people still require food aid. Located in what’s known as the Dry Corridor, Nicaragua faces erratic weather patterns prone to climate shocks that are consistent threats to stable food production. However, in spite of the unfavorable conditions, many organizations and programs are on the ground working to fight hunger in Nicaragua.

5 Initiatives to Fight Hunger in Nicaragua

  1. The World Food Program (WFP) offers various programs and services to alleviate hunger in Nicaragua. Since 1971, WFP has implemented strategies to improve food security. By supporting the National School Meal Program, the organization helped provide meals to more than 182,000 schoolchildren in April of 2020. Following a five-year plan that spans from 2019 to 2023, WFP aims to find long-term solutions to hunger in Nicaragua. Along with direct food assistance, WFP promotes creating efficient and sustainable agricultural practices by providing technical assistance in implementing weather-resilient farming methods, improving degraded ecosystems and developing technology for accurate climate information.
  2. The organization Food for the Hungry believes that chickens can be a catalyst for solving hunger. Food for the Hungry stated that chickens rank close to the top of its annual gift catalog because of their uses in decreasing hunger. The nonprofit sponsored a program in El Porvenir, Nicaragua called “Happy Chicks”. This initiative taught the locals skills related to running a poultry farm, which is a creative and sustainable way to provide daily meals to the community and, especially, children. These skills help communities learn to operate self-sufficiently.
  3. Indigenous women have a history of banding together to develop more sustainable agricultural practices. Slow Food is an organization that values the protection of food culture and understands the importance of responsible food production. The organization partnered with communities of indigenous women in Nicaragua to encourage cooperation in improving the quality of agricultural systems. Women in the organization shared ideas about planting and harvesting crops, while also promoting economic autonomy through marketing and commercializing excess products.
  4. The Caribbean Coast Food Security Project (PAIPSAN) is collaborating with communities on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua to fight hunger. The organization provides assistance to those who would normally not have access to adequate technology or resources to engage in sustainable agricultural practices. PAIPSAN encourages farmers to utilize climate-resistant seeds and organic fertilizers, while also promoting innovative and environmentally friendly pest and disease control practices. The program also provides educational services to increase awareness of improving nutrition.
  5. Food assistance programs are a popular way of directly fighting hunger in Nicaragua. Food assistance programs generally provide a stable source of food for those in need. Hope Road Nicaragua works alongside other organizations, such as the Orphan Network and Rise Against Hunger, to provide 3,000 children with meals that include vitamin-dense rice and soy packs, beans, vegetables, chicken and tortillas.  The Rainbow Network is another food assistance program. It has set up 489 feeding centers, reaching approximately 13,581 people. The Rainbow Network also works with The American Nicaraguan Foundation to train community members on how to cook and operate the feeding centers. The American Nicaraguan Foundation itself is an organization that has provided more than 297.3 million meals to Nicaragua’s most vulnerable in the past 25 years. Along with its network of more than 700 partners, the foundation coordinates a variety of programs and allocates resources dedicated to poverty relief.

Nicaragua has made progress in recent years. However, vulnerable groups still need assistance with fighting hunger, a direct result of poverty in the country. In order to address this, many organizations are working to foster the idea of food sovereignty and fight hunger in Nicaragua. 

Melanie McCrackin
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in NicaraguaNicaragua, a Central American nation between the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, has a population of more than 6 million. Unfortunately, homelessness is a current struggle in the country. The homeless are known as some of the most marginalized groups in Nicaragua, and the population of homelessness is only increasing. Currently, around “30% of the population lives on about$2 per day.” As Nicaragua lacks the key characteristics of a well-developed country, a correlative relationship between development and homelessness. Here are four facts about homelessness in Nicaragua.

4 Facts about Homelessness in Nicaragua

  1. A strong factor in homelessness is mental illness. Compared to the general population, the homeless population has a more difficult time seeking help and beneficial resources because of the prevalence of mental illness. Recent studies state that reports of mental illnesses are increasing. The main cause is a combination of economic problems and the difficulty of social interactions, especially with family members.
  2. With such a high percentage of people living in poverty, there are very limited opportunities for education and development. Families often operate farms for healthy crops, but they struggle to make a comfortable living. For some who don’t make a successful living growing crops, it may lead to homelessness. The Opportunity International Program has helped improve Nicaragua’s agriculture with “loans and technical assistance” with higher-quality crops. Crop growth has increased by 30%. The organization also fights homelessness in Nicaragua by giving the children of struggling families opportunities to receive an education. Opportunity International has partnered with more than 20 leaders to help downsize the number of homeless Nicaraguans struggling to make good livelihoods.
  3. Natural disasters in Nicaragua are major contributors to homelessness. Since the 2007 Hurricane Felix, as well as the prior and subsequent weeks of heavy rain, rural parts of Nicaragua are still struggling to recover. This has left a total of 436,000 homeless. The storm also destroyed large amounts of agricultural land and forests, further devastating the livelihoods of those with farms. International responses have been actively sending aid to the least developed areas of the country as well as where homelessness is most prevalent.
  4. Social organizations and students have volunteered for years to aid poor, homeless communities in Nicaragua. Habitat For Humanity has been working in poor rural areas since 1984. It continues to mobilize volunteers to take action in Nicaragua’s homeless communities by building small homes. It has helped supply 91,900 people in need throughout the country. To ameliorate the homeless problem, the organization estimates that Nicaragua still needs an additional 957,000 in housing improvements and new home construction projects. Habitat For Humanity continues to mobilize students to take action in Nicaragua’s homelessness starting by helping build small homes.

These points mark four facts about homelessness in Nicaragua. There is a strong need for economic improvements in order to reduce the homeless population. The first step is creating more homes for families to stay in and improving the current homes with more available resources. Furthermore, improvements in crop production can help families in agriculture earn a sustainable living.

Rachel Hernandez
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Healthcare in NicaraguaNicaragua is a developing country in Latin America. After the successful expulsion of Spanish imperialists in 1821, the country began the arduous task of nation building. Domestic conflict and foreign intervention, however, has long inhibited its growth. Such obstacles have severely impaired the development of crucial institutions, including healthcare in Nicaragua.

The Rise and Fall of Socialism in Nicaragua

For decades, conflict and political disorganization have stunted the development of healthcare in Nicaragua. After the overthrow of dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, the installation of a revolutionary left-wing regime, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), gave Nicaraguans hope for social and economic advances.

Yet civil war, along with U.S. anti-socialist intervention, forced a weakening FSLN to neglect the development of necessary social programs in favor of national defense. After years of conflict, the FSLN finally lost power in 1990.

Healthcare in Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan healthcare system fell victim to this political instability. Preoccupied with bolstering the regime against its political opponents, the FSLN failed to bring their plans for universal healthcare to fruition. Instead, later regimes erected a fragmented, underdeveloped system that has left thousands of citizens without regular access to care.

Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health (MINSA) directs the country’s public health system through its regulation and provision of patient care. Under MINSA, Local Comprehensive Health Care Systems (SILAIS) lead health facilities such as departmental hospitals. SILAIS also oversees healthcare on the municipal level, which includes health centers and health posts. These public facilities provide affordable services to patients, including free emergency care.

Despite this sturdy framework, healthcare in Nicaragua faces significant challenges. Health education is shockingly low. Doctors and hospitals are in short supply. Millions lack any form of health insurance.

Moreover, public health services are disproportionately distributed. The rural Caribbean region of the country, home to roughly 40% of the population, is severely underserved. In 2011, only three of Nicaragua’s 32 public hospitals were located in the Caribbean region, an area that accounts for 55% of the country’s territory.

Without incentive for medical professionals to practice in remote areas, governmental neglect compounds the health issues of rural populations. In 2011, PATH, a nonprofit committed to health equity, reported these striking figures on rural populations’ health:

  • 70% of maternity-related deaths occurred in rural regions

  • 39.6% of children in rural areas were malnourished

  • Treatable diseases such as pneumonia posed a serious threat to children living in rural areas

Worse still, 35% of rural health facilities in 2011 lacked a reliable electricity source, making it more difficult for medical workers to treat these conditions.

Brigadistas, Midwives and Voluntary Collaborators

Nicaragua’s community-based health network addresses this rural health crisis. Comprising over 4,000 in-home health facilities, this immense network of clinics is staffed entirely by volunteers, ‘brigadistas,’ midwives and volunteers.

MINSA trained these 26,000 “brigadistas,” midwives and voluntary collaborators to offer vital care to rural populations without pay. Brigadistas’ roles include identifying pregnancy and malnutrition, referring patients to local health centers and providing health education to the public. Additionally, midwives’ work in child delivery and family planning helps to alleviate Nicaragua’s severe maternal health crisis. Finally, voluntary collaborators administer malaria tests and medication to monitor and reduce its spread.

Impact

In a country laden with poverty, the community-based health network has found an innovative way to enhance healthcare in Nicaragua. Though much progress remains to be made, the incorporation of volunteers into the healthcare system ensures rural communities receive basic medical attention without wasting resources on sparsely populated areas.

As COVID-19 has hit Nicaragua, these individuals have become more essential than ever. The Nicaraguan government, led by Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, has understated the severity of the virus and continuously reported unrealistically low case numbers. When hundreds of doctors decried their lax response, Ortega’s government fired 25 of the whistleblowers, even as suspected cases among healthcare workers rose.

In the absence of a government-led COVID-19 response, thousands of volunteers have taken the lead in raising awareness and stopping the spread. In the course of the outbreak, brigadistas have completed 4.6 million home visits to educate the public about the virus. Such massive displays of proactivity and community action can be the difference between 1 million cases and 10,000.

Years of political instability and misaligned priorities have delayed the development of adequate healthcare in Nicaragua. Despite such disadvantages, however, the community-based healthcare system has begun to correct the gaping inequalities in the healthcare system. Its volunteers, through their service to rural populations, exhibit true, unbridled compassion.

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is one of the poorest nations in the continental Americas. With a population of 6.5 million, the country’s chronic cycle of poverty is linked to consistent political instability and conflict, high inequality between urban and rural populations, dependency on agricultural exports and natural disasters. Nicaragua’s unusual response to COVID-19 — which has entailed no formal quarantine measures and an underreporting of infections — will surely impact its level of poverty as well. Here are five causes of poverty in Nicaragua.

5 Causes of Poverty in Nicaragua

  1. Political Instability and Conflict: Since the turn of the 20th century, Nicaragua has experienced three authoritarian dictatorships, a period of U.S. occupation, a revolution and civil war. The Somoza family dictatorship — which lasted for 43 years, from 1936 to 1979 — created extreme economic inequality. The 1979 Sandinista revolution usurped power from the Somoza family; however, the revolution was short-lived, as a counter-revolution began shortly afterward. That counter-revolution lasted until 1990 and severely ravaged the country. Nowadays, Nicaragua is again experiencing authoritarian rule and state violence under President Daniel Ortega. Initially, Ortega’s government implemented social welfare programs that greatly reduced poverty. The government also created a fruitful business environment that led to high economic growth. However, protests in 2018 prompted a violent response from the government, leading to continued political unrest and economic recession. Nicaragua’s economy shrunk by 4% and 3.9% in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, experts believe that the economy could contract by 4.3%.
  2. Urban vs. Rural Divide: There is a significant difference between life in Nicaragua’s cities and in rural areas. Overall, 30% of Nicaraguans live in poverty and 8% live in extreme poverty. However, 50% of the population in rural areas live below the poverty line, and 11.5% live in extreme poverty. This inequality manifests not only in GDP per capita but also in access to resources such as water, electricity, telephone, mobile phone service and paved roads.
  3. Dependency on Agricultural Exports: Historically, many economies in Latin America and the global south have geared toward exporting agricultural goods to industrialized countries. Such economies tend to be entirely dependent on one or two crops. Nicaragua is no exception — coffee and cotton have been the country’s principal cash crops. Today, 70% of the Nicaraguan population still works in agriculture. Although agriculture accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP, food insecurity is high, which signals that the country still exports a large proportion of crops. Certain NGOs, such as EcoAgriculture Partners and Self-Help International, work to help alleviate food insecurity and other problems that result from the agricultural system in Nicaragua.
  4. Natural Disasters: Nicaragua’s topography includes many lakes and volcanoes. Situated along the Caribbean Sea, the country is highly susceptible to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and drought. In April 2014, Nicaragua suffered from two earthquakes in two days, hitting Managua and Granada and measuring 6.1 and 6.6 in magnitude, respectively. Natural disasters have repeatedly infringed on the development and maintenance of the country’s infrastructure.
  5. COVID-19 and Future Predictions: As in other countries, experts expect that the COVID-19 pandemic could increase poverty levels in Nicaragua. Nicaragua’s government has not implemented any social distancing measures. In fact, it has done the opposite, keeping schools open and promoting social gatherings like sporting events and beach activities. The pandemic has already reduced remittances, trade and tourism. On top of Nicaragua’s political situation, the pandemic also greatly increases the risk for investment in the country.

While these five causes of poverty in Nicaragua determine that poverty and inequality could increase in upcoming years due to COVID-19 and political turmoil, the people of Nicaragua should still have hope. The country experienced great success in slashing poverty from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s. In 2005, 48.3% of the population lived below the poverty line, with 17.2% living in extreme poverty. Those percentages have since decreased by 18 and nine points, respectively, thanks to the current government’s investment in social welfare programs. These programs include Hambre Cero, which offers plants and animals to women heads-of-household; Usura Cero, which provides women micro-loans; Plan Techo, which provides roofing materials for families in need; and Agua Segura, which provides clean water. In addition, NGOs such as Self-Help International are working to advance agriculture, feed children, empower women and provide community nutrition for the people of Nicaragua.

Tirza Morales
Photo: Flickr

Women-Owned BusinessesNonprofit organization Mary’s Pence is working towards a world of empowered women making changes in their communities. To get there, Mary’s Pence partners with grassroots organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Central America to provide funding and development programs for women-owned businesses.

Executive director Katherine Wojtan believes Mary’s Pence is different from other nonprofits because the organization not only cares for the individual women, but also oversees the sustainment of their small businesses. Mary’s Pence also values the idea of “accompaniment,” explained by Wojtan as utilizing the abilities of everyone to accomplish a long-term shared vision. This concept is applied to the organization’s execution of both the programs in the states and in Central America, focusing on improving the whole rather than the individual.

ESPERA

The program in Central America called ESPERA, or Economical Systems Providing Equitable Resources for All, was created almost 12 years ago. “Espera” is the Spanish word for hope, a fitting name for the life-changing program working with women in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“This is very intentional, it is not about making individual women rich, but about ensuring all women have access to resources and skills to make their way in the world and earn what they need for a good life,” Wojtan said.

ESPERA aids women who were victims of domestic or gang violence or are single mothers struggling to make ends meet. By giving grants to grassroots organizations in struggling communities, Mary’s Pence creates community-lending pools which women can take loans from to start local women-owned businesses that generate income. To ensure success, the staff of Mary’s Pence teach the community loan management and help elect leaders to track the lending.

Gilda Larios, ESPERA team lead, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and worked with Central American refugees before starting work with Mary’s Pence. ESPERA funding gives back to the whole community, not just the women receiving aid. Instead of focusing on building credit, women realize the importance of circulating money and products.

“Their confidence grew – first they asked for a very small loan, and over time they asked for larger loans and grew their businesses,” Larios told The Borgen Project. “With their strength, they are role models for new leadership in the community.”

ESPERA and COVID-19

ESPERA has helped develop many small women-owned businesses that create jobs for their communities and generate income for struggling women. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put many of these businesses at risk as workers feared for their lives, but the ESPERA team responded fast, changing their focus from long-term development to responding immediately to the needs of the women.

As some women panicked about their businesses and the effects of the pandemic, the ESPERA team responded with a 12-week emotional wellness series, delivered via WhatsApp, and supported stores so they could keep reasonable prices for the communities. For women in the midst of paying back loans to the community-lending pool, their status is put on hold until they have the income to continue their payment.

Despite the support network ESPERA provides, the pandemic revealed some gaps in the system. It was challenging to ensure the safety of women experiencing domestic violence. The lack of access to phones and the internet made communication between communities and ESPERA leaders challenging. However, this time of crisis also brought the communities closer and proved the importance of working together through local businesses.

In her interview with The Borgen Project, Larios told of a woman named Aminta, who is in the ESPERA program in San Salvador, El Salvador. She transitioned from working in a “maquila,” or factory, to starting her own business sewing uniforms for local sports teams. During COVID-19, she also began sewing masks to help keep her community healthy. Success stories of women-owned businesses like this one propel communities into further financial security and empower other women to do the same.

Confidence and Creating Futures

Above all, ESPERA and Mary’s Pence hope to give women confidence in their own abilities to create the future they want for themselves and for their families. For Larios, the most rewarding part of working with ESPERA women is the “feeling of satisfaction and joy to see them embrace their possibilities and capacities that before they thought they didn’t have.”

Through ESPERA and their role in the creation of women-owned businesses, Mary’s Pence continues to change women’s lives by showing them the power they already had within themselves.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Google Images