Surfing and Tourism Aids Communities in Peru and Nicaragua
WAVES for Development International, founded toward the end of 2004, is a nonprofit organization based in Peru whose mission is to connect tourists and surfers to volunteer opportunities and grassroots initiatives to effectively work together in communities in both Peru and Nicaragua.

One of WAVES commanding principles is to inspire world travel and cultural exchange through surfing as well as spreading social entrepreneurship, healthy living and life skills. WAVES stands for water, adventure, voluntourism, education and sustainability, which encompasses the organization’s five pillars of beliefs and goals.

Water and adventure are associated with the thrill of surfing, something the members of WAVES for Development International live their lives doing. The made up word, voluntourism, captures their goal of connecting tourists with volunteer opportunities to give back to the communities they visit.

These volunteer activities assist locals with education and sustainability, two concepts the organization believes are needed for places to thrive. With the belief that education is highly important in poorer communities, WAVES uses natural and local resources to help developing communities educate their youth and empower them to create bigger and better things.

Another belief they act upon is there are four main aspects to sustainability; ecological, economic, social and political. WAVES’ projects work to assist communities in environmental conservation, safe economic and political practices and to bring the community together as a whole to help with the projects and celebrate their culture.

WAVES connects tourists with volunteer activities in three different categories; surf voluntourism, which allows people to volunteer in surfing communities in Peru and Nicaragua, advocacy and education, where volunteers assist with educating youth to become effective leaders and network of partnerships, in which the volunteerism focuses on the overall convergence of people and organizations who work together to make the world a better place.

The WAVES team consists of volunteers from all over the world, including Spain, South America, Africa and the United States. Team members have come together to assist developing communities in Peru in an effort to bring a new force of individuals to the world.

While the organization was created in Peru and primarily helps communities there and in Nicaragua, WAVES for Development International has recently teamed up with members in and around Montreux, Switzerland to form WAVES Peru and WAVES Switzerland, allowing the two to reach a wider audience and give back to more communities through their shared love of surfing.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: WAVES, Volunteer Match, Great Nonprofits
Photo: Flickr

Bike_to_GrowMay 15, 2015 was a big day for Sarah French and Mary Fehr. It was the day they began their fundraising campaign called Bike to Grow, in which both undertook an 8,710-kilometer trek across Canada.

Former interns at the Mennonite Economic Development Associations, or MEDA, French and Fehr were both inspired by their experiences and have since topped $100,000 in their crowdfunding campaign approaching Ontario. “Complete strangers have opened their homes, hearts and wallets to provide a place to sleep, a complimentary meal or a friendly face in unfamiliar places,” said French. “We’ve met so many people who are inspired by our efforts and MEDA’s work. Mary and I in turn are equally touched by their generosity and kindness.”

During their internships with MEDA, both saw poverty firsthand, witnessing it in Nicaragua and even experiencing it for themselves in Tanzania. One issue that stuck out to them was the inequality that female workers faced. In both Nicaragua and Tanzania, many women worked to help support their families, but they either couldn’t contribute as much as men could or they were single parents, among other situations. French and Fehr saw an opportunity to help change that with a project called GROW, which stands for “Greater Rural Opportunities for Women.”

In order to help families grow, each member who is contributing financially should be able to reap fair benefits, no matter the gender. Check out to donate and find out more information about Bike to Grow. The journey ends September 1, 2015 in Newfoundland.

Anna Brailow

Sources: MEDA 1, MEDA 2, Upbeat
Photo: Lsuag Center

Roberto Clemente Santa Ana Clinic in Nicaragua-TBP
The Roberto Clemente Santa Ana Clinic works to provide access to primary healthcare to individuals living in rural areas in Nicaragua. This includes providing doctor care seven days a week, dental care one day a week, vaccinations, Vitamin A supplements, referrals to the hospital, deworming in local schools and health education for the local community.

Located in south west Nicaragua, the clinic focuses on tending to patients in isolated communities. Their mission is to help villagers gain access to primary and emergency health care in Limon I and Limon II, Nicaragua. The clinic is named after Roberto Clemente, a baseball player for the Pittsburg Pirates from 1955 to 1972 who died in a plane crash while providing aid to victims of a massive Earthquake in Nicaragua.

Researchers at the clinic have found Nicaragua to be the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. This prevents many residents from receiving the medical treatment they need because many of them cannot afford it or don’t have access to medical facilities.

The clinic was launched in 2004 in collaboration with the Pittsburg Rotary Club and the Oxford Club. The facility is located in Limon and covers 2,750 square feet. It is staffed by medical professionals who have been accredited by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health.

Each year, the Roberto Clemente Santa Ana Clinic services over 12,000 people in Limon, Nicaragua and the 27 surrounding communities in general and emergency care, minor surgery, dentistry and lab work and also provides locals with a fully stocked pharmacy.

The clinic has worked on three major projects as well as a volunteer program since its creation. One of their projects, the Water Treatment Project, is working to improve water for Nicaraguans living in underdeveloped regions. Contaminated water can cause severe illnesses like diarrhea, typhoid and cholera which can lead to birth defects and even death. The clinic developed water filtration system to use as a prototype in Limon.

Families will be able to use system to refill canteens and use at home for a discounted price. The system allows the team to distribute five gallons at a time, which they have determined to serve the average family for two to three days. They initiated the pilot program for the Water Treatment Project in April and have estimated they will benefit 300 families per month during the trial with an estimated 22,500 gallons served in total.

Their second project, Organic Gardening in Nicaragua, was established to increase the production of nutritional food and help with soil sustainability. Staff at the clinic have noticed many Nicaraguans living the Limon area consume lots of starches and salts resulting in many cases of Vitamin A deficiency and anemia.

The last project involves expanding the clinic itself. With this expansion, they hope to provide new surgery rooms, backup energy and an open classroom for trainings and meetings.

– Julia Hettiger

Sources: Nica Clinic, LinkedIn, Idealist, Give Well
Photo: Nica Clinic

Even though it is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua’s green energy production is recreating the country as a regional leader. Nicaragua has quickly gone from being one of the most fossil fuel-dependent countries in the world to one of the least.

Since it has no fossil fuel reserves, Nicaragua used to have to import all of its energy resources. The lack of sufficient facilities to convert fossil fuels into electricity led to frequent and prolonged blackouts. That started to change in 2006, when rising oil prices placed a serious strain on the country’s economy. To combat the energy crisis, the government decided to make use of its natural energy resources.

Nicaragua has windy shores, rivers, waterways and numerous volcanoes which provide it with a wide array of resources to produce wind, hydro and geothermal energy. Since 2006, 1.5 billion dollars have been invested in clean and renewable energy. It now produces nearly 60 percent of its energy from renewable resources but has only tapped five percent of its clean energy potential.

The government is aiming to attract 4 billion dollars more in investment to tap more of its renewable energy resources. It is working on building solar plants to tap its solar energy potential. It is also working hard to make use of its geothermal energy potential, which is currently its biggest source of clean energy, followed closely by wind power.

Nicaragua is thought to have the highest levels of geothermal energy in Central America, being one of the most geologically active regions in the world. The Polaris geothermal plant is one of Nicaragua’s biggest energy projects. It is being built at the foot of an active volcano, and by the time it is finished, it is expected to produce 20 percent of the country’s electricity.

Government officials expect renewable resources to account for 80 percent of Nicaragua’s green energy production within a few years, and they are aiming for 90 percent by 2027. Many expect this target will be reached well before then. Nicaragua also has plans to export clean electricity to neighboring countries.

This could become an important source of revenue, through which clean energy could become a major economic industry for Nicaragua. Clean energy projects create more job opportunities, which is something the country needs. As the world drains its oil reserves, more countries are likely to look to clean energy producers like Nicaragua, which could become one of the world’s top suppliers of energy in the future.

Matt Lesso

Sources: NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, The World Bank
Photo: Seeking Santosha

nicaragua canal
Last year, Nicaragua awarded a Chinese firm a 100-year concession to construct a channel to rival the Panama Canal. Construction for the proposed 178-mile waterway is expected to begin in December, with $50 billion in funding from the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company, or HKND.

However, Danish NGO Forests of the World has criticized both the Nicaraguan government and the HKND for failing to involve the indigenous residents of the region in the planning process, especially considering in the devastation of the forests and in the mass displacement the project will cause.

According to Forests of the World, the proposed canal will fragment the Rama and Kriol territory, dividing the region into two parts, and will plough through two UNESCO biosphere reserves that include a number of endangered species, including jaguars, great green macaws, tapirs and sea turtles.

Claus Kjaerby, the Central American representative for Forests of the World, has stated that the canal will cause negative impacts on “protected wetlands vital to migratory birds, the Central American biological corridor, destruction of freshwater habitat, deterioration of drinking water reserves and the inevitable pollution of Lake Nicaragua.”

Environmentalists are particularly worried about the traffic that the canal could inevitably bring to Lake Cocibolca. As the largest body of freshwater in Central America, Lake Cocibolca is at high risk of salinization as well as the added maintenance of disposing of excavated dirt. Moreover, the potential seismic activity from nearby active volcanoes is a further concern for the canal.

In addition to hundreds of Nicaraguan farmers protesting the construction, Nicaragua’s indigenous groups have contacted the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights for legal advice, arguing that they will be forced to relocate with little support from the government, which violates Nicaraguan law and international labor standards.

The Nicaraguan government stated that while it did inform the indigenous people of the canal, it did not have any formal discussion regarding the project. The company managing the canal, the Great Inter-Oceanic Canal Commission, has said it would provide landowners with fair compensation.

The government has also alleged that businesses and political leaders considered five different routes before settling on the current route, which they consider to be the least damaging route. Paul Oquist Kelley, executive secretary of the Nicaraguan Grand Canal Commission, stated that the route, despite it not being the cheapest option, was chosen because the path has the lowest environmental and social cost.

The NGO has urged Danish firm Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, to influence the canal construction to prevent environmental damage and protect indigenous rights.

On the other hand, President Daniel Ortega has indicated that the project would provide enough work to help alleviate poverty in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where poverty affects more than half of the population.

The Panama Canal generates approximately $1 billion in revenue annually to Panama, and a Nicaraguan Canal could generate a similar stream of revenue.

A Nicaraguan Canal would also have several benefits comparable to the Panama Canal, such as in reducing the length of trips. For example, a journey from Los Angeles to New York would have approximately 800 km less to travel. The canal would also be able to accommodate ships up to 250,000 tons, more than double the freight limit of the Panama Canal.

Nonetheless, the lack of discourse between the government and the indigenous people residing in the proposed canal land reveals a troubling lack of transparency and agreement regarding the project.

– William Ying

Sources: The Guardian, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3, Verdens Skove, Tico Times, Journal of Commerce, LA Times
Photo: Flickr

High School in Nicaragua
In order to eliminate poverty, the impoverished must be educated. This is the philosophy practiced by Margaret Gullette, co-founder of the Free High School for Adults in Nicaragua. 12 years ago, Margaret, who resides in Newton, Massachusetts and is a resident scholar at Brandeis University, was volunteering in Nicaragua through the Newton-San Juan del Sur Sister City Project when she and another woman, Rosa Elena Bello, decided they wanted to start a literacy program.

“It’s a great story,” Margaret said as she recalled the details. “Rosa was working in a clinic for women and children, and infant mortality rate was not improving.” The two women believed that it would never improve without literacy. It is not enough just to donate money; the people must be educated.

In Nicaragua, one out of 10 people are illiterate, and this figure is even higher among women. The average Nicaraguan has less than five years of schooling and only 29 percent of children complete primary school. Much of this can be attributed to the poverty cycle. Until 1979 a dictator ruled Nicaragua, and dictators rely on ignorance to control the masses.  “Poverty and ignorance should always be put together,” Margaret explained. Because many adults who lived under that dictator’s rule and did not receive an education themselves, not only do they not have enough money to pay for school supplies and uniforms, but they often do not value education.

In order to begin the literacy program, Margaret applied for funding to 25 different grants. She received 24 rejections, but the one acceptance was all the two women needed. At first it was difficult to get Nicaraguan women involved in the program because their lives revolved around housework and children, but in the first three years nearly 300 women received certificates for the completion of sixth grade.

High school in Nicaragua runs from grade 7 to 11, so after the success with the sixth grade program, the next logical step was to continue the women’s education into high school. Once again Margaret found funding in America, and the following year (2002) a free high school for adults opened. 12 people graduated that year and the number has been growing ever since. The high school currently has 800 students and 616 graduates.

Eventually the Nicaraguan government took over the building of the schools, and the 12 communities that have these high schools have better overall health and fewer unwanted pregnancies. What makes the Free High School Program unique is the teaching model adopted by Margaret and Rosa. The schools use feminist textbooks and a modified version of twentieth century educator Paolo Freire’s teaching method.

Freire believed that education was vital to the liberation of the oppressed and did not support the method of teaching in which students are simply empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. For basic literacy, Freire believed in teaching language that is meaningful to people’s lives. He did not have a program for women, so Margaret and Rosa adapted his method to teach the women in Nicaragua. The first word the women learn is “fetus,” which Margaret says is a word every woman should know.

The Free High School program has continued to grow with a technical high school that opened in 2006 in which students can specialize in one of three fields: Management of Tourist and Hotel Enterprises, Accounting and Civil Construction. A number of graduates from both the Free High School and the Technical School have gone on to receive university degrees and other accomplishments.

Margaret believes that “there is always something to do in Nicaragua,” pointing to her husband David’s bio-sand filter project for contaminated water as an example. The next steps in the Free High School project are to buy new textbooks and construct an office building for the organization in Nicaragua. Go here ( to learn more about the various Newton-San Juan del Sur Sister City projects, including the Free High School.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: San Juan del Sur Sister City Project, Bless the Children, Interview with Margaret Gullette
Photo: The Random Act

amped for education
Since discovering the need for functional schools in Nicaragua, Jeff Pluta has been inspired to combine his love for education and desire to impact the developing world.

In 2009, Pluta started “Amped for Education,” a volunteer organization based in Massachusetts that works with Nicaraguan communities to facilitate the continuation of education beyond the primary level. Five years later, Amped for Education has completed and is working on various projects to improve education in Nicaragua.

Where does “Amped for Education” get its name? Aside from being a catchy tagline, “amped” is a play on words according to Pluta.

In Spanish, “ampliar” is a word meaning “to expand.” Pluta’s organization does just that; it expands educational opportunities in Nicaraguan villages. “Amped” implies the organization’s mission and the founder’s excitement for the projects.

Amped for Education aims to eradicate poverty in Nicaragua through education. Like many other organizations of its kind, Amped believes that education provides people with the tools needed to improve sustainability, create a more competitive job market and integrate into the global economy.

Education to do all of these things cannot happen at the primary level, though.

In Nicaragua, students are required to attend six years of school only. In other words, students only have to complete primary education. Amped for Education’s programs make secondary and tertiary education more enticing to citizens of rural Nicaraguan villages so that they will learn the material necessary to lift themselves out of poverty.

There are several ways to contribute to Amped for Education’s cause. The website includes a link to sponsor a Nicaraguan student.

Many students cannot attend school in Nicaragua because they cannot afford essentials such as backpacks, supplies, uniforms and books. By donating $185 per year, sponsors can send a child in Nicaragua to school with these essentials and dental and eye examinations as well.

Amped for Education asks sponsors to commit to five years of donations so that they can send the same student through the full five years of secondary education. In return, donators receive updates about their students’ grades, photos and letters. Sponsors also have the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua with one of the organization’s service trips to meet their individual students.

Teachers in the United States can donate without having to give any money. The website also provides a link for high school teachers to create lesson plans for teachers in the Nicaraguan schools to use. Because many of the teachers do not have the same degree of training as teachers in the United States need, the lesson plans are very helpful for the secondary schools in Nicaraguan villages.

Amped for Education leads service trips for volunteers to travel to Nicaragua to complete projects and meet the community members. The organization realizes how important tourism is to the Nicaraguan economy and, therefore, attempts to combine tourism with volunteer opportunities. Volunteers may help build secondary schools, create roadways to make the schools more accessible and experience the more typical tourist attractions in Nicaragua.

Pluta is a full-time high school teacher and baseball coach in Massachusetts. As a result, a good number of volunteer trip participants are students from his school. In July, students from his school and surrounding schools traveled to Nicaragua to build houses and play baseball with locals. The students learned from observing the severity of the poverty levels in Nicaragua and carried their knowledge and experiences back to Massachusetts.

The next baseball and volunteering combined experience will take place in February of 2015. Participants will build a new learning center with Amped for Education and play games against teams from Granada and the Corn Islands.

The Nicaraguan educational system has great potential, but it needs support to make the most of that potential. Organizations like Amped for Education can provide necessary support to rural areas of Nicaragua while raising awareness within the United States.

Emily Walthouse

Sources: Amped for Education 1, Amped for Education 2, MassLive, WGBY
Photo: MassLive

food crisis
Some of the Pacific Ocean is warmer than usual – a seemingly innocuous fact, but it actually explains the devastating drought afflicting one of the world’s poorest countries. Because of El Niño, the name for the sporadic increase in temperature in this band of ocean water near the Pacific coast of South America, some regions in Nicaragua have seen little rain during the past several months and the May harvest has failed, resulting in a food crisis. The citizenry is now calling on President Daniel Ortega to implement policies to compensate for rising food prices.

As El Niño develops from June to August and the waters of the equatorial Pacific warm, the Nicaraguan climate becomes warm and dry. This year, the country’s western and central areas have been extremely dry. According to the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies, rainfall in some of these areas has been as much as 88 percent lower than average. One farmer described the amount of rain he has seen over the past few months as “not enough to really even wet the earth.”

As a result, both the bean and maize crops failed in May. Approximately eight out of every ten rural inhabitants depend on these crops for their livelihoods, according to New Agriculturist. Many are asking how Nicaragua, where roughly 1.2 million people were undernourished in 2012, will find a way to feed the second poorest population in Latin America, especially with food prices on the rise.

Dairy and beef producers have warned the government that their production could fall by 50 percent if the drought continues into September. Livestock owners have adjusted by purchasing expensive feed and medicine that they hope will save as many cattle as possible. They pass their increased costs of production on to consumers. And despite these measures, cattle are still dying in droves. More than one thousand cattle have starved to death, according to one agricultural union.

Nicaraguans facing this food crisis are demanding President Ortega act to mitigate it. Thus far, his administration has met with farmers to discuss their options, has expanded a government program that provides meals to thousands of families and has ordered the importation of millions of kilograms of beans and white maize, which will hopefully keep food prices from skyrocketing until the September harvest. In addition, millions of schoolchildren receive free meals consisting of “rice, beans, fortified cereals, wheat flour and vegetable oil” from the U.N. World Food Programme.

However, if the September harvest also fails, the country could face a famine. Farmers used their profits from last year to buy seed for May’s harvest, but now they must borrow money to buy the seed for September’s. If Nicaragua’s drought continues past September, many farmers fear they will have nothing left.

In June, the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) reported that there would be a 90 percent chance of El Niño occurring this summer. However, the Nicaraguan government could do little with that information because the ECMWF lacks the means to predict the phenomenon’s intensity.

It is also worth noting that El Niño’s effects have varied from country to country. Some farmers in other countries, such as mango farmers in Brazil, expect to benefit from the rains that El Niño brings to those regions. This one weather phenomenon brings prosperity to some and destitution to others.

– Ryan Yanke

Sources: New Agriculturist, IPS, World Food Programme, NOAA 1, NOAA 2, World Bank, Time, Fresh Fruit Portal
Photo: OrganicConsumers

sandinista revolution
On July 19, Nicaragua’s ruling FSLN party, led by President Daniel Ortega, gathered at Plaza La Fe in the capital city of Managua to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the successful Sandinista Revolution and the fall of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.

The Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front), or FSLN, is today the leading social democratic party in Nicaragua. The political body, however, has its roots in a military movement that surfaced in 1962 to overthrow U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza DeBayle.

The Sandinistas took their name from General Augusto C. Sandino, a national hero who led an army of farmers and workers against an armed U.S. intervention in the late 1920s and early 30s. Sandino’s forces were able to outlast the U.S. Marines, but the general was betrayed and killed soon after in what he hoped would be a peace negotiation with Anastacio Somoza García, the military strongman left in charge by the Marines and the father of Anastasio Somoza DeBayle.

The Sandinistas and the FSLN are part of the leftist, anti-imperialist front in Latin America, which includes the likes of Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba and Venezuela’s recently deceased Hugo Chavez. The Castro brothers sent their greetings to the Nicaraguan people on the revolution’s anniversary and lauded the country as “an irreversible stronghold of the anti-imperialist fight.”

Cuban Vice President Ramiro Valdes was present at the celebration in Managua, in the company of President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador and President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras. The Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu also attended the ceremony.

In a dramatic turn of events, the celebrations on July 19 ended in bloodshed as armed gangs claiming to be “contras,” the U.S. supported counterrevolutionary forces that took up arms against the Sandinista government after the 1979 revolution, ambushed bus caravans carrying party supporters home from the anniversary celebration.

Five people were killed and 25 wounded in two separate but seemingly coordinated attacks. FSLN officials have called the attacks “a terrorist act.” These troubling developments surrounding the Nicaraguan Revolution’s 35th anniversary reveal the heated political climate and rampant violence that still causes so much suffering in Nicaragua and throughout the Central American region.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, ViaNica, La Prensa, Escambray
Photo: Counter PsyOps