Causes of Poverty in NicaraguaNicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America, behind only Haiti. Recently, the World Bank cautioned that poverty is still rampant in Nicaragua and that it “is still one of the least developed nations in Latin America, a country where access to essential services is still a daily struggle.”

Indeed, as of 2014, the national poverty rate was at 29.6 percent. What’s more, though overall poverty in Nicaragua has dropped significantly in the past 12 years, extreme poverty (earning less than $1 a day) is reported to be on the rise, going from 7.6 to 9.5 percent between 2012 and 2013. What are the causes of poverty in Nicaragua? Why does an already struggling country only seem to be getting worse, according to international studies and statistics?

According to a survey cited by the Tico Times, one reason for recent rises in poverty could be lowered export prices on agricultural goods. Much of the country is dependent on temporary farm work and agricultural products such as coffee, and as prices dip, jobs are lost and people struggle to gain a foothold as labor opportunities become harder to find.

Another reason may be stagnant enrollment in education. UNICEF estimates that around 500,000 children between the ages of three and 17 are not enrolled in any formal education. To add to the problem, the number of school-aged children in Nicaragua is at roughly two million, equal to a third of the country’s total population.

However, the causes of poverty in Nicaragua are beginning to be addressed. According to the Tico Times, “the government earmarked $1.3 billion – more than half its official budget – to finance anti-poverty programs and free health and education services. Venezuelan aid also has helped fund programs for the distribution of roof sheeting, financial credits, low-cost housing and food packages for the poor.”

What’s more, the 2017 World Happiness Report noted that Nicaragua had made the largest gains in overall happiness out of 155 countries analyzed.

To trace all the causes of poverty in Nicaragua is a complicated job. As the government continues to fund anti-poverty programs and foreign aid continues to pour in, it seems Nicaragua is on the precipice of moving away from the abysmal poverty rate it now has.

It will take more than mere happiness to combat poverty, but the groundwork has been laid. As global poverty rates continue to fall and markets continue to rise, Nicaragua just may be able to pull itself out of poverty.

Joseph Dover

Photo: Google

The most common diseases in Nicaragua include bacterial diarrhea, Hepatitis A, typhoid fever, dengue fever and malaria. Recently, countries in this region of the world have also seen a rise in Zika transmission. Common diseases in Nicaragua are food and waterborne diseases and vector-borne diseases.

The food and waterborne diseases seen in Nicaragua are bacterial diarrhea, Hepatitis A, and Typhoid fever. These can be contracted by ingesting contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A attacks the liver, resulting in fever, jaundice and diarrhea. About 15 percent of infected individuals will have these symptoms for more than six months. Typhoid fever leads to extremely high fevers, and when left untreated it has a mortality rate of 20 percent.

Dengue fever and malaria are spread by vectors, just like the Zika virus. Dengue fever is transferred through mosquito bites and has a death rate of 5 percent caused by shock or hemorrhage. Malaria is also spread through mosquitoes.

The CDC is most concerned with the prevalence of the Zika virus, because of the lasting effects it has on a population. Although the virus does not usually lead to death, it is an issue for pregnant women, who transfer the disease to their unborn children. When infected, these children will suffer from a lack of development in their skulls, which will cause major problems throughout their lives.

The good news is that the common diseases in Nicaragua are fairly easy to prevent with vaccination and proper hygiene. By avoiding contact with animals and bodily fluids, as well as preventing the spread of germs, the likelihood of contracting these diseases lessens greatly.

Helen Barker

Photo: Flickr

Nicaragua is nestled between Honduras and Costa Rica, bordering the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Though it has abundant sources of fresh water, they are often difficult to access. According to WaterAid, an organization aimed at providing the world with safe drinking water, water quality in Nicaragua is poor and water is seldom considered safe to drink.

Of a population of nearly 6 million, about 800,000 Nicaraguans lack access to improved water sources. Furthermore, at least 100 children die annually from diseases such as diarrhea, which is largely caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation. Much of Nicaragua’s water is unsafe due to contamination from chemicals used in mining and agriculture.

Organizations such as WaterAid have been diligently working to provide Nicaraguans with safe drinking water. One of their methods is teaching locals how to install rope pumps, which are a simplified version of a water pump. WaterAid also teaches locals how to install toilets and rainwater catchment systems and how to drill and properly clean out wells. Their efforts have provided more than 2,000 Nicaraguans with safe drinking water.

An ambitious project, Water for Waslala, seeks to end the water crisis in Waslala, a region in Nicaragua. The nonprofit strives to educate communities in Waslala on how to build their own water systems. The inclusion of Waslalans into the process, and not simply U.S. volunteers, ensures that the systems can remain effective in the long term.

Water for Waslala also teams up with Villanova University to hold semi-annual workshops in Waslala to inform the locals about water system creation. In 2015 and 2016 their efforts have contributed to three water systems being built in Waslala, serving about 819 Waslalans. On top of this, about 2,115 Waslalans were given household filters to ensure safe household drinking water.

Water for Waslala hopes to reach its goal of providing all Waslalans with access to safe drinking water by 2030. In 2016, Water for Waslala joined WaterAid and has since partnered with El Porvenir, a nonprofit organization focused on serving Nicaraguans, to create the Agua Para Waslala Program Alliance.

Tremendous strides have been made towards improving the water quality in Nicaragua. Community collaboration, smart engineering and thoughtful individuals have made it all possible.

Rebeca Ilisoi

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Nicaragua
With about 29 percent of households living in poverty and 8.3 percent in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day, Nicaragua is considered one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Hunger in Nicaragua is just one of the major problems the country faces. Fortunately, organizations such as North Country Mission of Hope, World Food Program and Action Against Hunger have acted out of generosity, providing support and food assistance for areas suffering from chronic malnutrition.

  1. North Country Mission of Hope/Stop Hunger Now
    North Country Mission of Hope is a humanitarian organization specifically committed to aiding and building relationships with the people of Nicaragua, with 97 percent of profits going directly to services in the country. Likewise, Stop Hunger Now works to end world hunger by distributing meals through feeding programs operated by partner organizations in developing countries. Earlier this year, Stop Hunger Now teamed up with North Country Mission of Hope to ship 22,660 pounds of medical equipment, school supplies and food to Nicaragua.
  2. World Food Program (WFP)
    WFP has been fighting hunger in Nicaragua since 1971. The organization supports the government of Nicaragua’s Zero Hunger Program by working to prevent chronic malnutrition and improving the food security of smallholder farmers. Focusing on nutrition, WFP reaches out to vulnerable groups, including mothers and children, in communities like Madriz, which has a 30 percent rate of chronic malnutrition, and Nueva Segovia, which has a 28 percent rate. WFP’s school meals program also provides daily meals to needy children in preschools and primary schools.
  3. Action Against Hunger
    Action Against Hunger has been working in Nicaragua since 1996. In 2015, the organization provided nutritional support to 1,294 individuals, helped 6,181 gain access to safe water and assisted 21,193 in total. The organization emphasizes four main action steps that go into its aid process.

First, Action Against Hunger predicts where and when to expect malnutrition in order to target it effectively. Secondly, it recognizes that global hunger is preventable and encourages members to find ways to ensure that children stay healthy. Next, the organization utilizes available resources, particularly therapeutic ready-to-use foods. Finally, it maintains that anyone can get involved and make a difference. Just $45 can provide a child with life-saving treatment, adequate supplies and food for survival.

Though Nicaragua has encountered many struggles, the work of these global humanitarian groups is bringing hope to the country and its people.

Mikaela Frigillana
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Nicaragua
Ranked 125th out of 188 nations on the 2015 U.N.’s Human Development Index, Nicaragua is a low-income, food deficit country, with a per capita National Gross Income (NGI) of $980. Hunger in Nicaragua is among reasons to count the country as the second poorest nation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Hunger in Nicaragua has plagued the country resulting in its poverty rating. A study revealed by the World Food Program (WFP) shows that chronic undernutrition affects over 40 percent of children under five. The problem is most prominent in the departments of Madriz, Nueva Segovia and Jinotega; where between 28 percent and 29.5 percent of children aged under five are malnourished. Data also reveals that stunting among children aged under three in targeted areas is higher than global mean rates.

The World Food Program has been present in Nicaragua since 1971, supporting the Government of Nicaragua’s Zero Hunger Program and helping to build resilience in food-insecure households and strengthening food security nets.

The WFP provides nutritional support to vulnerable communities faced with hunger in Nicaragua. Families are given assistance through activities such as Food for Assets (FFA) and Food for Training (FFT). In addition, the National School Meals Program supports access to nutritional support with school gardens and a daily meal to pre- and primary school children in the most food insecure areas.

The WFP is collaborating with the Purchase for Progress initiative to grant the necessary resources to smallholder farmers. This impetus will create sustainable development by connecting them to and building networks with local markets. With agriculture being the primary economic activity in Nicaragua, the program is inclusive of 70 percent of the nation’s population and contributes to 20 percent of the country’s GDP.

Action Against Hunger has been involved since 1996. They have established programs focused on nutrition and food security to tackle hunger in Nicaragua and enhance social-net security throughout the country.

The Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) aims to assist some 132,000 people through Mother-and-Child care activities. Its goals include providing food assistance to vulnerable families affected by hunger and poverty.

The food-aid organization Kids Against Hunger works with and through local churches and organizations to provide meals to alleviate hunger in Nicaragua among vulnerable children. The Casper Packaging Event is a community effort with a goal of providing 200,000 meals annually.

The NICE Foundation is the partner organization with Kids Against Hunger that is responsible for the distribution of the packages. The organization exists to meet the long-term nutritional needs of Nicaraguans.

Strides are being made by organizations worldwide to battle the issue of hunger in Nicaragua. Although the economy has faced difficulty in the past in ensuring the stability of food security, there is hope that many faced with hardship and hunger will experience relief.

Shanique Wright

Photo: Flickr

Water and Sanitation for Nicaraguans










The Nicaraguan urban poor have a long-standing history of lacking access to basic services, such as water and sanitation. In the capital city, Managua, the Greater Managua Water and Sanitation Project (PRASMA) was devised to create new water and sanitation infrastructure throughout the city.

This includes a system of low-cost sewage networks designed to target the poor regions of Managua. Although the PRASMA was a solid start, city officials realized that more was needed if they hoped to achieve their goal of reaching universal piped water connectivity.

The Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (MHCP) reached out to the World Bank for funding to create the Nicaraguan Water and Sewerage Enterprise (ENACAL) in order to expand 15,798 water and 19,716 sewer connections to some of the poorest households.

Before ENACAL was launched, only 26.5 percent of households had access to piped water. Only 1.2 percent had in-house toilets. The majority of the population, more than 72 percent, used latrines. The remaining portion of the population concerned city officials the most, with more than 26 percent lacking access to any sanitation services.

Among the poorest neighborhoods, it was not uncommon to see raw sewage running down the streets. In other impoverished neighborhoods, even for those connected to piped-in water, service was less than reliable. Some households received water as infrequently as two hours per day.

Since collecting $20 million in credit and $20 million in grant money from the World Bank to get ENACAL operational, the project has improved service reliability for 161,896 Nicaraguans as well as increasing the overall financial sustainability of its operations.

The World Bank reported a little less than half of the money was used to expand and add additional infrastructure. The remainder of the funds were used to optimize technical efficiency and strengthen institutional activities.

Moving forward, ENACAL is developing the Master Plan for Operational Efficiency in Managua. This focuses on non-revenue water reduction and the optimization of energy efficiency.

With the assistance in the funding of $300 million from the World Bank and other international donors, continued improvements under the Program for Human Water and Sanitation will take place over the course of the next 15 years.

Thus far, ENACAL has benefited 62,295 residents and improved the percentage of households with access to water for 16 or more hours a day to 72 percent.

Claire Colby

Sources: Central America Data, World Bank
Photo: University of Colorado Boulder

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

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

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