I woke up with the dawn and walked the waking streets of Dario, a colonial town renamed after the famous Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario. It was cool and quaint.
Men with oxen made their rounds delivering leña (stove wood), gleaned from nearby bushes and trees for the breakfast fires. No wonder there’s a sparse treeless environment surrounding every village.
Women with children carried straw baskets on their heads filled with the day’s wares: fruits and vegetables, fresh baked bread and rozquitos (flour cakes filled with cane syrup), pork and chicken. They were all looking for the perfect location to set up for the day.
The small colonial houses are set close together on the decorative cobblestone streets, like almost all the streets we travel that are not dirt or newly paved asphalt.
As the doors open to the morning, I get a voyeur’s glimpse of life inside: beautiful antique tile floors, sparse stucco walls with an occasional painting of an old sailing ship or decorated ancestor, a pharmacy selling everything from hula hoops and junk food to drugs and bottled water.
I was in town as a volunteer for the group Water for People to monitor the sanitation and water systems installed in the surrounding area by the Nicaraguan non-governmental group El Porvenir, which has been providing latrines and wells to Nicaraguans for 20 years.
We split into two groups for the surveys: one group went to the rural town of Wiwili, near the border with Honduras, and my group head to the town of El Sauce, three hours north into drought territory.
El Sauce was our base of operation and every day we drove and hiked the dirt roads to tiny outlying communities with the El Porvenir staff in tow. It was apparent to us that everyone we met along the way knows and loves the staff of El Porvenir. They’ve done their jobs well and affected a lot of lives in this part of the country.
The simple brick or wood houses were surrounded by gardens, with domesticanimals milling in and out and a clean, usually decorated, vented latrine complete with a hand-washing station nearby. Water was piped to the property line. Most washing and cooking was done outside.
The indoor ovens were generally unvented, but El Porvenir is working on a new project to help remove smoke from houses and reforest the clear-cut areas.
The only exception to this healthy and happy scene is in the public buildings – the schools and government health clinics. Here the latrines were either non-functioning or nonexistent.
The government buildings are in dire need of repair and supplies are minimal.
There are no books or medicines, and usually only one teacher or nurse is available, regardless of the size of the population served. When I asked about this, the answer I got was “the government declares education and health care are free, but won’t put their money where their mouth is.”
In summary, the subsistence farming communities in the isolated parts of Nicaragua are still in desperate need of better education and access to health care. With the addition of sanitary latrines and potable water, these humble and hardworking people are content to live much as their ancestors did generations ago.
After spending a week observing the household latrines and the water systems, I am totally impressed with the work El Porvenir has done with the help of Water for People. Since its inception in the 1980s, El Porvenir has completed 600 water and sanitation projects and served over 70,000 people in rural Nicaragua.
I want to help celebrate their twenty-year anniversary by giving them the honor and publicity they deserve. Both groups have wonderful websites (www.elporvenir.org, www.waterforpeople.org) that explain their work and how to donate.
Jill Green is a writer and blogger who has lived in Central America for over 15 years. Check out her blog at costajill.com, as she chronicles her travels as a volunteer in Nicaragua.