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Monday, December 19, 2016

Environmental Volunteering in Laguna de Apoyo

Students of the American Nicaraguan School are helping to maintain a reforestation plot in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Gaia works with the local community to keep Laguna de Apoyo hospitable for wildlife. Photo John Jackson
Nicaragua is a country widely recognized for activism. During the 1980's, people came to Nicaragua individually and in groups to help with "the cause" which was, depending on the person, eradicating poverty and illiteracy, confronting the imperialism in its hostile acts against small and poor countries, or promoting socialism or some kind of bottom-up social and political organization. There were even food-based initiatives, promoting soy products and helping farmers produce with fewer chemicals and other costly inputs.

Lots of things have happened in a few decades, but Nicaragua is still poor, and other nations are still wealthy and privileged. It is like a dream that the Sandinistas are again prominent in Nicaraguan politics, as they were in the 1980's. Things are very different between the two periods, some of them being the focus of foreigners today. Whereas back then solidarity and similar issues were the focus of most visitors from developed countries, lots of people come to Nicaragua today to enjoy sun and surf, which simply didn't happen decades ago. The millenial culture in wealthy countries, however, is not entirely hedonistic. No one is willing to risk a bullet to go to war zones, as a few, notable activists did back then. Nonetheless, there is a kindness and concern for the earth that is each day greater among people from the developed countries of the world. And, climate change is real, so the environment is among the themes most attractive to young people today.

Young people heading to reforestation sites to provide assistance in forest restoration plots. Photo John Jackson. 
Another very big change over the thirty-year interval is in the connectivity worldwide that exists today. Back then, a telephone call to the US might take hours to connect, if at all, thanks to the embargo of the US government which blocked adequate development of communications systems. Today, most Nicaraguans are looking at their facebook accounts daily, sending messages to their mothers in distant countries, and reading the latest from all their friends both near and far. Long-distance communication is no longer the domain of the wealthy. With it, people know more about each other than ever before.

laguna de apoyo
Eco-Warrior Environmental Volunteers in Laguna de Apoyo can be drafted to take on even some simple tasks such as painting labels. Photo Pablo Somarriba. 

The closeness of people has also created a mutual affinity for some causes that transcend national boundaries. The environment, nature, and climate change are all issues that inspire people everywhere, today. Gaia is providing opportunities for both Nicaraguans and visitors to the country to give back to the environment, through forest restoration, wildlife rescue, monitoring of forest and wildlife conditions, and other activities that benefit the wild nature in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.

Trash collected along the beach of Laguna de Apoyo, much of which is to be recycled by the staff of Gaia. Thanks to so many who volunteered their energy to keep Laguna de Apoyo free of plastic! Photo John Jackson.

One person's trash is another's treasure. These plastic bottles are recycled or reused as reforestation planters. Photo John Jackson. 

Gaia works with groups of people from inside and outside Nicaragua, to support the environment. The idea that Nicaraguans can care and provide a benefit to the environment is a relatively new one, in which the influence of people visiting have helped to form opinions and demonstrate that even small groups of people can make a difference.

Lots of our visitors at Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo help with the care of wild animals. We at Gaia tend to have some or another wild animal around which needs a lot of care. We cooperate with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment to care for any wild animals that need some kind of special treatment, usually because of an inappropriate reaction with a human. Some people stay for longer volunteer assignments and get more involved in the care and policies, even constructing and repairing enclosures.

This baby bird is a Montezuma Oropendola. Its nest was destroyed by a North American landowner who didn't like the idea of having a colony of nesting birds in his yard, and had the branch which held this baby's nest cut down. The local park guard from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment brought the bird to us to raise until the bird can fly and return to the wild. Photo John Jackson. 
We at GAIA would love to involve more Nicaraguans as volunteers in conservation activities. That's where you come in. We need your help to conduct these activities, either as a volunteer or a supporter with food, animal cages and transporters, or other resources. Please consider joining us or making a donation!

The forest restoration program managed by Gaia in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve means a lot more than what most people think when they consider "reforestation". Planting trees is just part of making a forest. These young people are heading to tend to trees planted in prior years, to assure maximum survival. Photo John Jackson. 

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Nuestras Aguas Contaminadas en Nicaragua

Captura de peces en la Laguna de Masaya realizada por Gaia y el equipo del Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya. Foto Marten Hogencamp.
Nicaragua es un país bendecido por sus recursos acuáticos como casi ningún otro. Sin embargo, el manejo de estos recursos ha sido fenomenalmente malo, desde hace muchas décadas atrás. Xolotlán (también conocido como Lago Managua) ahora se clasifica como hipertrófico, es decir la población bacteriana figura muy fuerte en la ecología del lago. Está con enormes cantidades de sedimentos de todas las cuencas que se dirigen al lago, donde el manejo de tierras no ha prevenido la erosión de suelo ni la retención de agua en los acuíferos subacuáticos para el uso humano. No obstante, un siglo atrás, este lago abastecía a los Managuas y muchas otras comunidades con agua potable. Notables cantidades de residuos sólidos municipales entran sin ningún impedimento durante cad alluvia mediante grandes cauces que atraviesan la capital. Los sedimentos en el fondo del lago se encuentran contaminados con químicos industriales y agroquímicos.
Estarán claras las aguas de la Laguna de Apoyo siempre? 
El Lago Cocibolca (también llamado Lago Nicaragua) sufre el mismo proceso de contaminación que el Xolotlán, aunque sus cambios han sido más lentos, debido al gran tamaño del lago, una salida caudalosa, y la dicha de no estar en la orilla de Managua, donde volúmenes desmedidos de desechos se generan. Los cultivos de arroz ocupan fumigación aérea, las ciudades en la cuenca tienen poca capacidad de gestión de aguas servidas. 

Las lagunas cratéricas, ubicadas en los conos de numerosos volcanes en Nicaragua, también se encuentran en crises, hasta los ríos que sufren por el mal manejo de los bosques en su orilla, y la introducción de suelos en el río desde fincas, minas y ciudades.
Aquí se presenta en dos partes un video elaborado por nuestros amigos  sobre el manejo de las aguas naturales en Nicaragua. Entre las lagunas en riesgo se encuentra la Laguna de Apoyo, ahora un foco de turismo muy fuerte; Laguna de Nejapa, que se encuentra casi seca; Laguna Masaya, afectada por desechos sólidos y aguas residuales de la ciudad de Masaya. 

Algunos aspectos de los problemas de agua se encuentran en el siguiente video, dividido en dos partes, elaborado por Fundación Luciérniga. Les invitamos a considerarlo. 

Un factor que hace tan difícil la contaminación de las aguas naturales, es que no se encuentra un individuo o grupo pequeño como culpable. Los responsables de la contaminación de las aguas son muchos, o más bien somos todos. La falta de existencia de políticas públicas que pueden proteger a las aguas trasciende generaciones y gobiernos desde la extrema izquierda hasta la extrema derecha. Una conversación largo para planificar las acciones necesarias para proteger a nuestras aguas es necesario. Quieres participar en el cuido de nuestras aguas? 
agua en Nicaragua
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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero

Thirty-six years ago today, the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, was assassinated during mass. It was a stunning act of treachery, ordered and executed from within the people in power. But instead of silencing Oscar Romero, his best intentions were made immortal.

Romero was not a highly politicized person; in fact, he shunned the liberation theology movement around him. His cause was steadfastly with the poor, social justice, and the cessation of the violence that had engulfed his country.

The histories of these tiny republics along the Central American Isthmus are written in the blood or martyrs like Oscar Romero. No country has been immune to the violence that has taken the lives of many people of high profile, such as Romero and Benjamin Linder in Nicaragua, who are emblems for a much wider and deeper problem of violations of the rights and even murders of thousands of nameless people.

Here are some words of Oscar Romero, something on which to reflect while enjoying this marvelous holiday.

Oscar Romero
Portrait of Oscar Romero by Puig Reixach.

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Oscar Romero

Monday, March 7, 2016

Graduation Day 2015 in Nicaragua Christian School

Nicaragua once was considered the "breadbasket" of Central America. Through the end of the 1960's and into the beginning of the next decade, money could be made in cattle, coffee and cotton. A lot of things happened from then to now, among them, the grim realization that cotton was no longer viable in Nicaragua, and the soils where it had been farmed were now laden with heavy loads of pesticides. These brownfields lined the roads in Leon and Chinandega departments in western Nicaragua. Other things happened as well, such as the realization that many people really did not benefit from any of the supposed prosperity previously lived in the country. Large numbers of people have no reasonable place to live, where they can work, and provide consistently for their families.

Some of the former cotton fields, lying fallow for decades, have been converted to residential neighborhoods for poor people. These lands have been divided into lots about 15 per acre, and people moved onto the plots into shacks made of scrap metal, plastic, sticks, cardboard and other materials improvised into houses. Electricity was supplied through pirated connections on the edge of the neighborhood, using uncoated barbed wire instead of real electrical cables. Water mains were inexistent initially, and people were subjected to purchasing water from trucks, filling open barrels they maintained on their properties. Little by little, these people invested in construction materials to build walls and roofs, piece by piece.
A former cotton field has become home for many people living in marginal conditions in the Ruben Dario neighborhood in Leon. Beyond the residences, peanuts are cultivated. 
Nicaragua Christian School
Staff and members of the board of directors of Nicaragua Christian School. 
Children and parents are assembling in the auditorium at Nicaragua Christian School, for the 2015 graduation ceremony. 
Nicaragua Christian School
Murals with inspiring messages have been placed in several classrooms with the help of volunteers from the United States.
Many happy children (and parents) could be found on graduation day.

In this neighborhood, the mayor of Leon and the board of directors of Nicaragua Christian School agreed to place a school. The people living in this neighborhood can find work these days in a variety of sweatshops, where clothing and other light assembling industries are found in free trade zones. The salaries start at around 88 dollars per month, and do not include any benefit such as lunch, coffee, or even transport to the workplace. The more fortunate people in this neighborhood, the ones who can get and keep jobs in factories, have hard lives. Other folks have harder lives.

Anyone who enjoyed a stable childhood with a loving family realizes the importance of the school as a pillar in the process of growing up. The role of a school extends far beyond learning math and reading; it has a role in the spiritual and emotional health of the adult which each child becomes, even more when so many disruptions are part of the family experience. Families who migrate are often responding to disruptions in their family life and moving is, for the children, yet another huge disruption which can make growing up very difficult.

Migrants in humble circumstances are all too often received with indifference or hostility, as one humble family learned over two thousand years ago. The difficult experiences of the parents and children of Nicaragua Christian School parallel those lived by Jesus and his humble family. It is hard to overstate the difficulties facing the parents and children of Nicaragua Christian School. All the families are migrants from what must have been even worse situations, into a problematic, impoverished neighborhood. What were cotton fields during the economic boom of the 1960's and 1970's had long since become useless, contaminated brownfields which no one wanted. A free trade zone with factories making clothing and other articles for the US consumer markets has recently developed along the margins of this abandoned farmland, and the fields have been filled with low-cost housing. Tens of thousands of the poorest Nicaraguans have migrated into this area in search of a better life, some of them poor, others poorer. Several sections of the neighborhood face dismal circumstances, in which people live under nothing more than a plastic sheet suspended by sticks. The factories employ unskilled and semiskilled workers and provide dismal wages, which nonetheless far exceed any other economic opportunity for most people in the area.

It is precisely this impoverished neighborhood which the Nicaragua Christian School serves as an anchor in many ways beyond an ordinary school. The success of Nicaragua Christian School is easily noted by the way the community is involved there. Parents of the students clean, cut grass, and perform all kinds of chores at the school. School events are always well-attended by family members, who take an exceptional interest in their children. The students are particularly orderly and respectful, in contrast to other schools in Nicaragua. Sundays, the auditorium is ringing with songs from a church service, attended by many families in the neighborhood. Local sporting events and community meetings are often held on the campus, bringing the school to the larger community in the neighborhood.

The students and the school have won a few notable awards for scholastic activity, too. But, the best awards are children who grow into adults whose despair is replaced by hope and faith. A strong education under the guidance of principled, well-qualified teachers in a program which emphasizes Christian values is a great attraction to the parents throughout the neighborhood. The school has often been visited by mayors, ministers and even members of the National Assembly, but the school’s teachers and administrators are clear that the most important people at this school are the parents and children of this poor neighborhood.

Every person associated with the Nicaragua Christian School is aware that someone gave from their savings to provide the books, the salaries for the teachers, the electricity and the buildings. The good will demonstrated by so many from afar is sensed by the parents who respond willingly by helping in all kinds of ways, as they can. Not everyone who donates has the opportunity to visit Nicaragua Christian School, but those who do can confirm that gratitude and love abound among the students and families of the school. The school has become an important pillar for their fragile existence in a new neighborhood, as they seek to create a more stable life for their families a day at a time. 
No better title to the school can exist than, "Sharing God and his love", as is emblazoned across the website for the Nicaragua Christian School. The children learn that they are loved at all moments in a very positive atmosphere. If you would like more information about Nicaragua Christian School, write us at Gaia or directly to the folks at the school here. We believe in this project, which is transforming lives and families materially, academically, and spiritually. Below are some videos from the 2015 graduation experience.

Nicaragua Christian School

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Volcano Craziness

Nicaragua has been called the land of lakes and volcanoes. Both dominate the views throughout the Pacific region of the country. Lately, volcanic activity has dominated the national news and the minds of all who live near them. The authorities have evacuated employees from some locations and some residents from a few locations, while intense monitoring of the situation continues. Here is a video of the dramatic volcanic activity in the Santiago Crater of Volcano Masaya.

There are, currently, five volcanoes in Nicaragua that are declared "active", which means something far beyond just heat on the surface or active fumaroles. These are Masaya, Momotombo, Cerro Negro, San Cristobal, and Telica. All are worth a view. The Volcano Masaya National Park is closed until further notice. In this area, the volcanic activity far exceeds anything that has happened there in more than 200 years. Views are best during the evening, particularly during a new moon, either from the Masaya-Managua highway or along the Malecon in the city of Masaya.

Volcano Masaya
The INETER Volcano Cam from 4 March 2016, shows an intense glow on the smoke emitted from the volcano. 


The Masaya Volcano is the main attraction of the Volcano Masaya National Park, located just north of the city of Masaya. The top portion of the crater is devoid of vegetation, hot and arid, and much of its flanks are covered only in annual plants which burn during the occasional dry season forest fires. Trees can not grow in these areas because of the intense heat which reaches to very near the surface of the soil. A volcanic crater lake, one of eleven found in the country, also can be seen in the park.

Make a trip to see them, but remember to be safe and obey the laws and current prohibitions!

Masaya Volcano
The smoke emerging from the mouth of the Santiago crater at Volcano Masaya National Park. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Volcano Masaya
Even on a good day, Volcano Masaya emits enormous quantities of smoke and noxious, corrosive gases. It is the largest source of mercury emission in the western hemisphere. On the flanks of the crater interior, a parakeets roost and reproduce in holes, some of which can be seen in the photo. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Momotombo Volcano rises from the north edge of Lake Managua. Its sister volcano, Momotombito, can be seen in the distance, an island in the lake. Photo Brenda McCrary.

Casitas Nicaragua
Casitas Volcano has active fumaroles near the summit.

Nicaragua Volcano
The smoking crater of El Hoyo Volcano, as seen from the summit of Casitas. 
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Workshop for Spanish Language Teachers

Learning Spanish requires a lot of effort over a long period on the part of the learner and accurate guidance from well-planned classes to keep the student out of grammatical pitfalls. Gaia has been training Spanish language teachers for decades, and the best school in Nicaragua use teachers that have been trained by us. We take seriously the goal of Spanish language learning and we invest in the training of our teachers to provide the best pedagogical tools for learning. Our Spanish courses in Estación Biológica Laguna de Apoyo are famous, having existed for longer than at any other Spanish school in Nicaragua.

Managua Spanish School
Mayela explains Spanish class organization with workshop
participants looking on. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
January is always a busy month in Estación Biológica in Laguna de Apoyo, and this past January was no different. Among our many activities was a workshop for Spanish language teacher training, held in the shade of our marvelous trees 29 January. Mayela Blas, who herself began her career as a Spanish language teacher with us in Apoyo Spanish School, conducted the workshop with thirteen participants. Our teachers were exposed to some of the theoretical aspects of language transmission, as well as some of the practical elements of Spanish language instruction such as lesson planning techniques.

Participants in the workshop combined a power-point
presentation with the informality of our shaded patio for a
relaxing setting to learn. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Participants came from neighboring departments and Managua, and were given an excellent presentation by Mayela. More of these events will be programmed during the year 2016 at Apoyo Spanish School. We consider our job to teach our students and to make all the Spanish language teachers, throughout the country, as capable and responsive to the needs of the students as is possible. We have been the Spanish school that teaches the teachers for a long time, and as this workshop demonstrates, we continue to provide assistance to the entire community of Spanish teachers. In addition, we used the workshop as our moment to launch our newest project at Gaia: Managua Spanish School.

Now, Gaia provides two different options for learning Spanish, both in Laguna de Apoyo, and in the Managua area. Professionals who can't travel far from the capital may find Managua Spanish School just the right fit.

Spanish instruction
Some of the participants in the January workshop. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Would you like to be involved as a Spanish language teacher? Additional workshops will be conducted during the year 2016, including topics from the use of poetry and prose in teaching Spanish, how to evaluate student language progress, and teaching techniques for specific applications.

Or perhaps you would like to learn to speak Spanish. We are prepared to help you learn Spanish, from the most elementary levels to the finer points of fluency. Please contact us for more information.

Managua Spanish School