After another set of allocations at fieldbase involving blindfolds and silence, we were organised into our new Alpha groups for phase 2 of our Raleigh expedition. This time round I was put in Alpha 8; a team of 16 working on a WASH project in the small Nicaraguan community of El Terrero located near the city of Esteli in the North West of the country. The WASH project is a water project run by the local council along with Raleigh with the aim of providing the community with a reliable source of clean water to their homes.
Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. Currently the community share a water system with other communities up hill who are not responsible with their water usage and therefore El Terrero frequently are left with no water for long periods of time often lasting more than 2 weeks. During this time their only access to water is from the river in the bottom of the valley which is over half an hours walk away on rocky and hilly terrain and has limited water running through it in the dry season.
And so phase 2 begins….
Early on the 3rd March we set off on a long dusty bus journey across the border and into Nicaragua, arriving to the warm welcoming faces of our host families in the late afternoon of the following day. After being introduced to Lester, the head of the community who also runs the Pulperia (somewhere I have visited regularly for their famous frozen chocolate bananas – the perfect finish to a day’s work in the sun!), we settled into our new homes and introduced ourselves to our new Mama and Papa. There are two venturers in each home stay and I am lucky enough to share with a lovely Dutch girl called Lo, however she spoke no Spanish upon our arrival but we have been quick to change that.
Our parents are Zorayda (51) and Rito (49) and they have 6 children – the youngest of which live at home still; Charlie (20) and Betty (17) – with nine grandchildren between the eldest four children – 2 of which live in our house; Wendy (7) and Ingrid (5).
Every morning, Zorayda wakes at 4am to start making tortillas, before 6am she will have made 40 from just two ingredients; maize and water. One of Rito’s many jobs is growing maize and beans (the staple foods in the community). Breakfast is ready at 6am with egg, beans, tortillas, and rice or tomato, which fuels us very well for our work on the water project every morning. The mornings consist of 6 hours of digging trenches with a team of local men to ensure all houses are provided with a trench directly to their house by the end of the project (which hopefully will be finished by the next alpha team on the last phase by the 12th April). We have dug and piped one main trench from the main “pilar” (water tank on the top of the hill above the community) running the length of the community along with many other smaller ones leading of this main trench to reach individual houses. It is hard sweaty work in the hot sun and many bananas are consumed to keep our energy levels high!
At 12 we head back for a filling lunch of rice, beans, fried plantain and tortillas before our daily bucket shower in the sun! Our afternoon activities then commence in the community centre (a building built by Raleigh back in 2012), which can consist of planning action days with the community to increase awareness of water sanitation and hygiene as well as the future of their new water system or having meetings with the 7 community members in the newly formed CAPS committee who oversee any water issues in the community.
My favourite afternoon was on 7th March when all the girls in our Alpha organised a meeting at my house with coffee and biscuits for all the women in the community to celebrate International Women’s Day and discuss the rights of a woman. This was a fantastic success as it was the first time that these women had been able to recognise and celebrate this international day (something they’d heard mentioned on the radio each year) and the first time that they had been able to talk with one another away from their husbands or partners about their rights and roles in society. I was particularly interested in the aspirations and views of the younger teenage girls present at the meeting compared to those of their mothers etc. Many of these younger girls have dreams of breaking away from the traditional role of a woman as a housewife.
For example, Betty (my sister) is starting a university degree in languages in September at the university of Esteli and she aspires to start up a business in tourism – a woman owning a business is unheard of in this society – but she wants to employ only women and educate them to work for her as she feels that many women either can’t finish their education or don’t have the opportunity to be educated and she’d like to support these women. However, Betty is struggling as her father does not want her to study so she is fighting a constant battle with him, as she has been doing throughout her time at high school. As a result she missed out on applying to a public university and when she received a scholarship to study nursing her father told her she couldn’t take it. Betty needs her father’s support especially now that she is going to have to go to a private university. Fortunately Betty has her mother’s support which helped her through high school as she made sweets and sold them to help finance her education. Talking to my sister about these struggles was very inspiring and her aspirations and determination are amazing.
Each evening we return to our homes for dinner at 6 once again consisting of rice, beans and tortillas with a banana or orange for dessert. They certainly feed us well here! We spend the evenings chatting and playing games with Wendy and Ingrid and any of their relatives that happen to be visiting before heading to bed at 8ish.
Living with my Nicaraguan family for 3 weeks has been a deeply moving but amazing experience and one from which I have learnt a lot. I have been able to fully immerse myself in the culture here; with the use of my Spanish I have been able to participate in family discussions, trips to the local catholic church (especially in the lead up to Easter), family and community traditions as well as everyday life in the community. I am so grateful to my host family and look forward to keeping in contact with them and hearing about their future with running water which should hugely improve their quality of life.