Tuesday, February 26, 2013

More from Russell in Costa Rica

Entering the latter portion of my time here, I am glad to report having come in step with the pace of work and life here. Days flitter on by, but ideas come through to reality in their time. Will their fruits be sweet? Like my newly bearing backyard tomatoes, the answer can’t be rushed, but I can throw a shovel of compost on it.

Drawing up observations from our habitat field trip
with kindergarteners, comparing river and forest areas.

On the work front, it is a sort of shifting rotation between tasks, literally in step with the lunar cycles. The nursery is picking up steam and giving me a chance to learn tidbits of plant propagation while resting my eyes from the computer. Overseeing the nursery, I scrounge up seeds and cuttings whenever I happen upon them, trying to time cuttings with the waning moon (menguante), when their ‘energy’ is directed root-ward. Waxing moon (creciente) is time to cut the grass and mulch, slowing re-growth. The last week we played with bamboo construction, building a no-mist recovery chamber (basically a low poly tunnel) for wildlings (wild seedlings) we will gather from the montaña next week, inspired by the success of our partners in the Philippines. Working early mornings and afternoons in our yard and that of neighborhood farms is great to round and the day, and to bank hours so I can take off to go surf.

Aside from updating of our website and the slow process of getting our plant database online, my office work has become largely focused on refining the Forest Garden Product (FGP) certification standard with Eduardo, in order to meet the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements’ (IFOAM) Common Objectives and Requirements of Organic Standards (COROS) – in other words to get recognized as a solid standard by the global grand-daddy of organic standards. The complexity and novel qualities of our production requirements, a lack of support from the creators of the standard, and our total inexperience in the realm of certification has given us a good challenge, as well as an opportunity for me to unleash my eye for detail. If you didn’t get enough acronyms already in this paragraph, we are hosting a workshop next week on Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), a means to ensuring quality production practices while reducing the need to involve costly third-party certifiers.
With Jana, our new artistically-gifted (among many other gifts) intern on the team, we’ve had the chance to awaken the creative juices as we conjure up icons to bring life to the AF principles. Jana has also been a serious enabler for eating really good food. Play-wise, if our lives are rather simple (not that I have any problem with surfing, yoga, mountain hike adventures, and endless swims), at least we eat ridiculously well. Seasonal harvests of pejibaye, caimito, manzana de agua; abundant backyard oranges, so sweet with the summer sun; fresh river shrimp; curry full of local spices and seasonings… we do alright.

Update from Noelle in Utila

My first two weeks on the Bay Island of Utila have far exceeded my expectations. Since starting work at the Iguana Research and Breeding Centre, I have been involved in a variety of projects and activities, some of which I have already seen the fruits of my labour, albeit relatively small.

On my first day, I participated in a recycled glass bottle workshop at the local NGO Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) with the other volunteers from the Centre, including a large group of biology students visiting from the capital, Tegucigalpa. During this workshop, we used a metal wire similar to what you would find in your typical oven to heat and cut the base of the bottles, and made drinking glasses out of them. These glasses were sold to a popular bar in town called Tranquila and we’ve already been served with them!

Last week we spent a total of 4 hours walking through a mangrove monitoring site to label trees we would use to set the limits for the iguana research area. Some of my responsibilities at the Centre include helping to take care of the Swamper iguana, a species endemic to the island of Utila, and whose habitat is in the mangroves. During my time here, I will provide support to the new mangrove restoration project by visiting various monitoring sites to assess the state of the mangroves in the hopes of protecting this valuable ecosystem.

I am also involved in the environmental education project, leading an “arts and crafts” workshop using recycled materials to raise children’s awareness about our current environmental issues and the need to reduce our waste while using our creativity to turn “garbage” into something useful or decorative. For instance, we made brooms out of a plastic pop bottle cut into strips, pen holders using toilet paper rolls and animals out of plastic cups.

We’ve held two of these workshops and this Friday afternoon, in honour of Wetland Day last weekend, we made a mangrove mural with bottle caps, cloth from a T-shirt and aluminum paper. We intend to continue this tradition with the support of local organizations including the Whale Shark Ocean Research Centre and BICA. With the beginning of the school year already started, I will help give presentations within the next few weeks on environmental themes including ecology, anthropological impact on the environment and climate change.

I’ve already had the opportunity to see the less-explored parts of the island, including the freshwater caves. We walked an hour to and from the caves, and lit up our way inside with candles, where swimming in the refreshing clear water paid off our hard work.

Within the next few weeks we hope to organize community events such as beach cleanups to raise awareness about the current waste management challenge and to get people feeling involved and contributing to making a difference.

I’ve been enjoying gaining hands-on experience in the environmental field and I look forward to seeing the rest of our projects through, learning from and contributing to them as much as I can.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Update from Anna in Honduras

Buenos Dias from Honduras!

It has been a busy few months since we last spoke and we are just finishing up, continuing to manage and beginning new projects! Rainy season is coming to an end and the sun has been out full force, unfortunately a source of envy for our fellow Canadians still in hibernation back home. That being said, we have a full month ahead of us with visitors coming from all over the Americas to lend a hand and experience the beauty that is Salado Barra.

So far the garden has come in wonderfully  - well except for the iguanas who have a particular fondness for carrots - there are trees, herbs, fruits and veggies a plenty! With the onset of the hot weather, I am hoping to test out our new solar dryer so as to make teas and seasoning for the community to sell at their new - drumroll and pause for emphasis - cafe! That is right ladies and gentlemen, a new cafe! Currently Mira and I have been drafting up a revised ecotourism management plan alongside Fallsbrook Center and our partner organization La Fundacion Cuero y Salado. While a management plan for the refuge already exists in theory, it's implementation in practice has faced considerable challenges.  A lack of resources, transparency, supervision, cooperation and communication has led to the deterioration of management at various levels. As a result, we are hoping to start off fresh from the bottom up, working with different price points and micro enterprises in the community, including the jewelry group, the solar panel group, the tour guides and hospitality centres and the up and coming cafe. 

Given our isolation, it has been quite a task getting everything ready for this month's grand opening. Sanding and varnishing tables and chairs, refitting the kitchen, securing windows, designing menu plans that are not dependent on electricity, hooking up new plumbing, sourcing food and material suppliers, organizing staffing... We certainty have had our work set out for us but it is exactly these hands on projects that provide the practical experience you can't get in school. After spending some time chatting with fellow intern Jessie Lyon who is visiting from Nicaragua, it has been really cool to see how much freedom we have had in designing our own projects. One of the many lessons learned during this start-up as well as during our whole time down South, has been how to take initiative and to self-direct. To recognize opportunities and to act on them rather than to wait for instruction. It has been an interesting experience training myself to think simultaneously at both the macro and micro scale, to push myself creatively and to plan both short and long term. 

Kites flying from boats on the water!
Skilled kite handing...

On a different note, last weekend we celebrated 'Wetland Day' which consisted of different environmental education activities, canoe races and two very full piñatas! While Mira and Jessie maintained composure amidst a shower of chiclets, bonbons, dulces and gorditas, the 12 year old in me was set loose. Confetti in our hair, dirt under our nails, sandals thrown aside, candies stuffed in every which pocket, we came together as adults and children, men and women, Canadian and Honduran in a throng of screaming laughs, celebrating the many people, places and passions of our beautiful world. 

Hasta la proxima vez,


Anna, Mira and Noelle enjoy fresh coconut milk.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More from Cavan in Costa Rica

Six months have passed since I arrived in Londres de Aguirre, Costa Rica.  Currently I am working on a number of small projects including creating an internship program, researching questions about Analog Forestry, updating the website and various outdoor activities.  Of the projects, the research is the one I find the most interesting because of the subject matter.  Questions relate to larger land management ones like the following: How much land in a region should be reserved as representative intact ecosystems?  Can exotic plants fulfill the same ecological function as native plants?

This week we had a workshop on Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS).  Basically, PGS is a way of verifying compliance with a set of standards, but instead of a third party certifier, it uses a peer review process.  The standards can be for anything and are often determined by the parties being certified, for example, organic certification in Peru or wild harvested products in India.  There were three experts at the workshop and a number of other people with experience implementing PGS in Mexico and Costa Rica.  Hopefully the IAFN will be able to work out some guidelines for implementing PGS with its Forest Garden Products (FGP) standard.
Cavan speaking with another participant from the Participatory Group Certification Workshop

The weather has finally switched into the dry season after a delayed start.  This means that the river is low enough to swim in and that the days are mostly sunny.  While the sun is nice, it makes the days warmer than during the rainy season.  After this many months of warm weather, it hardly seems possible that the temperature in Canada only rises above the minimum temperature here for two months of the year.  Tourism is also more active during the dry season, which means that everyone is busier because so many people work in the industry.  So with nice weather and interesting work, all in all things are pretty peachy.

A view from Cerronara, a town about 3 hours from where I am based.

Update from Greg Lynch in Nicaragua

With just one week in, it feels like I’ve gotten myself a bit of a rhythm here. Certainly a rhythm much different than at FBC but a rhythm nonetheless.
I flew into Managua on Saturday night and was happily greeted by a Carlos, a cab driver sent by our friends at Casa Candiense. He quickly whisked me out to the Casa to get a good night sleep and to meet Carrolle who is working as the education coordinator there. She made me feel very at home and after a short chat we crashed.
Since I was told Monday would be best to arrive I had a day to explore Managua. Carrole took the time out of her day to drive her giant truck through the swarming streets. I was pleased to see that Managua has decorated for Christmas in the classic neon purple and pink I so associate with childhood Christmases. I mustn’t forgot the three lane roundabouts with glowing Christmas Trees and a statue of Jesus atop the world. The market, a delicious meal in enormous chairs and my first day in Nicaragua was soon done.
Monday morning I was off to Sabana Grande. I spent most of the day on the bus, though by far one of the more comfortable bus rides I’ve taken in a while. By late in the afternoon I had arrived and found myself sitting at a table at the Solar Restaurant with the Mujeres chatting excitedly about all manner of things. It became very clear these women run the show and know how things should be done. Once again I was soon steered in a new direction. I was brought to the home of Adelina where I will be hosted for the next month and a half.
Within just a few minutes of arriving I was fed and welcomed into the family very warmly. Adelina whipped up a quick meal while her three daughters chatted with me and explained the home. With my own room, mosquito net, plenty of food, water and the pleasant soundscape of frogs, salamanders and dogs singing me to sleep it didn’t seem like long until I was awakened by chickens at my door.
Another great meal in the morning and I was down the path to the Centro Solar. Arriving, I soon met up with Ben and Jessie, interns from the first and second intakes respectively. With no time lost I soon got to know how things worked at the Centre and with the Mujeres. For my first day I joined the two of them on their projects and lent a hand in any way I could.
Day one at work here in Sabana Grande was a little confusing but certainly productive. Not one to hold back, I soon found myself standing on an adobe roof passing a stove pipe down into the kitchen to newly improved stove. Getting the stove up and running I was soon replacing the adobe shingles and back on the ground in no time.
Since day one I’ve been spending my mornings working with Maurito. Maurito maintains the gardens and does odd jobs for the solar restaurant. For those of you that know me I do enjoy a good chat; spending time with Maurito has given me plenty of practice at listening as well as chatting. It’s great to work with someone who is happy to teach about most anything from banana cultivation, the solar powered water system to Spanish grammar and the history of the enourmous 500 year old ceiba tree down the road from my house.
So here I am enjoying the community. Helping out with any project I can and learning a lot along the way. The women here are very interested in beekeeping so I’m going to see if I can get them set and ready before I go. The Nicaragua I am seeing now from Sabana Grande is one of warm people, strong women,  gorgeous views and an endless amount to learn.