Friday, April 26, 2013

Bees and Bikes, Follow-Up From Sabana Grande

Arlen and Jessie get ready to transfer two hives
into the top-bar bee hive
Well, this Latin American adventure certainly has proven wild and rich! Acquaintances have become close friends, a once new environment has become that familiar mountain-range, this scary new language now comes more naturally. As months pass and I grow more accustomed to this world, sometimes I have to remind myself how incredible it is—that it is not normal to be pressed between seventy Nicaraguans and two piglets on a roaring, multi-coloured, high-speed school bus.
Among so many favourite parts, I will start with my work here. 

A short search for funding led me to a familiar Ottawa business, Third World Bazaar, and their generous sponsorship to start Bici-Futuro, a bicycle rental company with a local youth group Los Jovenes Pedaliando Hacia el Futuro (JPHF). Since January, we have purchased bikes and parts for repairs, formed a bicycle committee led by three Jovenes coordinators, acquired space in an new adobe building on-site for storage and store-front, gained international and local attention from online journals and American entrepreneurs, and, this February, started service with our first customers. This micro-enterprise is a first experience for me and JPHF in the business world, so it has been great training to witness the challenges we encounter—pricepoint is an important art, for example. A most notable struggle for me was combining North American business practice with socialist Nicaraguan culture. This youth group puts all profit towards tuition fees for any member who cannot afford to further their education. While I prepared to start clocking hours and wages, they were already working as a unit. And so far we have enough money to send someone to university for three months!

Maria Magdalena moves fifty-pound adobe bricks.
This building will be the new youth centre with space for a bicycle shop.

The bicycle company has become my favoured focus, but it develops alongside many other fun projects here. My herbal tea garden is flourishing, and the music classes for kids morphed into a jewelry-making club with bracelets and earrings for sale at the restaurant here. With Greg’s visit came the bees. Before they left, Ben and he built a top-bar bee hive in which Arlen, a local girl, and I are keeping African honey bees. Grupo Fenix is excited about this project and is making moves to hire Arlen as an in-house beekeeper. A trip to wonderful Mira and Anna and the Salado project exposed me to the radically different Honduran politic and what it really means to be in the tropics. I took the Salado Solar Team back with me to Sabana Grande and they had a grand time honing their skills and exchanging tortilla tips with the Mujeres. It is very interesting to see how these Hondurans and Nicaraguans learn from each other.                
Marcel, JPHF member, and Temon, a volunteer, assembling the new bikes
in front of the Solar Center.

I cannot believe I have only weeks left here. I do not think I have learned as much in an eight-month period as I have these last months. I am exhausted but so pleased with my experience. I will leave Nicaragua impressed with its people, inspired by the changes happening here, and of course instantly itching to return.   

Final post from Noelle in Honduras

I can’t believe I’ve been living and working in Utila for over one month and that I only have 3 weeks left here! While time has gone by quickly, I feel like I’ve contributed a significant amount to the project at IRBS, keeping busy with a diverse mix of activities.

Volunteers from the IRBS including myself have continued helping with the recycled glass bottle workshop at the local NGO Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA). The glasses we’ve made have been sold to several other bars in town, showing that the recycling trend is picking up in smaller businesses too!

One of the projects I am most involved with is in Environmental Education, where I have helped compile a manual as an informative guide on environmental themes including ecology, anthropological impact on the environment, climate change and sustainable tourism. After meeting with local school teachers on March 11, we will establish a schedule for IRBS volunteers including myself to help give presentations on these topics to the students.

Overall, I believe that one of my biggest feelings of accomplishment has come from coordinating the recycling workshop with the local children, both girls and boys. I’ve noticed a change in attitude in the children in terms of creativity in using a wide variety of different materials and openness to trying new things. Since my last update, we have made a “city” built on cardboard with toilet paper rolls and juice boxes. We also hope to make a mangrove mural made out of bottle caps along the same concrete wall where the museum that hosts the workshop every Friday afternoon is located. During my time here, I have also really appreciated giving tours to international tourists about the local flora, fauna and iguana conservation issues, and to the police to inform them of the issue of iguana poaching on the island.

Last week was unpredictably busy due to a tragic accident that had happened the previous weekend. A family of 3 – the driver, his wife and daughter – was on their way home riding along the airport’s unlit road when they were hit by a drunk 18-year-old driver on another motorcycle, causing tremendous injury to himself and to his two-year-old daughter, leading to his death and his daughter’s deteriorated health. As a result, a raffle fundraiser was held on March 1st for the local Jackson family in order to raise money for the costs incurred by this terrible event. IRBS volunteers promoted the raffle event and informed tourists about what had happened, bridging the gap between the locals, the IRBS volunteers and tourists by showing our support within the community. We also donated all of that week’s proceeds from the tours and movie night events held at the station to the family.

This past week we went to the Western Path mangrove site to monitor the Swamper iguanas. Here, we spotted 36 Swampers in an area of close to 1km², the largest number recorded to date! Yesterday, a few IRBS volunteers, myself included, helped experts in mangrove restoration that had come from Mexico and Honduras’ mainland research in Utila’s mangroves. This group does environmental consulting for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on a regular basis. 

My contribution included measuring four 1m² transects, counting the amount of pneumatophores, small roots growing upwards to promote the absorption of oxygen for the rest of the mangrove plant. Of the total found in the area of study, I was required to extract 10 percent for lab work. It wasn’t an easy task, but getting dirty in the mangroves is rewarding if it is followed by a rinse-off in the crystal clear sea! After discussing my internship with FBC with one of the specialists, they mentioned working on mangrove restoration with another FBC intern in Omoa…Brittany Macgillavry! What a small world! I am so grateful and excited to have been a part of this project, and to have had the opportunity to gain technical experience in the field! 

 On top of promoting its environmental education and iguana breeding and monitoring programs, t
he IRBS hopes to serve as a model of sustainable living for its national and international volunteers and as a demonstration centre for visitors, by transforming itself into an establishment that produces minimal waste. I have already begun working on developing a vegetable garden and improving its compost system. I hope to see these projects through before the end of my placement.

Overall, the experience I have gained from living and working in an intercultural context such as Utila has made me aware that internships like these are so important for recent graduates to gain hands-on experience in their field of interest for future work and study opportunities, and to gain new skills in the process. 

Update from Elisa in the Dominican Republic

The cool night breeze sweeps through the apartment bringing with it my daily dose of Bachata music. I am already starting to wonder about my cultural re-integration into
Canada  where I won't have Latin music serenading me to sleep every night.

Music and fiesta are a big part of Dominican culture. We are lucky to be just a public taxi drive away from one of the world renounded carnivals in La Vega.  Every Sunday for all of February, hundreds of teams participate in the parade to show off their  frighteningly beautiful costumes. Hoards of spectators quickly snap pictures of the event all the while dodging the "vejigas" of the "diablo cojuelos".  True to their name, these children dressed as devils, run around smacking anyone who isn't watching their back.  As much as it stings, you can't say you have had the full the carnival experience until you have unsuspectingly gotten hit! Most of the teams participating have a "cueva" or home base where they provide their  invited guests with viewing spots out of danger's way. These cuevas sport the colours of their team and are exclusive to the group's fans. Teams spend all year preparing for this event. They must design their outfit, fundraise, coordinate tasks, hire private security and prepare a playlist of catchy music for every weekend of February!!

All to say, our repertoire of Latin music and mastery of the Dominican CibaeƱo is growing daily. It will be interesting to touch base with all the other interns and show off our dialects. Having the opportunity to work in such a large area  through the Model Forest Network of the Dominican Republic means  that we get to cover a lot of ground, meet a lot of people and learn all kinds of expressions! Since our last blog post, we have been filling our weeks with commitments at ecotourism destinations, surveying sites for reforestation projects, documenting various community meetings  and giving website design workshops  to youth.

We have finally identified four local youth that will take over updating the Model Forest Colinas Bajas website once we leave.  These highly motivated and knowledgeable youth have been participating in our classes and have distinguished themselves as savvy website
designers and reporters.  The month of February has been dedicated to phasing them into the project and getting them familiar with their duties. The other students in the class are also slowly mastering blogging. Only one month left until the end of the workshops!

As  some of our portfolios  are smoothly coming to a close, others are still bustling with tasks to finish. We  continue to facilitate international collaboration between ENDA-DOM and the various Peace Corps members in the region. Adam has been heavily involved in developing a sustainable management plan for a plantation project with a Peace Corps volunteer from the Community Economic  Development sector and the Incubadora de Empresas de Cotui. Meanwhile, I am assisting with a smaller reforestation project to protect a water source near Castillo and helping out with administrative tasks for a Peace Corps  aqueduct project in the
community of El Corozo.

Even though our weeks fill up with commitments all over the region, we still spend a good chunk of our time in Cotui.  A little home project I have been tirelessly trying to coordinate is completing a compost bin for kitchen waste. What started out as a simple city friendly
compost bin for our organic waste turned into three months of phone tag with the carpenters. Nevertheless, it's finally done!!! We are the proud owners of a snazzy compost bin. The apartment staff are also really excited as they look forward to fertilizing their plantain trees. I can finally not feel bad about all the organic waste I produce from my fruit smoothies!

One more month of fresh papaya and zapote smoothies before we head North!!!

Un abrazo grande,