Nicaragua Diary: San Francisco Libre

This year the Department of Meteorology are participating and organising several events to raise money for the David Grimes Trust, a part of Reading San Francisco Libre Association. The David Grimes Trust was set-up after the passing away of Dr. David Grimes, a Reader in African Meteorology and an integral part of our department. His works include leading the TAMSAT group from the mid-1990s and supporting a new generation of African scientists. More details about David Grimes and the Reading San Francisco Libre can be found at http://www.met.reading.ac.uk/david/ and http://www.sanfranciscolibre.org/.

Events taking place include a departmental bake sale and a Meteorology Gatsby Ball. 20 members of the department are also running the Reading Half Marathon, and you can support them by donating at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/metdeptreadinghalf2018 .

This week’s blog post comes from Nick Byrne, a recent PhD graduate from the department, who’s written a two-day diary for us on his experiences in Nicaragua visiting San Francisco Libre.

Day 1

05:30 – Days in Nicaragua begin early! In San Francisco Libre (and in ‘el campo’ in general) everyone is up from as early as 04.00. Animals are tended to and tortillas are prepared from scratch, perhaps also along with a dish of ‘gallo pinto’ and some coffee.

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School in San Francisco Libre

In the big towns life begins a little later. I’m staying in Esteli, a city in the northern highlands which is over 100km from SFL. My ‘expreso’ bus to Managua leaves at 06.45 and I only have time for a banana before I have to dash out the door.

08:00 – The bus drops me at the side of the highway near San Benito where I need to catch a regular bus to SFL. I get some travel advice from a friendly owner of a nearby ‘pulperia’, who tells me that the bus should arrive in about an hour. Regular buses in Nicaragua (or ‘chicken buses’ to tourists) are often retired American schoolbuses that have been redecorated in colourful ways. Anything and everything can be sold on them, and a couple of fresh Nicaraguan ‘picos’ can be very welcome if you missed breakfast.

11:00 – The bus arrives in SFL! I get off outside the house of a German NGO where 4 young volunteers are spending the year. I meet two of them, Flo and Clara, before being introduced to local resident and president of APREDEN (Association for the Recovery and Development of the Environment in Nicaragua), Jimmy Zamora. I give Jimmy a small gift of art supplies from Reading which he tells me will be very popular with the children of SFL. We chat briefly with the volunteers at the house and then hop on Jimmy’s bike for a ride to the local ‘comedor’ where we get some food and a delicious melon ‘fresco’.

12:00 – Over lunch we talk about some recent projects in SFL such as the plant nursery and beekeeping programs in ‘La Guayabita’, and the education programs in the library and the school. Between working on the various projects and coordinating activities with the German NGO, Jimmy is effectively on duty 24/7. Like many Nicaraguans, participating in his church community and singing in the choir at weekends is his release from the challenges that work brings. We also talk a little about his visit to England and his love of The Beatles, and we even manage a brief discussion on how residents perceive climate change in SFL.

13:00 – After lunch we spend the afternoon visiting various projects and activities in SFL. These include the harbour and canal network to the capital Managua, the semi-developed volcanic bath and spa facility for tourists, and also to the many communities surrounding the lake that were devastated by flooding after hurricane Mitch and from heavy rains in recent years. A recurrent theme is that even in difficult conditions, SFL is not lacking in creative solutions to the various problems that arise. The primary challenge is finding funding to get a project started. I’m told that the average daily wage for an agricultural worker in Nicaragua is around $5 a day, and so even a few dollars can have a huge impact on the daily quality of life.

Perhaps the project which Jimmy and colleagues are most proud of is the work at ‘La Guayabita’. This is a nursery for plants and trees as well as housing the location of the beekeeping project in SFL. There is a close connection between both of these projects as the bees help pollinate the nursery, while a diverse ecological system is crucial for a successful beekeeping program. When the beekeeping program initially started, all that the community had was the technical expertise of a few residents. Over time, and with the help of various fundraising efforts (including from the David Grimes Trust in Reading), the necessary materials were purchased and now the program is actually generating money for the community.

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Plants at La Guayabita

The nursery itself has a striking visual impact as deforestation has been a problem in SFL over recent decades. Plants from the nursery are being used to redevelop recently bought land and this major project is currently in the early stages of development. Jimmy’s colleagues describe it best by calling ‘La Guayabita’ the lungs of SFL.

17:00 – Saturday evening is a chance to unwind a little. A karaoke competition has been organised in the central park and many children and families are present to enjoy the atmosphere. Jimmy is hosting the event and there is a wide range of genres. Songs range from recent hits such as ‘Chambea’ and ‘Casate Conmigo’ to crowdpleasers like ‘Me Gusta Tu Vieja’ (which I’m told is a Mexican joke about ‘your mum’!). Jimmy closes the event with a ranchera called ‘La Ley De La Vida’ before the prizes are presented. Everyone goes home around 21.00 after a very enjoyable evening.

Day 2

5:30 – I wake with the roosters and have breakfast with the German volunteers. We talk about their experience, from the initial shock of their first few weeks, to their determination to make the most of their year-long stay, to them now being an integral part of community life. They are well-known amongst the children of SFL, who like to chat and play whenever they pass the house. After breakfast I meet Jimmy again, and we go to visit the school and library education projects.

9:00 – The selection of books and educational materials in the library is impressive, and both the school and the library have been colourfully decorated with many art projects from the school children along with flowers and trees from the surrounding gardens. The library also contains materials for a weather station funded by the David Grimes Trust, along with English teaching materials donated by Caversham resident Russell Maddicks during a recent visit. Jimmy tells me that the project that they are currently working on in the library is to raise money for a sound system so that regular dance classes and audio lessons can be held. This is likely to cost a couple of hundred dollars and so it may be sometime before the project is finally completed.

11:00 – Suddenly it is 11.00 and we realise that it is time for me to leave. I say some quick goodbyes and then hop on Jimmy’s bike for the hour drive down the ’41’ from where I will catch my bus back to Esteli. I’m very grateful to Jimmy for taking the time to drive me personally, and this kindness is a typical example of what I have experienced from everyone in SFL during my short visit. It’s been a fantastic experience to meet a community I’ve read so much about since I came to Reading; after getting to know someone as committed to community work as Jimmy, it is much easier to understand how fundraising efforts in Reading can be translated into real community impacts thousands of miles away in SFL. I tell Jimmy that I hope to be able to visit again on my way home to Ireland in a couple of weeks, and he informs me that I should be just in time to sample some freshly harvested honey!

Thank you to Jimmy Zamora and volunteers for providing photos.

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