We have good news and bad news.
The bad news:
The political situation in Nicaragua has declined since Jeff left in April, with violent repression of protests in cities around the country. For a good background overview, check out Latino USA's recent podcast episode: http://latinousa.org/2018/07/24/nicaraguaincrisis/
Ometepe Island, however, is living up to its nickname, Oasis de Paz (oasis of peace), and has had no major violence and only a few, mostly peaceful protests. There are still huge impacts on the island, however, such as fuel and food shortages, commerce slowing to a halt, and tourism all but drying up. The tour guides we work with are used to not having 100% reliable income, but many are having real trouble with a complete lack of tours. Some consider migrating to Costa Rica as tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have done already. Keep in mind that Nicaragua’s population is 6 million normally, so current refugee numbers are equivalent to well over a million people fleeing the US for refugee status – and that is just to one country. Many other countries are seeing refugee applications from Nicaragua, including Panama, Mexico, and the US.
So what do we do? How can we help? Nicaragua has in its constitution (Article 27) that foreigners may not interfere in Nicaraguan politics. A quick review of Nicaraguan history quickly explains why that might be. Foreign meddling, most especially by the United States, has caused many problems for the Nicaraguan people. Political interference is really not appropriate. But if citizens have to leave the country due to violence or resulting economic distress, who will be there to rebuild?
Nicaraguans have done this before in living memory, and are working hard to keep their lives on track. Their resilience is inspiring.
We had arranged for three guides to keep the resource center open to the public three days a week after Jeff left, paying them a general worker’s day wage to do so (a guide can earn much more in a day, but then has to hustle for business a lot of the time – less secure, but potentially more money). Due to tourist high season coming around during this time, we spread the work out so three people would work one day a week each. They are encouraged to do whatever community outreach they feel appropriate, using the community center as a base.
Now that they have so much time on their hands since there are no tourists to guide, they have started more community outreach than any of us anticipated happening. They are providing English lessons, computer services, environmental education, art classes, and the like – all on their own time and free to the community.
People are flocking to the center, especially children but even adults.
They are inviting in school classes to introduce local kids (and therefore their families) to what is available in the center.
And they’re taking students out for environmental education trips in their backyards.
Beyond our resource center, they’re lending equipment we brought down to do research into local endangered species, just as we intended. Shout out to LOCOs (Loreros Observando Conservando Ometepe), who study the Amazonian yellow-naped parrot, and a group of generous birders in Minnesota who donated the binoculars!
What we can do is to continue supporting these amazing folks in their community work. We have increased the open hours of the resource center to five days a week. We are hoping to pay folks for more hours of instruction for community workshops. They refuse to give up hope, and so do we. We have grant money from New England Biolabs Foundation and hope to renew that grant for next year, as well as donations from wonderful friends and family. If you have the means, please consider donating to help keep our resource center open and wages paid to keep these amazing people working. You can find donation options at our website, guiasunidos.org/contact-donate/ (or more directly here).
With all the chaos of the news, I have found hope in our work with the good folks of Ometepe. A huge thanks to Elieth Alvarez who manages our books and timesheets on top of giving English classes and keeping the center open, and to Arlin Hernandez, Edgard Condena, Ramon Ivan H.G., and Diego Hernandez for their hard work and infinite patience.