Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A look back on Winter of 2017-2018

It has been 6 months since Guias Unidos came back to Nicaragua as a project of Earth Island Institute, our first time abroad as part of a registered nonprofit organization. Time has flown by so quickly that we want to look back and answer the question, “what have we accomplished?”

Unifying resources
Our mission is to inspire community based, conservation-minded tourism, by unifying local and international expertise and resources. Here are a few highlights of how we did this:

Trever, a National Park Ranger from the USA, volunteered with us for 5 months (read his blog post here). Trever spent his first couple months primarily taking Spanish classes. He worked on Trail projects and helped with general needs such as training and renovating our Resource Center. Here we are working with the guides on a beach trash pickup,
A truck full of trash is the result of a community trash pickup along the beaches of Santa Cruz.

And here’s Trever with local guide Yilmer building a new trail on Volcan Maderas National Park,
Trever and Yilmer forge a new trail through the cloud forest.

and being the photographer on a field trip with the kids.
Trever manages multiple cameras while photographing the field trip.

Chelsea, a former park ranger and currently a master’s student with University of Montana, spent January partnering with us in developing educational tools and training. In addition to organizing a geology hike up Volcan Concepcion,
Chelsea enjoys the view near the top of Concepcion.

she helped teach summer camp with Peace Corps.
Chelsea collects trash with kids from Balgue, Ometepe. That's Kari from Peace Corps photobombing in the background!

Chelsea set up a fantastic training trip to visit Volcan Masaya National Park, to learn more about local geology at the park’s museum and to look into the active volcano at nighttime: 
Looking into the fiery pit of Volcan Masaya at nighttime

She then hosted a geology training session. Here you can see Chelsea and Trever tag-teaming the training.
Chelsea and Trever teach a class on geology

Chelsea plans on returning later this year to help develop more educational materials and community education. Chelsea also set us up with a meeting with Victor Vereb, a European geographer who is interested in creating a Geopark on Ometepe.
Victor discusses Geoparks with a group of locals and Guias Unidos' volunteers

On a more local level, Guias Unidos set up an exchange visit with Fundacion Colcibolca at the Mombacho Nature Reserve. The rangers at Volcan Mombacho near Granada have arguably the most developed system of trails and guides in the country. We funded 4 of the Ometepe guides to take a day trip to visit and learn about their training and resources. 
Guias Unidos guides (PUMAs) and Fundacion Colcibolca guides get together on Volcan Mombacho

In exchange, the Mombacho guides took a trip to Ometepe to visit our new Resource Center and take a volcano tour. As the tours on Ometepe take a little longer than those on Mombacho, we hosted our guests for the overnight visit.  

Training guides

In addition to our exchange learning trips and Chelsea’s geology classes, Trever and I were able to organize two classes on interpretation (how to develop engaging tours and presentations). We had a lot of fun in the classes, and we hope to do more. We lost the camera that took these pictures, but if we find a picture, we’ll post it soon. 

Community Education
School “summer vacation” takes place between late November and early February, making our winter season ideal to focus on programs with kids. With our “Nature Libre” campaign (see our December blog post), we raised $1300 for experiential education for kids, with a focus on field trips. With these donations, we were able to rent buses for 3 separate field trips, bringing about 100 kids to the local nature reserve, Charco Verde.
3 very happy groups of kids visiting Charco Verde nature reserve

For most of these kids and the parents who chaperoned, it was not only their first time to Charco Verde, but it was their first educational field trip ever. As promised, we made a video of our trip, in the spirit of the last scene of the movie Nacho Libre:

As these trips cost less than $100 each (less than $3 per kid), we still have funds for more programs. We plan on doing more camps next year, and we are also working with Peace Corps to create a “Junior Ranger” program for kids to learn about nature and go on more field trips.

The highlight of our contribution to community education is our Resource Center and library, which we founded this year. We chose the name PUMA for our center and the group that works there. 
Welcome to Centro PUMA!

Although there are no pumas who live on the island, they are a species that spans the entire Americas, representing our unity across borders. Puma also stands for Protectores Unidos por el Medio Ambiente, or protectors united through the environment. As I and all of the USA volunteers are gone for the summer, a group of PUMAs is operating regular public hours of the "Centro PUMA" library.
Some of the PUMAs sport their new t-shirts
In addition to being open to the public 3 days per week, Centro PUMA has hosted events, such as story time in partnership with Peace Corps Nicaragua. In one memorable event, we read “El Lorax” to a group of kids before watching the movie together.
Amanda reads "El Lorax" to piles of snuggling kids

Thanks to donors

Thanks to all the families, friends, and strangers who believed in us and donated over $5000 in cash and needed items to our project this year. This includes a group of generous Minnesota birders who donated 2 suitcases full of (about 20) binoculars to our project. Finally, a huge thanks to New England Biolabs Foundation (http://www.nebf.org/) who awarded us a $7000 grant that has made the majority of our work possible this year. 
Kids have fun with the donated binoculars on their field trip

A word about the political situation in Nicaragua:

It was a coincidence that I (Jeff) happened to fly out right as political unrest spread across the nation, but it will give us some time to observe developments from a distance. Protesters started in mid-April with a demonstration against social security reforms, but soon grew in numbers to protest against the government. In the past month, there have been dozens of deaths as protesters clashed against counter protesters and shots were fired into crowds. Many people fear the beginning of a difficult time in Nicaragua. Since the protests began the unrest has continued. We understand that the situation is complicated, but we hope that Nicaragua can continue find a peaceful resolution. In the meantime, we plan on continuing with our project, but we intend to proceed with caution, especially as pertains to our volunteers. For those of you interested in volunteering, please keep in touch with us as we assess the developing situation.
April 23 march (Reuters photo)