I have taken electricity for granted

Yesterday I returned home from my first assignment with AsoFenix. A co-worker and I traveled four hours by bus, and then hiked an hour and a half (in pouring rain) to a small village called La Guayaba, situated in the mountainous department of Boaco.

La Guayaba is incredibly beautiful, but very rural.

The families that live here make do with very little- adobe walls, dirt floors, and the women cook indoors over open flames. There is no infrastructure: no roads, no running water, and no electricity- well, there’s some electricity…

AsoFenix has trained a small group of solar technicians around the region of Boaco to bring electricity to families there. Our job was to train with one of these technicians and to assist in installing electricity into two homes. Although I have never worked with any sort of electrical installation, I found myself running cables along the walls, wiring lights and light switches.

It was quite a moving experience to help put the first electrical wires in a house. For the first time, after the sun went down, the family could navigate their bedroom and living room without a flashlight or candle. For the first time the women would not have to cook dinner in the dark…

And what’s more, their house is now lit by energy harnessed from the sun.

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bicycle power

This is Bryam. He is an electrical technician trained by AsoFénix in the rural community of Cuajinicuil. This community was a beneficiary of AsoFénix’s first wind turbine project in 2010. AsoFénix worked alongside the community providing technical and financial support as they installed a windmill which generates 1kW of energy, enough to supply 14 homes with basic electrical needs.

When AsoFénix enters a community to assist in installing renewable energy projects, their aim is to have the community to take ownership of the projects. One tactic for accomplishing this goal is to train local technicians from the communities and provide them with working skills and knowledge to build, maintain and repair energy systems.

Bryam was one of three community members to raise his hand at a planning meeting, expressing interest to be trained by AsoFénix and learn how to construct a wind turbine and then wire houses with lights and light switches, batteries and outlets. So when he was 16 years old, Bryam helped wire all 11 houses in his small community to the wind turbine that he helped build.

Bryam now lives in Managua and assists with projects in the communities as well as odd jobs around the office.

In his spare time, Bryam has used his electrical skills to build up a bicycle that was gifted to him. It’s my favorite bike in the world. I would like to give you a brief tour…

The bike is built up almost entirely from salvaged materials. This little motor connects to a small battery which powers all the bike’s electronics. It is powered by energy harnessed from the spinning wheel.

Bryam mounted a small solar panel on the handle bars which also connects to the battery, helping out with supplying energy to his vast array of lights, and his radio (which he blasts as he rides to and from our offices).

Radio and christmas lights…

The battery also sends power to this outlet, which Bryam can use to charge his cell phone.

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Half Way

onion flowering

Last week, I submitted the last of my paperwork to stay in Nicaragua and continue my internship for an additional three months. I will now be working here until June. The last four and a half months have flown by, and so I anticipate the next four and a half to do the same.

In the meantime, there is a lot to look forward to with our organization and the farmers we are working with. One of the main goals of my internship is to connect the farmers with educational resources inside the country. I have been working on this under the direction of both AsoFenix and Green Empowerment. It has been the most satisfying aspect of my internship so far. We just completed our second workshop with the farmers and professors from the National Agrarian University.

Our first meeting was in Managua, where the farmers were driven in to meet the professors and begin a discussion about some challenges they have been facing.

They also took a tour of the University’s organic garden and composting operations.

Last week, the professors came to the farmers. This was a chance to see the farms and help the producers identify pests and discuss some basic, low cost, organic pest management techniques. 

Each professor had prepared a presentation for the producers based on their discussion from the first meeting. The picture below is of a presentation about the development of a tomato plant.

With access to the Internet, (or even libraries for that matter…) this is the type of information that I so easily take for granted. It’s crucial information for farmers, but it doesn’t exist where they live. Only a few of the farmers even know how to read, so when experimenting with new crops or methods of agriculture, there is no real opportunity to do any research.

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would you like to nerd out about compost with me?

Where I was living in Seattle, I was more likely to throw something away in the compost bin than the garbage can. Seattle is a composting city. The compost containers outside of homes and apartment buildings often tower over the garbage cans next to them. Some people are more meticulous about sorting their biodegradables than others, but even among the people who don’t compost, most have heard about it.

Here, the farmers I have been working with had never heard of compost, but they didn’t really need to. They grew their staple crops in the rainy season and after harvest, horses and cattle would graze the land leaving rich excrements that would decompose and fill the soil with nutrients over the dry season.

But for many, leaving the land fallow comes at the price of migration. It is not a practice to help the land, but rather, the only option for farmers without access to water. With no water, there are no crops to produce and no money to earn. For most, maintaining a livelihood during the dry season involves leaving Nicaragua to pursue agricultural work in Costa Rica.

AsoFenix aims to keep communities intact. The organization believes that through education and the assistance of technology, communities can grow both socially and economically without sacrificing the environment. Technology like the solar powered irrigation systems AsoFenix and Green Empowerment have installed, have made an enormous impact in keeping community members living in the community. But AsoFenix recognizes that technology alone will not suffice.

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It’s been a little over a month since I started my internship with AsoFenix, and my role in the organization is taking shape.

I am working with farmers who are undergoing major transitions after installing solar powered irrigation systems.

Farmers here would grow corn, millet and beans during the rainy season and leave for Costa Rica for agricultural work (many pick coffee) for several months during the dry season. Now, with access to water, they can continue to produce food year round and continue to make their living during the dry season. The problem is, they are now growing crops they have very little experience with, such as tomatoes, carrots and onions to name a few.

Roughly nine months ago, an agronomist worked with these farmers to provide technical assistance with crops they were unfamiliar growing. He advised them all to start using chemicals.

Chemicals are expensive, they deplete soil organic matter over time, and they can be a health hazard to the farmer.

The agronomist has left. The farmers are using chemicals and they are still lacking technical information. Some crops show signs of poor soil health and pest attacks (which are more likely to occur in poor soil).

My job is to work with farmers to create an organic agriculture curriculum based on soil development and conservation. I am also working to connect farmers to resources and organizations in Nicaragua that they can continue to utilize after I have completed my internship and left the country.

I have teamed up with a farmer who has a small piece of land, and a strong desire to farm without chemicals. We started last week by building his first compost pile and double digging a 200 square foot raised bed to serve as a pilot project for biointensive farming. The goal is to turn his small farm into a learning center of sorts…

The farmers nearby are watching us closely.

home sweet home

I have a bunch of videos and more photos to sort through that I will continue to post, but the Central America adventure is over. For now…

I really want to give a HUGE thank you to all my teachers and advisors who were an incredible help and source of support for this time abroad.

AsoFénix and Green Empowerment, two organizations that are doing incredible work in Nicaragua. Thank you for your dedication to the families and thank you for supporting me and allowing me to feel like I was a useful part of your organizations!

The University of Washington, Oregon State University and IE3 Global Internships, thank you for giving me this opportunity to expand my educational, professional and cultural horizons while working towards my academic degree.

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, The GO! Global Scholarship and the IE3-OUS Chancellor Scholarship, without your financial support, this trip would not have been possible. Thank you so much!

Last but definitely not least, my dear family and friends. Thank you for your love and endless support. I would have been lost without you. I don’t know what else to say.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.