Education Plus Nicaragua Needs Help

I’m way behind on posting because we have not had good internet but this post needs to be done in any case. It isn’t about our recent activities, it is about Education Plus Nicaragua which we visited back in May last year.

I didn’t give this organization enough mention in my May 15, 2017 posting. We visited the school and talked at length with a couple of staff members and met some of the kids. The children love going there each day, if for no other reason that they get a decent meal. But most of them appreciate the supplemental education that they get as well.

I received this email today and feel compelled to post it and ask anyone who reads this to consider giving $5, $10, $25, or more one time or on an ongoing basis. I can just about count the monthly contributions that I do regularly on one hand and this is one of them.

“Dear friends and family,

Where to even begin.

Last week, political protests erupted all across Nicaragua, leaving more than 30 dead so far.  Protesters are sick of what they view as their corrupt and inept government, and government forces have met peaceful protests with guns and mortars.  New laws were announced increasing income taxes, higher taxes on social security payments, and decreased medical coverage.  At the same time social security is almost insolvent, its funds having allegedly been used by the main political party, the Sandinistas, to purchase luxury housing and private businesses for themselves.  Censorship has kicked up – news channels that are not pro-government have been shut down, and things only seem to be getting worse.  “President” Daniel Ortega has announced he will be rescinding the social security reforms, but the number of protesters is still growing, with some police forces disobeying orders and joining the side of the people. Businesses in the capital are on strike today, demanding the release of political prisoners and an end to censorship and violent repression.

While the social security reforms were the main trigger of the protests, this really has been a long time coming.  Several other issues have caused the protest, including the government’s inept handling of a recent natural disaster in the Indio Maiz region, and because the people are sick of a public education system that says it averages 25 children per classroom but actually averages 50 or more.  Now, a common protest against non-profits such as Education Plus is: “why are you educating that children?  That should be the government’s job.  If you provide the education, then the government has no incentive to do their job.  Therefore, you are actually contributing to the problem.”

Well, in Nicaragua, the endemic corruption is so bad that even if there were more funding for the school system, little would find its way to the children.  More fundamentally, the current government does not want its people educated.  University students are a main faction of the protesters.   The government knows that with education comes greater awareness and a decrease in the sense of powerlessness.  Uneducated people are poorer – so the government can buy their votes cheaply in election years by going around giving out sacks of food and cheap building materials to repair homes.  Additionally, it is the poor and illiterate who are the easiest to manipulate.  We have firsthand accounts of the police going into our community of Pantanal and paying men 200 cord (about 6 USD) to attack peaceful protesters.

This is not the e-mail I wanted to be writing.  But big things are going on right now in Nicaragua, and I want to let you all know that with Education Plus, things will be business as usual as much as possible.  While public schools are closed for now, our doors will be open.  Our employees do not want to stay at home, in fact, they say they feel safer at Casa de los Sueños.  We have arranged transportation so they can get to and from work safely.  If the power is cut across the country as is rumored (in order to prevent communications of what is going on to the outside world), we will keep our doors open.  We will cook with wood and teach in dark but still enthusiastic classrooms.  We will remain a safe place for the children to come and be children throughout the crisis. 

If we start to argue about “government responsibility”, it is the children who will lose.  It falls to us who actually have the economic power to make a difference, to educate the children who will be the future leaders of their country.   As Cardinal Obispo Silvio Baez recently told a gathering of university students at the Metropolitan Cathedral, “The students of Nicaragua are its moral reserve.”

To make a donation to help us continue feeding the children during the crisis, please click on the button below:

Click Here to Help us Feed the Children During the Crisis

Thank you for standing with us during these heartbreaking times.

With hope and gratitude,

Monica, Jim, the staff, volunteers and children of Education Plus

Monica Loveley
Executive Director
Education Plus Nicaragua
www.eduplusnicaragua.org
www.facebook.com/eduplusnicaragua

 

Aguas Calientes Part 2

Most people only come to Aguas Calientes for the day or at best overnight. Breakfast at our hotel started at 4:30 in the morning because some people get up and hike up the mountain to be at the ticket gate when it opens at 7:00! Others get in line to get the bus so that they can be at the gate at 7:00. The buses are fairly new and comfortable for the ride up the mountain with 14 switchbacks.

Since we didn’t have a schedule to keep we stayed in the town several days. The things to do in the town aren’t as exciting as going to Machu Picchu but they were pleasant. In addition to looking at the stone carvings, there are hikes, tourist shops, hot springs, butterfly gardens, museum, and just exploring the town. While we walked up to the hot springs (to see some of the carvings along the way), we didn’t have bathing suits with us (we had traveled with only some of our things and had left them in Guayaquil with some of out things) and didn’t want to rent suits. We did buy a few things at the tourist shops but we mostly just hiked and walked around town.

Walking towards the museum, we passed men that were creating stone building blocks by hand. There were a few power tools but most of the work was done by hand, one stone at a time. Hard, hot work.

Workers in background picking stone; Foreground shows blocks that are partially finished.
Some work is done with power tools but it is still hot, back breaking work.
Man in green shirt is putting finishing touches on each block.
Finished stones

There was this funky old bus at a restaurant on the way to the museum as well. Love that it is used to hold plants and the satellite dish!We wandered into the area that is where the locals live. There was a lot of renovations in the past 5 years or so. New government buildings and a wonderful soccer field where we saw a game going on at night.

What a beautiful location to work out or play soccer!

The bridge that crosses over to the other side has chain link on the sides and as in some large cities, people have added a variety of padlocks as a symbol of their love. Cute although I understand it there get to be too many locks, the authorities have to cut them off.In Peru, there are three important symbols: the condor (sky/heaven), puma or cougar (earth), and the serpent (wisdom). You see the three symbols together frequently. There is a nice explanation of them here.Drainage is done in two ways. Walkways on the slopes tend to have a grate down the middle. Along the short street and a few other areas, there are holes in the concrete next to the curb. We saw this in other towns as well.

Cusco

Dan resting on the way up a steep area. Note the ancient adobe wall and stone foundation in the background.

Cusco was founded in 1100, probably making it the oldest city we visited. It is high, 11,152 feet and probably has close to 500,000 people. We were there briefly before we went to Ollantaytambo and then a bit longer after we left the Puno/Arequipa areas. Like many towns in Latin America, it is built on steep land.

Red car parked while unloading. Larger white truck must wait until the car moves.

One thing we saw very quickly is that the old parts of Cusco has very narrow streets. That wasn’t surprising but what was strange is that these old streets are two ways! This makes for very interesting traffic, lots of horn honking and frustration until one person gives up and backs up out of the way.

We went to a very interesting Inca museum and did some sight seeing. Sadly, most museums don’t allow any photography so we have little record of what we saw.

Note the beautiful skirt worn by the woman holding the lamb.

We didn’t see this often but it was not uncommon for an indigenous person to earn money allowing their picture to be taken. This one has a 2 week old lamb and a 2 month old llama.

Despite what the sign says, you are going to take a train or hike the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu. They take you as far as possible by car but then you still have to take the train the rest of the way. (Don’t you love the spelling of the word “by”?)

Here you see some people in costumes representing some of the figures in the Aguas Calientes stone carvings. (Sorry it isn’t clearer, this event was going on as we passed in a taxi or bus.)

All of the buses I remember in Latin America have a driver and someone to collect money. In this case, the woman has her daughter riding along. While she was good for her age, 3?, she was bored and climbing all over. Not very safe but I am sure the woman didn’t have an affordable choice for day care.

There are many stalls and people walking around selling crafted items as well as this beautiful mural.

 

 

Ollantaytambo Part 2

When we left Aguas Calientes, we took the train back to Ollantaytambo. We wanted to see a few more of the ruins and the general area before we left the Sacred Valley. We enjoyed walking along the sidewalks with ancient stone walls built 500 years ago.

Our new best friend

We went on a tour to see some ruins up in the mountains. It was about a 15 minute hike from the car to an isolated area that was once a training facility for the Incas. Now there are a few partial buildings and some llamas grazing in the area. We didn’t see the owner of the animals but there was a young German Shepherd there to guard the animals. He was very friendly, I guess he could tell we weren’t going to hurt the llamas. He followed us partly down the mountain when we left.

Private, impromptu market

When we got down the mountain, the guide told us to wait and he’d go get the car. We didn’t realize we were being set up to have our own, private market! We saw these two females walking down the road with big bundles on their backs. As soon as they got to us, they unslung the bundles and put out their wares. We bought one thing from each of them. It was quite fun except we found out one of the females was 7 years old. Why wasn’t she is school???

We rode to another area where the indigenous welcomed people to their village. There had just been a village meeting so there were a lot of people milling around in their local dress. We talked to one man and he joked that the beaded strap on his hat was for his wife to pull him. The guide told us when to pay a small sum (the equivilent of a dollar or less) for the photos and when not to. Not sure what his criteria was.

I’d been curious when babies started to walk because they are in the slings so much of the day so I asked one mother about this. Children don’t start to walk until age 2 since they aren’t spending as much time crawling, kicking, and moving when they are in the sling.

On the side of the mountain, seemingly in the middle of nowhere this woman weaves by herself for hours.

We saw one lady weaving on the side of a mountain. She was all alone, working away. In the village we also saw people weaving. I would think that it is very hard on their backs to sit on the ground for long periods of time weaving.

Dyes are made from plant roots, leaves, seeds, and berries. The colors are beautifully bright and they wear their clothes with much pride.

Cow grazing on terrace.

There are ancient terraces almost everywhere you look. It was not uncommon to see cows or llamas grazing on one of the tiers.

Roofs often have a little bull on the top which is thought by the locals to bring good fortune to the house. It was fun to see them.

Here are a few more pictures from the area.

Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters)

Aguas Calientes is tucked away in the mountains

Aguas Calientes is the nearest town to Machu Picchu. The only way to reach Aguas Calientes is walking several days or by train (2-4 hours from Ollantaytambo or Cuzco). Once you get to Aguas Calientes, be prepared to walk up and down hills. The distances aren’t that far but they are fairly steep.

Typical stairs in Aguas Calientes.

The people of Aguas Calientes have done an amazing job of making this a pleasant place to stay near the iconic Machu Picchu. The town is almost Disney Land clean. They have cute recycling containers like in the posting for Ollantaytambo. They also have dozens of beautiful stone carvings in the huge boulders and rock hillsides of the town. Here are a few of the carvings. Most of them are at least 6′ high and 4 or 5′ across!

Just as there are no roads to the town, there are no roads in the actual town. There is one very short paved section at one end of the town where the Machu Picchu buses load (and turn around). This means that everything comes in one the train: people, food, water (remember the water isn’t potable!!!), materials, etc. Once they arrive, they are manually unloaded from the train and put on small carts and hauled up the hills. The men who do this (I didn’t see any women hauling carts) must be very strong since they are loaded down. Many of the pedestrian “streets” are sloped or have ramps along the side of them for the carts.

 

Aguas Calientes Signs

If you walk from Aguas Calientes towards Machu Picchu or the museum or the hikes that some people take, you pass a work area on the outskirts of the town where the stone blocks are being carved.  There are a series of very nice signs.

General Thoughts About Ecuador

Snow capped mountain in the background, cactus in the foreground

I enjoyed Ecuador quite a bit. People are friendly and open. The scenery is gorgeous. Life is easier as an American there because they use the US coins.

Locals preparing beans for sale

I enjoyed seeing the various indigenous people in their native clothes. The food was tastier than Colombia (which is very bland) and very inexpensive.

Dan’s favorite city was Loja. I enjoyed Ibarra because we spent time talking with our neighbor and host more than some other places. This allowed me to get a better feel for life in Ecuador. Quito was fun because of the Equator activities.

Generally museums are free or extremely inexpensive.

If you go to Latin America, be sure to spend time here. Plan ahead more and go to the Galapagos Islands if you can. It is expensive, about $3000-40000 for 2 people for 5 days. Maybe some day…

 

Guayaquil

Guayquil has a beautiful boardwalk with a ferris wheel

Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador with over 2.69 million people. We were happy to stay with Tracey McGuiness who is aunt of our niece, Bonnie’s step children. We had briefly met her at Bonnie’s wedding several years ago, or I should say Dan had.

Tracey was raised in the United States and Ecuador so her English is top notch. She showed us around town and we enjoyed being with her.

We had a big laugh because when her daughters heard that we were staying with her they were very concerned since she didn’t really know us. “They might be serial killers!” Fortunately they were more comfortable with us once we met.

One evening we went to an ice cream shop that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the liquid ice cream. The making of your order is half the fun and it was tasty as well. We had kiwi and else in ours, don’t remember what. See Dan enjoying his.

In the parking lot of the ice cream store was a barrier in the handicapped parking space. We had seen something similar in Costa Rica and asked Tracey about it since we could talk in English and really hear the explanation. It seems that they expect the driver to be able bodied and move the barrier when they pull up. She didn’t know what happened if the driver was the disabled person. Interesting way of looking at things. Not practical but interesting.

We only spent 2 nights in Guayaquil before we flew to Peru and a short overnight on the return flight. We hope that Tracey will allow us to return the favor and visit us in Durango someday.

Vilcabamba

Very pretty exterior of church on the town square

We spent my birthday at a small town near Loja called Vilcabamba. We had heard it was a town with a lot of expats and that it was a quaint town. I found it pleasant but not that interesting a town.

River

We did take a nice (except for the mosquitos) long walk along the river.

Apparently there are a lot of people from South Korea in the town, thus the Korean looking characters on the restroom at the tourist information office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many people does it take to paint a stripe on the road? Apparently 4 lot when you do it by hand.

It is common in Ecuador to see dogs that are on roofs of houses. They bark at everyone but seem to know it isn’t a good idea to jump down.

Lovely ride by bus

Wind Turbines

View from the area by the museum, the highest wind farm in the world, over 8900 feet

We visited the museum for wind turbines which is located up by the actual turbines. The taxi driver and the guide at the museum didn’t speak English so we got the gist of the explanations but not details. Still very interesting.

Wind turbines are usually good for about 20 years and then they have to be dismantled because the concrete foundation can become unstable. That was a surprise. The turbine itself could still be fine.

This demonstration project (11 Chinese made turbines) in Loja has been successful and they are planning to add additional turbines. Don’t remember the payoff period but I think it was something like 5-7 years. Pretty short time; very cost effective.

More information about the project can be found here.