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Nicaragua

I decided to apply for CIDA's internship program as I was looking to start a career in international development. The program seemed like a great opportunity to gain field experience and contacts which could help me launch my career. MEDA specifically appealed to me as I loved the organization's business approach which I believe is a very sustainable and practical approach to development. I also wanted to gain more experience in microfinance which was the area of focus for my internship with MEDA.

I had worked abroad prior to my internship with MEDA but this experience really offered me the opportunity to gain a ton of professional experience and skills. I learned so much from my fellow MEDA staff and partner organization staff in Nicaragua which really complemented my academic knowledge of development issues.

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In my fourth and last year as a Political Science student specializing in International Relations, I was beginning to worry what the next steps in my life would be. I was applying to a variety of internships and job applications when I came across MEDA. To be honest, I was drawn to MEDA because I was able to not only improve my professional skills, but also to travel abroad. I had no idea that MEDA would become my backbone in strong morals and the ideal view of a non-governmental organization.

In arriving to Nicaragua, I was completely lost, to say the least. I had volunteered continuously throughout my high school and university career and had already lived abroad, but MEDA provided a unique opportunity in becoming comfortable within a career setting. MEDA sparked my individual strengths and gave me a strong voice within a well known international organization where I was able to view my point and use creativity in projects.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Discussing-different-ideas-as-a-group.gifThe Techno-Links Project has manifested a connection between private businesses and small rural farmers within a time span of three years to provide sustainable development. I previously met the private businesses and farmers when I conducted interviews with them on behalf of MEDA. However, the dynamics of the Techno-Links Project meeting on March 13th and March 14th of 2014 was astounding, with all ten Nicaraguan private companies coming together for the first time to share their ideas.

The goal of the two-day meeting was to express the positive affects and outcomes and improvements of the project. A large brown sheet of paper was taped to the front wall with different headings written on it: Design, Efficiency, Effectiveness, Impact, Sustainability and Crosscutting with subtitles of Successes, Potential, Setbacks, and Barriers. Companies were divided into groups to work together and each group wrote down their ideas, concerns, or likes of the project and then put the idea on the board under each subtitle. Each idea was expressed as a group and each was described in detail with a conversation to follow.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Activity-of-finding-the-impacts-of-the-Techno-Links-Project.gifBefore this activity, I presented my findings on a Case Study I had conducted in November on one of the partners, The International School of Agriculture and Livestock, as well as discuss impacts/outcomes of farmers from the agricultural business partners. This helped set the stage to illustrate what should be improved and what is strong with the business plans and project for the companies to include in the activity.

It was a special meeting for me, as it was my last day after a seven-month internship with MEDA as the impact assessment intern. Before the meeting had begun, everyone had come to say hello to me and I realized all the extraordinary connections I made in my time spent in Nicaragua. It was a nice last day, but it was also hard with everyone talking energetically about new ideas and future goals.

I came home on March 14th, and I am eager for my next adventure in international relations. The internship has given me a new perspective on, not only international development, but also local development. My perspective has greatly changed within international relations and sustainable development and I look forward to further develop my knowledge and experience b2ap3_thumbnail_Seeing-Nicaragua-from-above-such-a-beautiful-sight.gifthrough a long-term career.

The MEDA internship provided me with the knowledge of creating webinars, professional presentations in front of partners, interview skills, making case studies, translating documents and being a translator, and above all, the ability to communicate with a group of dynamic people from business corporations, rural farmers, and Skype meetings with people from all over the world from Africa, Peru, Canada, and the United States. I am grateful for this experience and for the people within MEDA and outside of MEDA that supported me in professional and personal growth.
Thank you MEDA for the support and all the substantial work you do that I saw first hand.


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b2ap3_thumbnail_Reusable-plane-tickets.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Panga-is-the-boat-to-get-over-to-Little-Corn-Island.gifI had a wonderful chance to go to Little Corn Island, which is located on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to get away from the cold weather!

There are two islands, Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island. The islands add an interesting aspect to Nicaragua. It is most well known for being occupied by pirates in the 1800’s. The islands were under British rule and served as a refuge for the pirates. The population of Little Corn Island today is 1,200 with a large mestizo population, people of mixed European and Indian ancestry), and direct descendants of pirates. There are also Garifuna people, the descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people, and indigenous Miskito people from Caribbean Mosquito coast. 



b2ap3_thumbnail_The-local-dish-Run-Down---yum.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Scuba-Diving-Instructor-and-I.gifThe islanders speak an English-speaking Creole that originated from a mixed black heritage of English settlers and slaves brought over from Africa. English is the official language on the Corn Islands, followed by Miskito and Spanish. The locals make their living from harvesting lobster and fishing. Life moves at slow pace and reggae is the music of the islands. There is a famous local dish called Run Down. It is a stew in coconut milk with fish and lobster tail with a variety of root vegetables.

The Caribbean side offers a wide variety of activities including scuba diving. I had the chance to get my open water diving certification. I saw stingrays, nurse sharks, and sea turtles. I also did a night dive, which I was completely scared of, but was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.

Aside from the culture and beautiful landscape, Little Corn Island seems to be a destination for Canadians. Throughout my internship I have not met many Canadians until the island. The majority of tourists were from Canada and a few were from the United States and Europe. On returning from my trip, I had met an American couple that works for the Mennonite Central Committee Canada. They were very excited to hear that I have been doing an internship with MEDA and told me they continuously follow MEDA. This is one example of the many people I met that were interested in hearing more about MEDA and the work that is being done in Nicaragua and around the world.
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The joys I get from meeting people when I travel never cease to amaze me. I hear amazing stories that I learn from and am usually shocked, in a good way; to hear of the profound different lifestyles people lead. From working and travelling in Nicaragua I have met these incredible people and I would like to share some of their stories.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Here-is-an-example-of-how-big-papaya-is-in-Nicaragua.gifb2ap3_thumbnail__Domingo-and-his-son-with-some-caimito.gifThis first person I had previously met during my Case Study with the International School of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG) in Rivas. Domingo Tuerno grows plantains with EIAG and he continues to welcome me to his field while he works rigorously. He grows plantains with Techno-Links technology and aside from this crop he also grows papaya and coco beans. On top of all of this, he is a promoter of EIAG and the Techno-Links program, where he goes around his community discussing the benefits of plantain in-vitro plants. I found it astounding that he had any time to do an hour interview with me and then provide me with some extra timbit information.

After sitting in Domingo’s field for an hour doing an interview, Domingo introduced my co-worker and myself to his son Alejandro, who was using a stick to try to get something out of a tree. I was a little confused. After a few minutes, he handed me a green fruit, which turned out to be called caimito, which is green on the outside and white and mushy on the inside. You cannot get caimito in Canada, but it grows in South Asia and in Central America. After I told them it was delicious, Alejandro hit off a few more caimito for me and then walked over with a large papaya to give me!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Chepe-is-showing-me-a-bee-hive-column-he-uses.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Domingo-showing-me-what-chocolate-looks-like-before-its-made.gifDomingo then wanted to show off his other products to me. We walked a few hectares over to where another field was. Here he showed me another large green fruit. He told me it was cocoa. He wanted to show me the inside of the cocoa, but it wasn’t ripe for harvest. I will have to visit Domingo another time.

I interviewed Joseph Barnett who works with Dulce Miel and Techno-Links. The name Joseph has an English ring to it, usually Nicaraguans use common English names to give their children, but Joseph, also known as Chepe, is originally from the United States. He has now lived and worked in Nicaragua for over 30 years. He not only works with Dulce Miel in producing honey and is a technician for helping fellow farmers, but is also a founder of Dulce Miel. As well, he is apart of a monk community in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. During an interview with Chepe he showed us his spare hobbies, which include creating crème out of honey and selling separate bottles of honey. We can see that Chepe is extremely busy, but he continues to use any spare time doing volunteer work with other non-governmental organizations.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Irrigation-system-loaned-out-by-IDEAL.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_The-well-CARITAS-put-in.gifThis is Jiro de Carmen Altamiran. His home is located in rural Santa Barbara, a region in Jinotega, as he put it "from the Santa Barbara school, 300 blocks north, is my house." He works with IDEAL, a Techno-Links partner that works with low-pressure micro-irrigation systems for small producers. Additionally, the technology package includes seed, fertilizer, financing, technical assistance and monitoring. CARITAS, another non-governmental organization in Jinotega, recommended Jiro to IDEAL.

Jiro has never had a farm before and now he has 0.7 hectares of land. Before he thought the irrigation system would not work because water in his region is contaminated. However, CARITAS built a well for Jiro to use his irrigation system, which also blocks out debris. He now grows yucca, cucumbers, malanga (a tropical vegetable) and onions with the irrigation system.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Jiro-with-his-very-first-crops.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Jiros-Home.gifThis is a flabbergast kind of story because I saw a real change in the client and their family. Jiro is now 58 with a wife, who is a preschool teacher attending school again, and a daughter who will begin preschool soon. He was saving money to buy products to burn the ground around him to create space for growing products. However, IDEAL recommended not to do this because it contaminates the air with chemicals. Now he's using that saved money to buy pencils and paper for his daughter when she attends school.

Jiro has not only saved money by using the irrigation system, but he has also been able to save time. Having to only turn on the irrigation system, Jiro waits an hour while plants are being watered but spends this time with his wife and daughter, which he previously could not do.

I was not able to gain more information about how Jiro was doing with his crops because his first-ever harvest is still coming up but I wish him all the best!
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b2ap3_thumbnail_Ometepe---My-fav-place-in-Nicaragua.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Celebrating-my-Birthday-in-Nicaragua-with-MiCredito-staff.gifAs I enter my last week here in Nicaragua as a MEDA intern I thought I would use what is probably my last blog entry as an opportunity to reflect on my overall experience working with MEDA and its partner organization MiCrédito.

My time in Nicaragua has been amazing! I have travelled across the country, visiting beautiful colonial cities like Granada and Leon, climbing volcanos on Ometepe Island, relaxing on the beautiful Caribbean beaches of Little Corn Island, and hiking the beautiful Somoto Canyon. Nicaragua is a beautiful country and I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who hasn't yet made the trip.

In terms of my internship experience, the thing I have enjoyed the most is being treated like a professional. Although MEDA and MiCrédito staff are always here for support I really appreciated the fact that I was given the opportunity to try things on my own and learn by doing.

b2ap3_thumbnail_MiCredito-Office-in-Managua.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Interviewing-a-Client-in-Boaco.gifI feel like I have a lot to show for my time here in Nicaragua: I wrote two case studies, conducted gender training, completed over 50 interviews with clients and staff, developed mobile versions of MiCrédito's loan application forms, wrote a new branch proposal, and developed social impact indicators for the organization. I feel like I have accomplished a lot and that I was given the opportunity to do a lot of the work on my own. As a young professional seeking to pursue a career in development that was what I really wanted to get out of this internship - to gain as much practical experience and absorb as much information as possible. And of course to support MiCrédito as much as possible in serving its clients' needs.

On a personal note I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and get to know so many wonderful people here in Nicaragua, especially my coworkers here at MiCrédito. Its staff members have been so welcoming and I have learned so much from them about the Nicaraguan culture, microfinance, and their own lives. They are so knowledgeable and committed to MiCrédito's mission to increase access to financial services for micro and small entrepreneurs so often overlooked by the traditional banking system.

I feel extremely lucky to have had this experience. Although I am excited to get back to Canada and see my friends and family I am sad to be leaving Nicaragua. However, I know that I will make it back some day and that when I do MiCrédito will be going strong.

Muchas gracias a todos mis amigos y compañeros aquí en Nicaragua. MiCrédito y Nicaragua siempre van a tener un lugar muy especial en mi corazón y seguramente regresaré un día para visitarles otra vez en este país bellísimo de Nicaragua. ¡Un abrazo muy fuerte a todo el mundo!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_This-is-called-a-Finished-Successor-Hive-this-is-where-the-Queen-bees-are-born.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Heres-a-healthy-bee-hive.-A-healthy-bee-hive-always-has-a-crown-which-you-see-in-the-top-corners-of-the-hive.gifThis week I had a little taste of what it was like to be a beekeeper, known as an apiarist, for INGEMANN FOOD in the region of Boaco, Nicaragua. INGEMANN is a grant recipient of a MEDA program called Techno-Links. They are an exporter of organic honey.

Local beekeepers were loosing honey and panels were being broken when they were manually being taken out of the bee box. Throughout Canada and Central America there is an external parasite mite called Varroa Destructor. This mite attacks honeybees and causes a disease called varroatosis. This disease spreads throughout the colony causing bees to be weak and have infections that ultimately kills the hive.

To improve these challenges INGEMANN has been producing queen bees in their bee yard to sell to local beekeepers in Boaca. Every two years beekeepers need to switch out the old queen bee for a new one. The queen cleans the hive consistently, doing 99% of cleaning compared to the other bees, and this leaves no room for the Varroa mite. This increases productivity through beekeeping because bees aren't dying and farmers can have higher production and increased quality of honey. I tried the honey and the technology is worth it.

b2ap3_thumbnail_They-found-the-one-Queen-Bee-out-of-thousands-of-bees-to-show-me.gifIb2ap3_thumbnail_We-are-using-a-smoker-to-get-the-bees-away-from-the-hive.gif also got to see how they use their technology for producing Queen bees and even wear a beekeeper suit! However, the first time I was going to go into the apiary, which is a bee yard, I was wearing all black. Bees see black and think of dark fur and think a bear is coming to take their honey. I didn't feel like being attacked by bees, so I waited till the next day to put on something a little brighter. Once I was prepared with my bee suit and double-checked and then double-checked again that no part of my skin was showing, I was taken into the bee yard. The apiarists were nice enough to look in a bee box to find a Queen bee to show me. Each bee box has 15,000 to 20,000 bees with only one Queen bee.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Domingo-a-plantain-farmer.gifThe growth of agricultural technology has grown at an incredible rate within Nicaragua that has helped improve and change the quality of production. One example is Domingo Antonio Tigerino Acevedo. Domingo and his family live in the Potasi neighborhood of Rivas, located in southwestern Nicaragua. He has 9.1 hectares of plantains, with one hectare consisting of 100 plantain in-vitro plants, which are seed tissues that have been combined from different plantain seedlings in the lab from the International School of Agriculture and Cattle (EIAG) to fight diseases and improve quality of plants.

Domingo Antonio was having trouble with his plantains with the lack of water during the rainy season and the spread of diseases and insects. This reduced yields and impacted the quality of his crop.

He heard from APLARI, an organization of plantain farmers in Rivas, that EIAG had a new modified plantain that would solve his problems.

Due to his position of influence in the community, Domingo Antonio is a lead promoter of the Techno-Links program, which has the goal to increase the productivity and income generating opportunities of 5, 000 small scale farmers by improving the capacity of agriculture technology suppliers.

He was eager to participate, especially since this innovative technology could solve his problem of lack of quality. He has talked with other farmers and friends about the benefits of this technology. He sees this as a smart and innovative idea. He has told 10 other producers and continues to spread the word about the in-vitro plants using the EIAG manual. Five of these producers have bought in-vitro plants from the university. He likes to visit these farmers and see how their production process is going.

He has noticed a radical change in his crops due to the use of the technology. The in-vitro corms offer an improved variety of plantain that means higher quality, better clusters and greatest number of fingers on the plants.

"The change was significant because with in-vitro plants there is a more marketable number of fingers to sell."

He was excited when describing the differences between his hectare of in-vitro plants and the normal plantain. He said there was an increase from 30 fingers to between 40 to 55 fingers per branch.

The most exciting difference was an immediate decrease in his use of pesticides. For the next cycle of plantains, Domingo plans to buy 200 more in-vitro plants so that he doesn't have to spend money on pesticides. By not having to apply pesticides, Domingo will have more free time to plant more crops and spend time with his family.

Innovative technology continues to grow throughout Nicaragua and is changing the way farmers see and work with agriculture.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Nidia-stands-in-front-of-her-house-which-is-flanked-by-her-plantain-crops.gifIn November, I had the opportunity to interview plantain farmers for a week in Rivas, Nicaragua to do a case study on the University of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG), a partner of MEDA. Nidia de Carmen Yescas is a lead farmer that uses her farmer as a demonstration for other local farmers to see the progress of the technology she uses. Nidia, her husband and her five grown children live on the farm alongside a highway on the outskirts of Rivas, which is located in southwestern Nicaragua.

Nidia and her family had problems with disease in their plantains, which meant little income due to poor quality. The plantain had no resistance to the black weevil and black sigatoka disease.

Sometimes it was hard for Nidia to find markets for her plantain and it sold at poor prices. Nidia Yescas heard about technological development through APLARI, an organization of farmers in Rivas. She decided to try new agro bio-technology being developed at a nearby university lab.

Vitro selection screens plants for certain characteristics. With plantains, it selects for tolerance to diseases, insects and soil adaptability. Nidia decided to try this new technology after seeing the demonstration plot at the university.

b2ap3_thumbnail_One-of-Nidias-sons-and-an-employee-describing-the-benefits-of-the-new-technology-on-their-plantains.gifThese new technological alternatives have increased yields and plant quality. Nidia said the in-vitro plant resolved her problems. "It was a huge progress for me. The plants aren't sick and now I don't use pesticides."

The new plant is resistant to pests and disease, making for a more productive plant anchor with a more competitive context in an increasingly demanding market. As well, Nidia doesn't spend money on pesticides and is able to save this money to spend on household needs.

With the help of her sons, she has been able to produce healthy plantains. With the outcomes she's seen of the in-vitro plants she is now a promoter of reference for the university.

She uses her farm as a model for planting in-vitro plants that other farmers can come see as an example. She's excited to see the profits that the plantains will now bring in and she's happy for the help that the technicians gave her from EIAG.


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b2ap3_thumbnail_The-harbour-of-Wiwili.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Traffic-Jam-en-Route.gifI’m in Wiwili, the department of Jinotega, Nicaragua. On the horizon I can see the Honduras border while I’m sitting on a bench outside doing the final interviews with farmers. In the department of Jinotega there is a large production of chia seeds and the Central American Commodities Trading (CAC), a partner of Techno-Links, has taken advantage of this opportunity.  CAC Trading is well known for having the most comprehensive program of chia seeds in Central America with chia seeds being exported to the United States. They focus on giving technical assistance to farmers and by using the program Techno-Links through MEDA, they have been able to reach farmers in Wiwili. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Interview-with-Jose-Andres.gifOne particular individual caught my attention today, Jose Andres Basque Martinez. Jose Andres produces chia as his only cultivation on the farm, while his wife and two girls work in the household and manage a clothing store. He has been working with the new technology from CAC Trading for one year and has noticed an ample change in his harvest of chia seeds.

A year ago he was growing 1 manzana as Nicaraguan farmers call it, or 0.5 hectares of chia seeds. Today, he has 8 manzanas, 5.6 hectares.  This is one of the goals that CAC Trading strived to achieve by having farmers adopt a methodology with the ability to increase revenues both through the increase in yields per hectare and increased sales prices.

Beforehand, Jose Andres faced a technology gap of technological development. Today he said that with the technical assistance of CAC Trading, there is a new market for his chia seeds, a higher production rate at harvest, and an improved quality of chia seeds with new nutrients.

He’s happy and his family is happy, and that makes me happy.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Drive-around-Nicaragua-during-my-first-week-of-interviews.gifThe total land area of Nicaragua is 19,990 km2 with Honduras and Costa Rica bordering on each side and 910km of coastlines on the Caribbean and Atlantic together, making Nicaragua the largest country in Central America. I am lucky enough to be travelling for a month across the country doing final surveys for the MEDA program Techno-Links. I gain a vast amount of experience interviewing farmers in their homes to see the impact that MEDA has had on individuals throughout the country.

This week alone, I have travelled to Ocotal, along the border of Honduras, Matagalpa, Rama, and Kukra Hill, located in the region of Leguna de Perlas on the Atlantic Coast. This means that I have been in the car for over 14 hours a day. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Travelling and enjoying the touristic aspects of a country is fun, but being able to travel all over the country and go into local farmers homes and receive typical Nicaraguan dishes and playing with the children is a one of a kind experience.

I’m not saying this is by any means easy. Waking up at 4am and going over potholes for three hours in the middle of nowhere, is not my idea of a road trip. However, once I arrive in the homes of the farmers, I get this “WOW” experience. I’ll give an example of one of these experiences I had yesterday.

We were in Rama, which is located along the Escondido River and is in the municipality of the Autonomous Region of the South Atlantic Region department. We were with the company Tecno Sol, which has a branch in Rama. Tecno Sol has been selling biogas to farmers, which has created amazing results. This is my “WOW” experience.

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-beautiful-rainbow-with-an-overlook-of-the-Honduras-border.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Marvin-talking-about-how-biogas-works.gifAfter travelling in the middle of nowhere and being stuck on a muddy hill and having to put rocks under the truck tires to leverage it and get up the hill, we finally made it to our interviewees’ house, Marvin Ramirez. While his kids sat with us and stared at the Chela, a white girl, and we ate arroz de leche, rice with milk and fresh sugar cane, Marvin told us about the benefits he has seen with biogas.

He noted the most important things such as health and saving money. The family is healthier because they aren’t burning firewood in their home to cook. Cook stoves are commonly used for cooking and heating food by burning wood. Besides the high expense of purchasing firewood or coal, another problem of cooking over an open fire is the increased health problems caused by the smoke, causing lung and eye ailments and also birth defects.  With the use of biogas, Malvin has been happy to say that his children and wife are healthier. He also talked about how biogas has helped the environment by using the fertilizer from the biogas for his plants and putting minerals back into the soil.

Sitting in the middle of nowhere with chickens running under my feet and children staring at the Chela with clients such as Marvin discussing the benefits that he has, is my “WOW” experience. In all the bumpy roads and 14 hour drives, I look forward in this month to those experiences.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Fishing-like-pros.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Our-Fishing-Boat.gifChristmas wasn’t normal, but I’m not complaining one bit. This is the fourth Christmas I haven’t been in Canada, and I swear each time is a new experience.

For the Christmas holiday I was in Jaco, Costa Rica. On Christmas day I was on the beach sipping on coconut water and eating sponge coconut (see why I’m not complaining). I went with a Costa Rican family, also known as Ticas, who had packed a big picnic and this is what my Christmas was.

The rest of the holiday was spent relaxing on the beach and going fishing! I had been ice fishing and camping and fishing before in Canada, but nothing compares to fishing in the sea. My friends caught red snapper, dorado, and sail fish. I caught a sail fish, I can see how fishing can be addicting. It took all my effort to real in the fish and the fish fights back and jumps in the air. Once I reeled in the fish I was so shocked to see that it was about the same size as me. The fish have beautiful colors and are all completely different.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Beautiful-Jaco-Sunset.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Awesome-Mahi-Mahi-Dorado-dinner-caught-fresh-that-day.gifIt was also beautiful seeing dolphins swim beside the boat and schools of fish jumping to get away from bigger fish chasing them. Not only did I get to see the beauty of nature, but the owner of Google has his own boat with a helicopter on the boat, which was docked in Jaco.

Overall, the best part of doing these fishing trips was that once the fish were caught we took them home and had them for dinner and could watch the sunset. My holiday was simple and relaxing, but I’m happy to be back in Nicaragua to start my adventures with MEDA again.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Cascada-San-Ramon.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Corn-Islands.gifI have lived abroad twice before, but I have always returned to Canada for Christmas. This year, with my internship ending in February, it didn’t really make sense to make the trip home to Canada for the holidays so I decided to spend Christmas in Nicaragua. I was extremely lucky that my little brother William decided to come and visit me so that we could spend the holidays together. It has been amazing to have him here with me and to get to show him the country that has been my home for the last 5 months. He also brought presents with him from home which was another major benefit.

I was lucky enough to get to do some travelling over the holidays, spending Christmas in Corn Islands, the beautiful Caribbean islands off the coast of Nicaragua. These islands are full of beautiful white beaches and delicious seafood. I also got to return to the island of Ometepe to bike and climb a waterfall as well as relax on the beach and do some boogie boarding in San Juan del Sur.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Nydia-Yescas-switched-to-the-plantain-vitro-plant.JPGb2ap3_thumbnail_different-stages-of-the-plantain-in-the-lab.JPGI love food! One of my favorite side dishes in Nicaragua is tostones, fried plantains. Lucky me because I got to eat all the tostones I wanted by doing a case study in Rivas.

I visited the International School of Livestock and Agriculture in Rivas (EIAG in Spanish) where MEDA has supported the lab at the university to combine different plantain seeds to create a vitro plant that won’t be affected by disease or insects. In past years, plantain production has been low due to the spread of an insect pest known as black weevil, which feeds on the leaves, and black sigatoka disease, which causes yield losses. I went into the lab and saw the whole process of the vitro plant.

I interviewed twenty male and female farmers to see their progress with the technology. Farmers said the planting of the plantain (vitro plant) was exactly the same as the normal plantain they used before. The only difference was that they didn’t have to use any or few pesticides, a happy side fact. They noted that they had more production and the leaves were bigger and healthier. One farmer had no experience in planting plantains and said it was quite easy with the help of EIAG technicians.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Farmers-notice-the-increase-of-plantains-and-improved-quality-of-product.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_First-time-ever-planting-plantains-and-using-the-vitro-plant.jpgOne of the most amazing indications found in the case study that I witnessed with talking to local farmers was their desire to help one another. EIAG has a methodology of the Waterfall Method to spread information about the vitro plant, in other words spreading information with the word of mouth. Many farmers, like Norbin Abel, said he likes the innovation and helping farmers with a new level of knowledge. Junior, one of the technicians that explains the vitro plants to farmers, said he was helping farmers to be more stable in their production. The overall objective of farmers, technicians and the university was to help one another in the community.

The goal of MEDA and EIAG is to have efficient production and incorporate small producers into the equation with the national and international market. Carl Sagan in Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997) stated, “Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.”

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A few weeks ago I had an unforgettable experience in renewing my visa in Costa Rica. Catherine, the other intern with Mi Credito, and I went to Liberia, about an hour from the Nicaraguan border. The first experience I had was seeing the economic gap between the two countries, and it was hard to miss. The living standards in Costa Rica are higher and the country uses 95% renewable energy. Based on the history in Nicaragua it hasn’t been able to develop as Costa Rica has, but it has potential that it’s sometimes hard to comprehend that it isn’t a developed country yet. Nicaragua has rich and varied land, with different soil, climatological, and altitude characteristics. The country’s many rivers and volcanoes offer easily exploitable sources of both hydroelectric and geothermal energy, and internal waterways facilitate inexpensive domestic transportation. As well, the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea over international importation and exportation. This was the first part of the experience that I thought was interesting.

b2ap3_thumbnail_El-Rincon-del-Viejo.pngThe second part of the experience in Costa Rica was Liberia itself. From Managua to Liberia it takes 6 hours, including stopping at the border and going through customs. We arrived mid-day and wanted to do something relaxing after sitting on a bus for so long. We went to a beautiful waterfall, Llano de Cortes. However, our relaxing tropical waterfall didn’t turn out as we had hoped; my passport was stolen. It did, on the other hand, create an amazing story that will never be forgotten.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Monkey-Friends.pngTo begin the new passport process we hopped on a bus at 3am to head to the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. By 7:30 am we were in the Canadian embassy. Even with all the stress, it felt nice to be in the embassy, a reminder of my country with French and English signs everywhere and the Canadian flag decorating the office. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful; I got a new passport the same day! We then travelled back to Liberia, a 4 hour bus ride from San Jose.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Our-private-hot-springs.pngb2ap3_thumbnail_Mud-bath-with-nice-French-couple.pngAfter this very long amusing and frustrating day, it was kind of like it never happened.  The next day we went to a national park, El Rincon del Viejo (Old Corner), which has fumarillos (steam vents) and paillas (mud pots). We hiked for three hours with monkeys jumping over us and we were surrounded by hundreds of Coatis, the cousin of the raccoon. We met a nice French couple that knew all about different species of plants and animals, they were pretty much our own private tour guides. After the hike, we were taken to a hot springs that included a mud bath. I might as well have owned the hot springs because there was no one else there. It was paradise and losing my passport was like a dream (or nightmare, depends how you look at it). It was definitely a week that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure! Through all my amazing and sometimes frustrating experiences with travelling, I have incredible memories and an understanding of new and different cultures that could never be replaced.



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b2ap3_thumbnail_MiCreditos-new-health-clinic-in-Managua.gifThings have really been picking up here at MiCrédito. Everyone here is hard at work on a number of new and exciting initiatives.

Last week MiCrédito opened a health clinic at its Rubenia branch in Managua. The clinic, operated by partner organization AMOS Health and Hope, offers medical exams to clients which include screening for breast and cervical cancer for women and diabetes and prostate cancer for men. The cost of the exam is incorporated into MiCrédito loans, allowing clients to pay gradually for the services provided. So far the response from clients has been overwhelmingly positive! Clients are excited to have access to quality healthcare which is affordable and conveniently located right around the corner from their bank.

I’m also getting ready to go out into the field to start interviewing clients for a case study I am currently working on for MEDA. I love chatting with clients and learning about their experiences. I am also looking forward to interviewing some loan officers and other MiCrédito staff members which will be a great chance to learn more about the inner workings of the organization.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Volcano-Boarding.jpgI’ve also had the opportunity to do a bunch of travelling over the last few weeks, crossing a lot of things off of my Nicaragua to-do list.

I made it to Cerro Negro to go volcano boarding! Nicaragua is the only place in the world to experience this extreme sport which involves sledding down the side of a volcano on a bed of ash. It was an awesome experience and I came out of it with a very attractive ash beard.

I also made it to the beautiful beach town of San Juan del Sur and tried surfing for the first time with my fellow MEDA intern Sarah French. I can see why so many people are addicted to the sport. Although I was only able to stand up and surf once (and very briefly), it was such a rush when I finally did catch a wave and ride it into shore.


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Both in the office and out, my time in Nicaragua so far has been extremely rewarding. The staff members at MiCrédito are such kind and hardworking people and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to get to know them and the beautiful country which they call home!     

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b2ap3_thumbnail__Alan-and-Dave-with-MiCredito-CEO-Veronica-Herrera.gifLast week MiCrédito received a visit from a group of representatives from MEDA including President Allan Sauder, Chief Engagement Officer Dave Warren and Senior Project Manager Nick Ramsing. I got the opportunity to spend the day with them visiting MiCrédito’s Granada branch and chatting with clients about their experiences with MiCrédito and the impact of MEDA’s TechnoLinks project. 

Most of my work so far with MiCrédito has been concentrated in the office, so this was a great opportunity to get out into the field to chat with clients and learn about the impact of MiCrédito and MEDA projects. The main thing that struck me is how business-savvy our clients are. The clients that I spoke with were extremely adept at finding ways to provide a unique product or service to make their businesses more competitive.

We spoke with one client who runs a pulperia (convenience store) just outside of Granada near the base of the Mombacho volcano. As there is no medical clinic near her community she had the idea to add a small pharmacy area to her store to provide basic medical supplies so that community members would not have to go all the way into Granada to purchase supplies. No other pulperias in the area are providing these types of products which really helped her differentiate her store and compete with other pulperias in the area.

We visited another client named Don Carlosb2ap3_thumbnail_myself-and-Alan-in-a-carriage-owned-by-one-of-MiCreditos-clients.gif whob2ap3_thumbnail_MiCredito-client-Don-Carlos-with-his-carriage.gif runs a horse-drawn carriage business in Granada. The historic center in Granada is full of horse-drawn carriages catering to the large number of tourists who visit the city. Don Carlos wanted to do something different, so instead of catering to tourists he decided to provide carriages for special events. He proudly showed MEDA President Allan Sauder and me countless photos of beautiful carriages decorated for weddings, quinceañeras (the fifteenth birthday celebrations which are a huge deal in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries – like a sweet sixteen but bigger), and other special events. At the end of the visit Don Carlos gave us his business card – telling us to call him if we ever needed a carriage.     

Another thing that impressed me is that all of the clientsb2ap3_thumbnail_MiCreditos-Granada-staff-during-a-performance-for-our-guests-from-MEDA.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_MiCredito-Esteli-Branch.gif mentioned how much they appreciate how fast MiCrédito is at approving loans. MiCrédito can be so fast because they use mobile credit checks – a technology introduced as part of MEDA’s TechnoLinks project. Using mobile technology credit officers can check the credit ratings of clients in the field without having to return to the office. Most micro-finance banks in Nicaragua take 3-5 days to approve a loan; MiCrédito takes only 1-2 days. Don Carlos was approved for a loan within an hour, making it possible for him to buy a horse for his business which was only available that day. He bought the horse years ago and it is still serving him well today. This speed really sets MiCrédito apart from other MFIs in Nicaragua and enables the bank to better serve its clients.

Overall I was extremely impressed by all of the clients we visited in Granada. It just confirmed for me the importance of the work that MiCrédito and MEDA are doing in Nicaragua. Many micro-entrepreneurs are extremely creative and know their markets very well but they need financial support to make their businesses work. 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_EIAG-discussing-how-they-test-the-seeds-to-create-the-best-plantain-seed.-.jpgI was given the pleasure of meeting Allan Sauder, Katie Turner, Nick Ramsing, and Dave Warren and accompany them along with my coordinator Roger Larios to different companies that the project Techno Links in Nicaragua is supporting. This was a great experience for me in getting to know some of the MEDA staff that are working on the same project as me. There were a lot of great explanations and ideas shared with me on the Techno Links project.

On Tuesday afternoon I arrived in Managua with Roger, where are hotel was for the week. On Wednesday morning we were up by 6:00am and out the door to meet MEDA staff for 7:00am. Each day was like this as we had a full packed schedule of visiting different companies of Techno Links. We travelled to Rivas, in the southwestern region all the way to Ocotal, near the border of Honduras.

b2ap3_thumbnail_visiting-Burke-Argo-processing-plant.JPGOf the 10 companies in Techno Links we visited EIAG, Burke Agro, Chiles, and Davila & Associates. I was excited to visit each company because they bring such different aspects to the project. During one of the visits, I got a little carried away and started asking my own questions in Spanish to the producers. There was a machinery room with the cleaning and sorting of beans (frijoles). At Davila & Associates they have used the assistance from Techno Links to use sustainable energy such as the fertilization with worms. They also have a rain catcher to save water. Each of the companies have different processes since each company is using different crops and have different needs. I was fascinated by the different sustainable developments and technology used in agriculture. It was a very comfortable environment and I appreciated the laughs and lessons learned from the trip.

b2ap3_thumbnail_beautiful-picture-of-the-birthday-girl-and-I.jpgI arrived back in Leon b2ap3_thumbnail_mass-for-the-quinceanera.JPGSaturday afternoon and there was no time to rest as I had to get ready for a Quinceañera. The daughter of the house of where I am living had her 15th birthday last week. In Latin America turning 15 for a girl signifies becoming a women. There is a large celebration for this birthday with invitations being sent out to family and friends as well as attending a mass before the party. This was definitely a nice way to finish my amazing week with dancing and learning a little more about the culture!

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b2ap3_thumbnail_A-group-of-women-farmers-talked-about-their-experiences-and-advancements-with-irrigation.gifLast week I travelled to visit farms in Ometepe, which is an island that is formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua, and a region in Jinotega called Tomatoya, which is in the northern region of Nicaragua. Sediment from the two volcanoes in Ometepe provide rich land for planting a variety of fruits and vegetables, while Jinotega is known for producing 80% of the nations coffee, as well there is a variety of other crops.

I visited both these regions because MEDA has funded IDEAL Technology, which is an organization that has a commitment to the welfare of its producers. It does this by creating accessible technology and micro-irrigation to rural farmers, which helps to maximize revenue and small agriculture businesses.

In Ometepe there were four farms we went to visit with IDEAL. Three out of four of the farms have female farmers. For example, at the first farm we visited there were 20 women and two men working with irrigation. As well, they have a hostel called Puesta del Sol on the side of their work being done in collaboration with IDEAL. The fourth farm was ran by a man named Freddy and his son who grow a variety of produce from papaya and watermelon to plantain and avocados.

I also had a chance to help set up a drip system in Tomatoya, Jinotega. Then we visited Bayardo Alonso near Jinotega who is a distributer for IDEAL, as well as RC Industries, which manufactures the drip systems for IDEAL. This has helped me grasp a better knowledge of how technology in agriculture can provide a better knowledge and increased income for producers. On top of this, women have become empowered in their lives with the knowledge they have gained through this organization.

Not only is this a learning experience for rural farmers, but this has been an eye opening experience for myself. I have only been on my internship for three weeks and I have learned about the benefits and power of development.

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