For many Nicaraguans, harvesting Matagalpa’s abundant coffee in December and January is a prime way to earn money to cover many of their family’s expenses throughout the year. Many parents’ express worry that their children often must stay alone at home and even care for younger siblings, while their parents work at a coffee farm. Still others lament that they must take their children with them to the coffee farms, although these farms don’t have adequate conditions for children.
In December, 2010, Planting Hope launched “Coffee Camps” as a response to this demonstrated need. Coffee Camps offer free daycare/preschool/recreational activity during school vacation – December and January – coinciding with Nicaragua’s coffee harvest.
These projects were piloted in two different coffee-dependent communities—one on-site at a small coffee cooperative, La Hermandad and the other in the home of participating parents. The program intends to work with the children of parents who are coffee pickers, who are normally left at home without adult supervision, often leading to malnutrition.
Finca La Hermandad, is located about 5 km from the town of San Ramon and 17 km from the Matagalpa department head. La Hermandad is a coffee cooperative of 30 members that sells its product through the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (UCA) in San Ramon, which in turn, exports through CECOCAFEN. The coop currently lends a space to a community preschool and multi-grade elementary class, where 105 students from the community are attended. This space, and the adjoining kitchen served as the camp’s headquarters.
The second camp took place in the rural, dry zone of Ocalca. Given the dry climate and difficult growing conditions, many people in this zone migrate to higher elevations to pick coffee, as it is one of their only opportunities to earn a living. Unfortunately this practice often leaves young children at home alone, or cared for by a sibling. This community suffers from a high incidence of malnutrition, parasites, lack of education and illiteracy. When parents must leave to work in neighboring farms, these at-risk children are left even more vulnerable. Through the Coffee Camps Initiative, Planting Hope offers an incentive for parents to let their kids finish the school year and enroll them in summer camp, where they are fed two snacks and a healthy lunch each day, prepared by a local cook and a parent volunteer.
They also receive healthcare checkups by a local nurse, day care and a chance to participate in organized alternative educational and recreational activities, all facilitated by a teacher and assistant. Coffee Camps provide less formal, more accessible educational experience for these children, in an attempt to bridge the gap between the children who do not usually attend school and the formal educational system in Nicaragua.
The Coffee Camps provide a pathway to formal education for those children who have slipped through the cracks in the education system. Meals, medical care and learning materials are provided to participating children at no cost. By creating a positive educational experience, it is hoped that parents are enticed to enroll their children in school and that based on their positive experience at camp, and children are motivated to study throughout the year.
- Children receive one meal and two snacks daily.
- Nurses and/or physicians will visit the center twice a month to record height, weight and level of malnutrition and to treat identified malnutrition, parasites, allergies and diseases.
- The camps are in session during the coffee picking season. November-February, with the schedule defined by the parents.
- A qualified child-care worker who is either a member of the community or known to the community will be employed to teach and provide care for the students. A full-time cook will also be employed and older students will support the teacher and cook. Parents are required to volunteer at the center 1-2 times per month.
- The Center will be open nine hours a day Monday through Friday and partial days on Saturdays.
- Coffee Camps serve children aged 3-10 and toddlers who are accompanied by a sibling aged 10 or older.
- The daily activities are educational and recreational according to the development needs of the age group. An environmental education component is included in the curriculum.
- In response to articulated request, Planting Hope and the collaborating coffee cooperatives coordinate a community Christmas dinner for the coffee harvesters and their families.
Project Name: “Thin Months” Alternative Economic Activity Project
Locations: Coffee-Dependent Communities of San Ramon and Matagalpa
GMCR Area of Interest: Food Security, Education (job skills), Health
The coffee harvest season, which typically lasts 3-4 months, gives many rural Nicaraguans— men, women and youth alike—an opportunity to work during school vacations and earn money for their household, family and their school-related necessities.
The income generated during coffee-harvesting needs to last for the remainder of the year until the next harvesting season arrives. These “thin months” are typically occupied in other income-generating activities; in some cases, to growing their own food to last the entire year. The many variables in this food-to-mouth model, compounded with lack of skills, create a huge disadvantage primarily for the coffee-related farming population, which typically has not had much access to formal education.
As per Planting Hope’s research findings, many farmers, young adults and mothers, would enormously benefit from a new skill, especially a job-related skill that could be done at home and then put to income-generating use during the rest of the year.
Planting Hope’s past success with similar projects, such as El Chile weavers’ collective, the San Ramon Host Mother’s group, individual craftsmen and woman and young scholarship students, demonstrate PH’s ability to successfully conduct this new project.
The trainings, classes and on-going community support groups part of this project will be focusing on skill development in the areas of pottery production, baking, and sowing, all with the underlying foundation of basic micro business ownership principles.
This proposed initiative will form a women’s group in San Ramon at the Planting Hope office where they will open and operate a café. Also in San Ramon, PH will explore the feasibility of launching one, or more business incubator ideas, by providing training and start up money. And in Los Andes, a group of young people will be trained in community-based tourism and ecology. This new project will not only provide new income-generating skills to its participants, but will also lower farm-to-city migration rates and promote sustainable financial independence.
San Ramon, Nicaragua, Cafetin Taza Llena (The Full Cup Café)
This pilot project will focus on teaching marketable skills to the women of coffee-dependent communities, with the goal of providing them new income-generating skills.The women’s group will open and staff a small café at the San Ramon office. The café will be a practicum site, create sustainability for training classes and eventually provide micro loans for women returning to their communities with plans for home-based businesses. Using our centrally-located space in San Ramon, we will offer women from coffee communities a chance to learn to prepare the traditional foods of Nicaragua and the currently popular birthday cakes, pastries, pizza and whole grain bread—which are items on high demand in the marketplace.
San Ramon, Nicaragua, Los Andes Nature Center
This agro-tourism project builds on an existing proposal by the members of La Hermandad coffee cooperative in Nicaragua, as a way to foster environmental awareness, sustainability, conservation and preservation. The project takes place on a 40 acre forest reserve where shade-grown coffee is produced.
Collaborating with the cooperative members of Finca La Hermandad, and the North Branch Nature Center in Vermont, Planting Hope has built a small eco-friendly cabin that has become the reserve’s nature center. Members of the community as well as national and international tourists use the building. Surrounded by a living forest as its larger classroom, the ultimate goal of the nature center is to provide learning opportunities on the environment and community-based rural eco-tourism, hence creating ecologically-sustainable revenue potential as well as developing an environmental consciousness among the next generation of Nicaraguans.
The building features alternative construction methods and locally available, renewable construction materials such as clay and bamboo.
With a rich flora and fauna as the background to what will be an uniquely built eco-cabin, the project is poised to attract nature lovers, eco-friendly construction enthusiasts, and eco-friendly tourism alike.
Fostering Income-Generating, Cottage Industries
Location: Coffee-Dependent Communities, Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Over the past nine years, Planting Hope’s presence in the coffee-growing communities of
Matagalpa has often prompted letters and visits of request for start-up funds for various projects from community members. While Planting Hope has in the past been able to provide group training opportunities on specific topics, PH has not been able to respond to small groups, or individual requests for training. Through this initiative, Planting Hope seeks to support talent, and the creative entrepreneur spirit that often leads to business endeavors, by timely responding to worthy requests for support. The ultimate goal of this fund, is helping people become financially independent by providing the initial needed financial support to access tools and training.