Nicaragua, located in the heart of Central America, is often called the “land of lakes and volcanoes” for its beautiful and rugged landscape. However, its natural beauty is belied by a long history of violence and political turmoil, which has been compounded by a series of devastating hurricanes and earthquakes that have stymied Nicaragua’s development. With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of only $2,600, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (compared to a US per capita GDP of $45,800). At present over fifty percent of Nicaraguans are underemployed and unable to find sufficient work to meet their basic needs.  As a result, nearly half of the population resides below the poverty line. 
A severe educational deficit contributes to the cyclical nature of this poverty, with only twenty-nine percent of children completing primary school.  The direct and implicit costs of schooling - books, uniforms, loss of potential income - force many to drop out at an early age. Even those who do attend school do so for a mere four hours a day, often in classrooms with over forty students. This state of education, coupled with lax attendance policies and grade advancement regardless of a student's mastery of the necessary skills, leave the children of Nicaragua uncompetitive in an educated global marketplace.
Cedro Galán and Chiquilistagua are neighboring communities to the southwest of Managua, the capital city. Straddled between the encroaching urban sprawl and picturesque countryside, the two neighborhoods exhibit an interesting juxtaposition of the contemporary and traditional. Imported cars and ox-drawn carts navigate the same roads. Machete-bearing farmers and book-toting collegians share bus seats. Yet, despite the diversity, strong family bonds underpin the community.
Maintaining the traditional Latin American model, a vast majority of households are male-dominated yet female-centered. While fathers and sons make most familial decisions and provide the income, mothers and daughters manage the home. Typically working and studying from shortly after sunrise, most families take long breaks for lunch – the largest meal of the day. The afternoons in Cedro Galan and Chiquilistagua belong to the children, schools let out and students flood the streets to play. After a light dinner, Nicaraguans enjoy the comparative cool of the evening, which is also the best time for visiting and receiving guests.
However, means don’t run as deep as familial bonds or codes of hospitality. Communities are also united by their relative poverty, limited healthcare, and lack of social mobility. Even for the most industrious breadwinners, opportunity for financial advancement is rare. Widespread educational deficiency is another hindrance, as most adults lack even a high school degree. And so the cycle self-perpetuates. Families still live in open-air homes with dirt floors and suffer from health-related problems uncommon in the developed world. The population lacks a basic understanding of the prevention and treatment of disease, while public hospitals and clinics are grossly over-booked and under-staffed. While our two communities have this and much more in common, Manna Project International attempts to attack this poverty in all of its phases.
The Los Martinez neighborhood, known as “La Chureca” has been located within Managua’s municipal trash dump, in the northwest part of the city. Since 2004 MPI has worked alongside a Nicaragua NGO to provide healthcare to this community. La Chureca was the home and working place to the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua. Roughly 1,200 individuals lived and worked collecting and classifying the one thousand tons of trash that arrived daily within the 42 hectares that previously made up the dump. All members of the family worked collecting and classifying trash (paper, plastic, copper, iron, shoe soles, glass, aluminum, etc). This was the main source of income and their workday could last between 12 and 14 hours. Weekly income varied between 8 and 10 US dollars.
In December 2012, the Nicaraguan government and army started to relocate the 258 families living in La Chureca to the newly constructed community, Villa Guadalupe. In early March 2013, all 258 families had received a new home in the new community. This project began in August 2007, when the Vice President of Spain at the time, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega visited la Chureca and was impacted by the conditions she saw in the municipal dump. The Spanish Agency of International Development Collaborations (the AECID) promised 30 million Euros (approximately $45 million USD) to close the dump, create a recycling plant and provide housing and jobs for the 258 families who lived in La Chureca. In 2010, the Spanish government started extracting methane gas from the dump to convert it into an energy source. In 2011, the Spanish government broke ground and home construction commenced in the new community, called Villa Guadalupe.
Although theoretically the plan devised by the Spanish government in collaboration with the Nicaraguan government was sound, in practice, the results have not been as promising for the 258 families who were relocated.
The greatest achievement is that now all 258 families are living in a new home, which has greatly improved the standard of living for all families. It is encouraging seeing families who previously lived in homes made of recycled goods, wood fragments or plastic bags living in newly constructed homes with patios, a front door, roof, and cement floor. In addition, individuals that have received a job at the recycling plant are doing well and are thrilled to have a secure job where they have an opportunity to earn a fair income and health insurance. A beautiful public school has been built in the community, which will be a fantastic addition to the community once it opens. Although it was promised to open at the start of the new school year in February, the school is still not opened.
The greatest challenge facing families is that not everyone received a job at the recycling plant. Although the project was supposed to provide employment at the recycling plant for families, not all families or even one member from each family has found work at the recycling plant. For families who have not received a job, there is no work in the new community. Moreover, people are no longer able to access the trash dump to sort, classify and sell trash, which was their main livelihood for the last several years. Consequently, many individuals and families are struggling to make ends meet in the new community. An unfortunate consequence to these struggles is a marked increase in child prostitution in the community. Further, in the new community, families have to pay utility bills, which was not required in the old community. Many families do not have enough money to buy food for their families and they are no longer receiving food donations from the government, which they received in the old community. As a result, our clinicians have noted an increase in parasite infections, diarrhea and illness among children as food security decreases for many families. Further, since the new community still sits at the base of the trash dump, families continue to be exposed to harmful toxins. In sum, although the new community is providing a much more dignified way of life and looks much prettier on the outside, on the inside of these homes, we are seeing many families struggling more than they had in the old community to earn an income and support their families.
Fortunately, MPI in collaboration with our local partner, FUNJOFDUESS, has relocated and we are operating the Casa Base de Salud health clinic and livelihood programming out of a small home in the new community until we have raised sufficient funds to construct a new health clinic and center for families living in the new community. With the generous support of Austin Samaritans, MPI and FUNJOFUDESS continue to provide critical primary health-care for families living in Villa Guadalupe. Further, our Child Sponsorship and Nutrition program led by MPI’s yearlong Program Directors and supported by a fantastic team of local clinicians including our Social Worker, Psychologist and Nutritionist continues to serve over 50 children under the age of 5 and their mothers. Our Women’s Economic Empowerment and Livelihoods program, supported by Walmart Central America, Northeastern University’s Social Enterprise Institute, and countless other supporters continues to provide an income generating activity for over 20 young women and mothers. In the next year, we hope to expand this program to reach more young women.
Temporary clinic location
Esmeralda, Manna's social worker, and Yamileth, the pharmacist.