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Women´s Crisis Shelter

Nicaragua has made great strides over the last decade promoting women´s rights and there has been a lot of education about  spousal abuse.  However change is slow, especially in regards to law enforcement and changing chauvinistic habits.  One of the areas seriously lacking is reporting to police an incident of spousal abuse and the actions taken by the police afterwards.  In most situations where it comes down to a he-said/she-said situation, and without strong evidence, the police are just going to let it go.  This creates a serious safety issue for women who go to police stations to report domestic abuse.  The police will interview the husband, then tell the wife there is nothing that can be done, and the wife is left at the police station with no options except to return to the house to a husband who is now even more dangerous.

We  work with local police to make sure they know women who are left in this precarious position have a place to go for a few days.  These days provide the woman with an opportunity to contact relatives or make other arrangements while not having to return to the house with the abusing spouse.  Our home contains a room that is always prepared to receive a woman in such a crisis situation.  Our hope is that our relationship with the local police will also slowly cause them to take domestic abuse cases more serious and consider the safety of the women more than they currently do.

Grow Lives single mother program

Grow lives is an intensive program designed to change the course of the lives of some of the poorest single mothers in Nicaragua.  The program not only takes care of the basic material needs of the mother and child such as shelter, food,  and clothing, but more importantly allows them to gain not only their high school education, but also practical entrepreneurial  experience with running a few different types of businesses including a store (called a pulperia in Nicaragua), a daycare facility and of course the major focus will be on learning the many facets of our homestead-style farm.  Each of the facets of the farm can become legitimate businesses able to provide a comfortable life for the woman.

Unique Situations in Nicaragua

It is important before describing the program to explain how things are different in Nicaragua than the USA, Canada or Europe.  Two things stand out.  The first is that while there is free healthcare, very little else is provided for poor people. There are no government programs like welfare, unemployment or food stamps.  What this means is that there is no bottom for the poorest of people, they just go homeless and hungry. This includes women with children.  The government does not have the resources to help anyone.  Many single mothers are often put in impossible situations because they cannot work because daycare is nowhere to be found. If they do have a family member to take care of the child, then their income goes to supporting that family member.  Most are put in the situation of either taking care of their child or working, which means continuing their education is not an option.

The second thing to keep in mind is pay scale.  Just as general numbers, minimum wage is less than $200 per month which is paid to the vast majority of workers.  Professions like nurses, teachers and policeman make about $300 per month.  Unemployment is high, reportedly around 45%.    Food costs similar to the west, maybe slightly less.  For a large portion of the population, life consists of living in multi-generational homes with a large amount of people and eating mostly rice, beans, bananas and tortillas, all of which are cheap.  Once outside the tourist cities, most people live in shacks made of old wood or sheets of tin.  A substantial portion of the population has no running water in their houses, no electricity (which means no refrigerator) and many houses do not have floors other than compacted dirt.  It is hard to put it into numbers, but there are large villages of thousands of houses in this condition. While there are tourist cities, beach resorts, and upscale areas of the capital city, the majority live in completely different circumstances.

Who are we helping?

While there are probably thousands of single mothers who are in desperate situations, in order to be as efficient and effective as possible, we are working within a few set of perimeters to make sure the program is sustainable for the long term.  The basic requirements is that we accept single mothers who are living in the worst conditions, this means no electricity, no water and dirt floors.  We also look for women who do not have family members able to provide care for the child and who have not yet obtained their high school degree.  Finally, to make the house function efficiently, we accept women who have children between 1 and 3 years old.  Having children who are old enough to attend school causes too many logistical challenges.

The second thing we look for is women who sincerely are willing to do the work to improve their future.  We do not want situations where we are just providing material needs for someone who is going to leave and return to the exact same conditions we found them.  We look for women who show an interest in learning market gardening and the business side of things so that when they leave us, they are ready to jump in and be a small business owner.

What we provide

We take care of their material needs, shelter that is vastly better than they are coming from, meals which are nutritious and clothing.   With our rotating work schedules they also have daycare available so they can both learn with us and attend high school to finish their education.

But more importantly, we will provide training in many important business aspects including those required to run a store such as customer service, ordering and inventory management.  Pulperias are very common in Nicaragua, but often poorly managed from a business standpoint (See what a pulperia is and why it is important to our project here).  On the farm side, we will teach them not only how to grow and harvest a large variety of foods, but also how to contact restaurants, resorts and develop other sales outlets such as CSAs ( community supported agriculture) and home deliveries for organic foods.  There are many restaurants and resorts that cater to tourists, but the local farmers mainly produce sustenance type foods which they sell to other locals.  There is a huge unmet demand in tourist destinations for crops that are simply not grown in Nicaragua.  Teaching women how to make sales contacts with these destinations, as well as how to raise chickens, rabbits and fish without needing to buy expensive feed is a high priority because it can easily lead them to having a very successful small business of their own.

At the same time, there will be much higher standard of life for the children including better nutrition as well as an education based daycare including music, movies and games that help them learn English as well as some Pre-K skills. Of course the person working the daycare will also get exposed to basic English, which can make a huge difference in income potential in Nicaragua.

What we expect of them

Obviously doing well in school is a priority.  In Nicaragua high school is set up as an AM/PM system similar to kindergarten in the USA.  Half the kids go in the morning, the other half in the afternoon.  This means that at any given time, half of the women will be in school and half will be in the project.  When they are not in school, the women work in five different stations on the farm.  The first area is attendant in the pulperia, the second is the daycare, the third is cooking and small projects, the fourth is working in the actual farm harvesting and preparing crops.  The fifth station is what we call management.  In this position, the person will see the big picture aspect of the farm by spending their work-shift with one of the farm managers and seeing everything that is involved, including overseeing the various other areas of the project. They will go on sales calls to the restaurants and resorts and deal with customers from the home-delivery and CSA.  The women rotate stations weekly, so have an opportunity to both work at all four stations and get practical work experience, but also have the management turn where they act as the business owner.

What happens afterward

So what is the endgame?  The goal is for the women to stay with us at least a couple of years, this will allow them many different cycles at each station and give them time to learn all the unusual (to them) aspects of our homestead farm.  Things like chicken tractors, moringa and comfrey, aquaculture, vermiculture and even basics such as composting will be new to them but all provided a complicated set of synergies that greatly increase farm yields while reducing costs and making the business viable.

A good outcome is if the women can start their own business using a few of the techniques and synergies to create a profitable business and good life for themselves.   Breed rabbits and sell the kits and at the same time use the rabbit manure to grow moringa trees to feed the rabbits as well as another cash crop or two.  Maybe set up a small tilapia fish-farm that also provides excellent fertilizer for duckweed and a few cash crops.  Or maybe just run a pulperia or daycare and have the skills necessary to make them very profitable.

The other part we are considering is to act as an aggregator for the women once they are running their own shows.  For instance, maybe the woman doing rabbit breeding is also growing arugula as her cash crop.  Instead of having to find restaurants and resorts to buy her arugula, we would buy her arugula from her and then sell it to our established customer base which gives us flexibility to grow less arugula ourselves and instead grow another crop that is in demand.

Our homestead market garden is complex with many moving parts, but there are huge possibilities by using only a handful of the pieces of are farm to create viable business.  The women will naturally gravitate to the things they enjoy and the things we taught them will allow them to compete well against local, inefficient farmers.  In the next section of our website we will describe completely all the moving parts of the farm and how it creates synergies that increase productivity and lowers costs.
If you would like to support our project, you can make a donation here.

Mother with Child in Greenhouse

Typical house in Nicaragua
A very typical house in rural Nicaragua

cherry tomatos
Cherry tomatoes, high value crop in Nicaragua