SHEAF has worked closely with their Partner, The Asocciation Cristiana de Jovenes (ACJ_YMCA) in the southern part of Nicaragua, near the town of Rivas and the municipality of Rivas, to improve the life of rural families. The ACJ-YMCA has a relationship with the YMCA's around the world including Canada but in Nicaragua the ACJ-YMCA is totally a developmental agency.
The ACJ_YMCA and Sheaf consulted with local leaders (promoters) in the area of Veracruz near the city of Rivas in Southern Nicaragua to discuss how best to help the rural poor in this area. They concluded that the community could be best served by the introduction of pregnant cows. This project was recommended because the milk and milk products would both contribute to better family nutrition and boost family income by the sale of surplus milk or dairy products at a local market.
The project began in 2011 when SHEAF supplied funds to introduce 20 cows to 20 vetted peasant families along with the necessary veterinarian and extension support. To qualify families had to have school age children (12 and under) and have access to pasture land and water. The project was made sustainable by each cow owner paying forward by giving the first born female calf to another vetted peasant family. If the first born is a male, the farmer could chose to keep it or sell it to buy a female replacement. The next female would be given away to honor the debt. Thus the project in time would extend much further than the original 20 families. The planning came to fruition in 2011 when the first 20 cows were introduced into the Veracruz community. Another 20 cows were introduced in 2012 and 12 more in 2013.
The pregnant cow project was and is very successful. This project is now into the 4th generation of gifting new born calves. However, the land is approaching the optimum number of cows that can be sustained that means no more new pregnant cows will be introduced in this area. The project is ongoing and sustainable as the first born calf of each existing cow is gifted to another vetted family elsewhere. This process of gifting cows will continue and the number of rural families who benefit will increase.
The families not only received training in cow maintenance, especially in ensuring there was enough food and water during the dry season, but also in cultivation of vegetable gardens and maintenance of pasture land.
Another discussion with the community was held, asking the question: "Where do we go from here?". The answer was: 'We need a reliable source of potable water for household consumption, maintenance of cows, and the cultivation of basic grains and vegetables'.
In the Fall 2015, twenty-five community wells were reconstructed to provide a reliable water source for approximately 175 families. Old wells were upgraded by deepening them, shoring up the walls and providing protective skirting, new covers and basic water pumps. All materials and labour were sourced locally meaning repairs and maintenance can be done readily.
The funding for this project was provided by a Spanish NGO, SHEAF and the Bridge Street United Church Foundation. The Veracruz community supplied the labour. The picture showing the plaque that is on every well tells the story.
This project is happily complete. Watch the video to see how the pump mechanism works.
Construction of Latrines is SHEAF's current project. It is necessary to help protect wells, soil and the nearby river from contamination. The state of some of the latrines is depicted in the photo. Moreover some families have no access to latrines at all. This is a shared project, as well, with the NGO from Spain providing the bulk of the funding and SHEAF contributing their share, this time with help from the Gay Lea Foundation.
Phase 1 of the latrines wacompleted by the end of 2016. A SHEAF delegation visited the project in early 2017. It was gratifying to realize that 70 families, who had no latrines or latrines in very poor condition, now had access to a proper ventilated latrine. The location of the latrine took into consideration proximity to the houses, water supply such as wells or cisterns and susceptibility to flooding. Watch the video to see a board member exploring a latrine.
This community not only recognizes the need to protect and conserve the water supply from contamination through proper sanitation but is aware of larger environmental issues. A committee of Potable Water and Sanitation (CAPS) has been formed which will oversee the water supply, will train locals on water conservation, will teach how to test water for pathogens and PH levels and will provide instructions on proper use of chlorine. In addition, the six communities living along the Veracruz River have been trained in preserving the river and reforestation is being done in these and other communities to preserve the environment.
The cow, well and latrine project together with the commitment of local communities to conserve and preserve the environment bodes well for a sustainable future.