The ¨Gracias a Dios¨ Factor – A Campaign Tale from San Ramon, Matagalpa

3 07 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011 we held a campaign in San Ramon, Matagalpa.  We were coming off a strong campaign the week earlier and had already publicized the event around town, so spirits were high.

After a quick bus ride we gathered in front of the building in which we’d hold the campaign and went over our goals and the game-plan.

My job was to give eye exams, but first we had some more publicity to do.  Billy and I went out into the city, door to door, and spread the word about the “exámenes de la vista gratis,” plus the other products and services we offer.  As reinforcement, there was also a pickup truck with concert speakers driving around blasting the same message.

To switch things up a little, we then grabbed some sidewalk chalk and made gigantic arrows at the busier intersections with labels like ‘Luz Solar’ and ‘Focos Ahorradores’.  It was fun and the locals loved seeing the crazy gringos chalk up the street.

When we got back to the campaign, the line was out the door. On the one hand, this was great because it meant our publicity had been effective; on the other hand, it was pouring rain.

In the eye exam room, I began by observing.  I had the benefit of working with Social Entrepreneur Corps field leader Tess, who’s a seasoned eye exam veteran fluent in spanish.  After picking up some necessary vocabulary, like dañar, as in ‘you can dañar (harm) your eyes if you leave your reading glasses when you don’t need them’, I started giving eye exams on my own.
Up until that moment, my experience with Social Entrepreneur Corps had been incredible.  We dove right into our work and fully experienced the culture of this beautiful country.  The gratification of the eye exams, however, was beyond anything I’d ever experienced.  Seeing the ‘Gracias a dios’ factor, as it’s called around here, was something I’ll never forget.  Helping a 65 year old woman regain her ability to read after 30 years and the emotions on her face was beyond words. The happiness on their faces was real, instant and long-term.

The Artist of Esquipulas

2 07 2011

The generosity of the Nicaraguan people continues to astound me.

Part of Social Entrepreneur Corps’ mission is to determine the needs of villages and cities throughout the country. We are constantly looking for new products that are difficult to obtain (either because of their cost or because of distribution problems) that if provided, would immediately and positively impact the lives of Nicaraguans. This work entails traveling from house to house and talking to people in rural areas, in destitute barrios, and in city centers. We have conversations about their needs, their wants, and their issues.

Last Saturday, while an already established community partner was holding a campaign, myself and a fellow intern, Hannah Sieber, went out into the community of Esquipulas to talk to the people and conduct a needs analysis. We went to a few houses near the center of the city and questioned them about the nutrition practices in their community. Then, in order to assess a slightly different market, Hannah and I walked about half of a mile to houses that were clearly more deteriorated and streets that were in disrepair. We were interested in how these people perceived nutrition and if they would be interested in a new product that Soluciones Comunitarias might offer in the future, Nutributter.

The conversations generally followed the same trend. We found that people were interested in Nutributter and in keeping their children healthy, but they had only limited economic resources and couldn’t pay for a large supply of it. Not to be discouraged, Hannah and I walked from house to house in the hot morning sun. Eventually, we came upon a house that didn’t look any different from the rest in the neighborhood. We called inside to see if anyone was home and were invited past the door to sit.

As we asked the owner of the house (an older man with thick glasses) questions about nutrition in the community, he responded willingly and in detail. Our needs analysis went well. Then, Hannah asked the man about a very distinctive painting on the wall of his sitting room. Artwork in Nicaragua in usually limited to depictions of Jesus, and it was very unusual to see a striking blue, naked woman staring at us. The man responded that he was an artist. He led us further into his house.

Hannah and I looked around at the room this man had taken us to. We were both amazed. The best way to describe this room was a “study.”  Inside, there was a large wooden desk and leather bound books. And covering the walls was this man’s art. He had modern paintings, pottery, indigenous themed creations, and fabric pieces. It was clear this man was extremely talented. He modestly told us that he had taken up art after he injured his hand and was unable to perform his previous work.

The study was practically a museum. Each hand painted piece was more gorgeous than the next. Hannah and I could barely contain our shock at this man’s collection. Here, in the run down outskirts of Esquipulas, was an incredible art studio. It was nice enough that the man had enthusiastically answered our questions. It was even better that he let perfect strangers into his private study. And then to top it all off, he plucked painted wooden baskets off the shelf behind his desk and handed them to myself and Hannah.

We tried fervently to return the beautiful pieces of art, but he wouldn’t have it. He told us that we should keep them in order to remember him. A Nicaraguan, who we had known for less than 15 minutes, had just given us gringos unbelievable art from his private collection. Wow.

The people of Nicaraguan are incredibly welcoming. They rarely turn us away from their homes when we want to ask them questions and are very liberal with their time. This artist is further reaffirmation that amazing acts of kindness can happen in the most unlikely places.

Hannah details her experience at their first campaign

2 07 2011

The campaign was held in Las Flores, a small village located approximately an hour, or two bus rides, away from Grenada. The main road of the town stretched for approximately a mile, with houses scattered along the road, and dirt alleys leading off to many more homes.

A campaign is the event an entrepreneur holds twice a month in order to sell products, give free eye exams and make some disposable income. We had visited the village once before to publicize the campaign we were holding. We walked to the majority of the homes in the village and at each home our routine was the same: we would ask permission to enter and then in our jumbled Spanish, we would inform the residents of the free eye exams and products being sold at the campaign. The day of the actual campaign, in addition to publicizing,, other jobs during the included surveying for new products, giving eye exams and running the inventory.

I spent most of my time surveying about a new product, Nutributter, which is a vitamin supplement for 6-24 month year old kids.  As part of our research for this product we asked villagers about nutrition, access to food, and common diets in the community. Most of the community members stated that malnutrition did not exist in Las Flores, but was prevalent in most of the neighboring villages. Likewise, many villagers reported their kids were healthy and maintained a steady diet of fruit and vegetables but their neighbors’ kids were mal-nutritioned. These two comments really surprised me because it seemed everyone acknowledged that malnutrition was a problem, but denied it was a problem in their home, or in their community. Furthermore, it made getting accurate data difficult.

One of the more interesting conversations we had was with a woman in her young 40’s, who based on her house came from an above average level of affluence. When asked how malnutrition should be treated, she responded that the government is taking care of the poor. This was also really surprising, as it stood in contrast the other responses which all alluded to the discrepancy is public and private health care in Nicaragua.

The campaign was really interesting as it was our first day out in rural Nicaragua. It had been a slow day, but eight villagers purchased reading glasses over the four hours we were there. Also, it was a challenge to yield accurate data from the surveys. Nonetheless, looking back I appreciate the foundation our first campaign gave me. It allowed me to understand how to cater surveys to a specific target population, and at the next campaign we got great survey results. Likewise, the low attendance number really highlighted the importance of publicity, and of picking an accessible, central location. All in all, it was a great day, and a great introduction to the work.

SE Corps Nicaragua 2011

21 04 2011

Check back soon for live updates from the field from SE Corps Interns in Nicaragua!

Welcome to the SE Corps 2011 Student Blog!

21 04 2011

Please check back soon for live updates from the field as students explore Social Entrepreneurship in Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and South Africa!