Nicaragua Visit - Water of Life


While Britain was suffering from its worst winter in a decade, I was in Nicaragua in Central America, visiting rural villages and enjoying some of the country’s thermal pools and lagoons. I was there with a group from Amos Trust, a small human rights organisation based in London. Central America - that ‘inflamed cord’ which binds the two continents together - as Henri J M Nouwen described it.

There were 19 of us in all, two leaders and seventeen supporters. We were met at Managua airport by Harold Blandon, an employee of CEPAD - the Council of Protestant Churches in Nicaragua. CEPAD was founded by a Nicaraguan GP, Gustavo Parajon, a Baptist layman, following the disastrous earthquake which hit Managua, the capital city, in 1972. One usually thinks of Central and South America as predominantly Catholic, which they are, but due largely to the growth of Pentecostal churches, the number of Protestants in Nicaragua has grown from 10% in the 1960’s to 30% today. A machismo culture still predominates and CEPAD concentrates on training the women in the villages, which are often difficult to reach and suffer from drought and neglect. Food security is a real issue in the villages and there is a need to improve irrigation and extend the women’s knowledge of crops.

We were based in the town of Teustepe in the Boaco region, the dry corridor as it is known, some forty or so miles north east of Managua. This is the second poorest region in the country and CEPAD works with seven of the poorest villages in the region. As we travelled on our first visit to a village we saw evidence of bridges recently swept away during the rainy season and we heard about an entire village which had been swept away by a landslide when Hurricane Mitch hit the country in 1997. The first village we visited consisted of 75 families. They had suffered from a big drought a few years ago. They had planted their crops of corn and beans and sergum in the rainy season but the drought had meant that there was no harvest. In all the villages we visited, the village leaders who welcomed us were unanimous in their praise for the work CEPAD was doing alongside them. CEPAD concentrates on training and shies away from doctrine. It believes that unity can be found through service. On first impressions some of the villages seemed almost idyllic, with pigs and piglets, hens and chickens, cows and calves and the occasional rider crossing a
ford in the river on horseback. However irrigation is a real problem in this very dry region and CEPAD is helping families and communities to build micro dams behind their homes or behind the local school, where water can run off the gutters into the dams in the rainy season and provide much needed irrigation in the dry season. 

CEPAD has a family garden programme for women, they give micro loans so that the women can buy chickens and pigs and thus provide extra income for the family. They train the women to run their own small businesses - second hand clothing or fruit and vegetables. They work with the young people and they provide a programme consisting of 14 self-study books for pastoral leaders. CEPAD also has its own radio station and secondary school.

We were driven north up into the hills where the coffee is grown (you can buy Nicaraguan coffee from Sainsbury’s) to visit CEPAD’s model farm in Matagulpa. Here we were shown the simple water filters which can get rid of 99% of the impurities in the water. (There was no running water in any of the villages we visited). The bottom layer of the filter consists of pebbles from the river which are washed, dried and purified for 3 to 6 days under the sun. The next layer consists of smaller pebbles subjected to the same treatment. The third layer is sand from the river bank which is also washed and left to purify in the sun. The next layer consists of charcoal which is easily found in the local market and which is also subjected to the same treatment. 

The filters are put into large plastic tubs with a capacity of 75 litres. They are cleaned every 3 months and the material
isreplaced every 2 years. Before the advent of the filters there were cases of e coli and even some fatalities. And the high rate of children born with special needs is also due in part to water pollution - some of the homes do not even have an outside latrine.

Some of us spent a night in the village of La Concepcion (I had a comfortable sleep in a hammock). There we met Rosa and saw her impressive garden. Before the advent of CEPAD she would spend a whole day travelling to the town of Bocao where she bought her vegetables for the family. Now she grows her own vegetables and sells the surplus in the market in Bocao. There will be a final visit to Nicaragua in a couple of years time and I would recommend anyone interested in going to contact Amos Trust - Water of Life Appeal (

Colin Douglas

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