It’s been a long first week of volunteering here in Nicaragua. However, despite the hard work and the intensity of the midday sun, it’s certainly turned out to be a rewarding one too.
It began with an early start on the Tuesday morning. We travelled to a local primary school where we helped to plant trees in the school grounds, followed by a trip to a local river where we planted trees along the bank. This was part of a reforestation project which aims to regain some of the woodland which has been lost over the years in the Mozonte area in northern Nicaragua.
Deforestation is a major problem in Nicaragua. The harsh climate during the dry season has caused many forest fires over the years, leading to the destruction of large areas of native woodland. Many indigenous communities lack the resources to afford alternative sources of energy so have instead turned to chopping down trees for firewood.
Rene, one of the national volunteers working with us on the project, explained that droughts are also becoming more of a regular occurrence. He mentioned that the work we’re doing to plant trees along the river bank will help bring vital protection to the rivers which are the main water resources in the area.
However, despite the problems that many communities face, there certainly seems to be a belief amongst people here that something can be done to rewind the destruction done. The Nicaraguan government in recent years have introduced a law stating that for every tree that is cut down, ten more must be planted in its place.
The problems faced in Nicaragua due to deforestation aren’t confined to its borders. This is an international problem which sees thousands of acres of woodland disappear every day. Back in the UK, forest fires may not be as prevalent, yet deforestation and the loss of natural habitats is a serious problem also. In fact, our wildlife is in rapid decline.
For me, the countrywide initiatives and the willingness of ordinary people to fight to protect the natural habitats of Nicaragua should be seen as an example for other countries which face similar problems.
The first project assigned to Progressio volunteers was reforestation – a task of huge importance in Nicaragua and other countries alike. Our group was planting trees in two places in Mozonte: a schoolyard up in the mountains and along the riverbank. According to a national volunteer Rene, it is crucial to have trees growing near the rivers because it shields water from the heat of the sun. Without such protection they might dry out and, in the course of that, many areas would lose their water supply that is necessary for both the environment and the activities of dependent people.
Forests are also a crucial living habitat for many animals and plants. It is widely known that with the depletion of the forests the variety of species might decrease as well, which would have dire consequences for the environment. However, understanding of a problem is not enough, even though it is the first step. There are many issues that prevent people from acting on it. For example, many indigenous communities live in difficult to access areas; they often do not have electricity and the only feasible energy resource may be the wood that they collect themselves.
Central government, local municipalities, and indigenous communities understand the importance of restoring the woodlands and therefore have joined their forces to achieve this goal. The result of their efforts was a new law which states that for every tree that is cut down ten new trees should be planted. Government also subsidizes reforestation efforts in order to encourage obeying this law and to relieve the additional challenges caused by it.
In two days we managed to plant 400 trees of four different species. Although it may seem like a drop in a sea, it contributes to the nationwide initiative of reforestation. Even more importantly, it demonstrates voluntary work and inspires other community members to try and help their environment not for the financial reward but for the sake of improving it.
Blog by Jack Dangerfield and Agne Skrebyte. Photograph by Julie Asis.