On Saturday Casa Gastronomica celebrated its near completion by throwing a party. While the lively music of a local band played in the background, local artisans sold their beautiful handcrafted jewelry and a generous selection of corn based canapés were passed around. In between traditional dances performed by local children dressed in flowing white dresses trimmed with blue embroidery, the crowd raised a glass to all the Progressio volunteers who have contributed towards the development of the restaurant. It is rather heartwarming to now see the UK and Nicaraguan flag flying side by side outside Casa Gastronomica.

Embedded within the aims of our partner organisation FENACOOP is the desire to improve the quality of food, its accessibility and to educate society to ensure nutritional balance. This week we have been spending our mornings clearing and expanding the fruit and vegetable garden at the local school. The school garden was created to supply the children in primary and secondary education and their teachers with fresh fruit and vegetables. However, when we arrived at the school it became apparent that only a part of the garden was functioning while a large section was suffering from neglect. 

We have spent our mornings enjoying each other’s company while clearing the neglected ground, building mounds, implementing a sprinkler system and constructing the foundations for a fence to encompass the expansion of the garden. 

Raising awareness of food security and strengthening solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty, World Food Day happened to fall on the Wednesday of this week, the central theme for 2013 being sustainable food systems for food security and nutrition. With this as our backdrop we thought it would a good idea to discuss these topics with the children and their teachers while hearing their thoughts about the school garden and food security in Totogalpa. 

12 year old Jose said that the garden encourages children from poor communities around Totogalpa to come to school as it provides them with lunch. Similarly, 12 year old Rebecca thought it was important to have the garden at the school because it helps children with less money. Both the families of Jose and Rebecca grow their own fruit and vegetables while also buying food from people selling in the street and travelling to the nearby town Ocotal to shop at the market and supermarkets. They both recognized the importance of individual families having their own source of fruit and vegetables, Jose saying it helps families when they have financial difficulties and cannot afford to buy groceries. It was reassuring to hear that they both felt they had access to the food they wanted and that they considered themselves to have a healthy diet.

However, during the week we had noticed a lot of the children eating fried snacks during break time and when we sat down to talk to one of the teachers we heard a different point of view. Professor Osmer Odell Poirates expressed his concern that the majority of people living in Totogalpa consume imported products and don’t like healthy products anymore. This is one of the food security issues FENACOOP is currently attempting to tackle for Nicaragua has a history of being heavily dependent on food imports, despite being the biggest Central American country. Osmer suggested that the school needs better strategies including talks to both the students and their families about the importance of nutrition and that the children need to be provided with a better knowledge of how to grow their own food. On Thursday it was good to see such a talk taking place as a collection of NGOs including FENACOOP  gave a presentation at the school to both parents and students.  The talk covered four main objectives which were organisation, education, production and nutrition, with the aim of encouraging the community to support the school garden. 

During our time at the school it also happened to be the National day of hand washing. Putting our shovels temporarily aside, a few of us went to find out what we could about health and hygiene at the school.

Talking to the Deputy Head teacher Marlene Perez, we learnt about the facilities at the school. Marlene informed us that international NGOs present in Nicaragua helped them to build eight latrines especially for the primary school children who didn’t have access to toilets, and without sinks or soap Marlene explained how the school has had to rely on alternative methods. These include the children collecting buckets of water from the water tanks, taking them back to the classroom where they are encouraged to wash their hands. Each teacher is responsible for bringing the soap in themselves. Marlene expressed a need for more specific places where the children can wash their hands, highlighting that the school does not have access to a sanitary or adequate system.

Despite the lack of facilities it was apparent that hygiene was a topic encouraged within the school by teachers and visits from the Ministry of Health. Marlene informed us that parents are also given talks on health, recent topics including Dengue Fever and the outbreak of Cholera in Mexico. However, as Marlene remarked, the important thing is the practical side of it, actually washing the hands. Talking to the students it became clear that they had a good knowledge of hygiene, but that the school was unfortunately without an adequate sanitary system. 

A small but important contribution to the local community, we hope that our work and presence at the school will strengthen the awareness of sustainable agriculture and that the garden will encourage students to see the benefits of growing their own fruit and vegetables, demonstrating how people can become self sufficient. It has been rewarding for us to see the garden expand and we hope it will prove to be a sustainable source of fruit and vegetable for the students and teachers in the years to come. 

Blog by Isabella Whitehall