03.31.15Nicaragua Part 2: Granada

Granada at night

*click images to enlarge

We made it to Granada in time for dinner on Sunday, after a beautiful 3-hour drive through the country (we even passed active volcanoes with the steam coming out of them!). In Granada, we stayed at Hotel con Corazon, a boutique hotel whose profits are invested into education programs in Nicaragua. After a fun group dinner at a local restaurant near the central plaza, we got some sleep for another early morning.

One of our co-leaders of the trip lived and worked in Granada for five years prior to coming to Darden School of Business, so he coordinated our projects for this portion of the trip. He worked for a non-profit that was building a new school in an especially poor “barrio” or neighborhood called El Pantanal, which means “the swamp.” Our first stop of the day was a visit to the new school site where some buildings are still under construction, but some were gearing up for a grand opening. We got to hear from the head teacher about her experiences and the challenges of teaching in Nicaragua. Education is not a given for many kids in Nicaragua, and teachers have to really encourage kids to continue going to school. Below, you can see the main open-air pavilion and one of the classrooms that was almost ready to open.

Our next stop took us to El Puente, a Christian ministry and outreach center in the heart of Granada. El Puente (the Bridge) provides many community programs, including drug and alcohol rehabilitation, youth clubs like Vida Joven (Young Life), and different opportunities to work with and help local churches, orphanages, and disabled children’s centers.

El Puente also started The Jicaro Project, a jewelry company that offers training, employment and community to the youth and single mothers of Granada’s poorest neighborhoods. Specializing in the design and production of quality artisan handcrafts, The Jicaro Project combines sustainable local resources (jicaro gourds grow in abundance in Nicaragua) with the hand labor of locals. Proceeds from sales help to fund scholarships for the new school opening in El Pantanal and for community programs.

Half of our group (including Rob and myself) completed a consulting project with The Jicaro Project to determine how to best enter the US jewelry market and increase profits to be able to provide more scholarships for the new community school. After touring the workshop where Jicaro goods were made, we had an even better understanding to build off our prior research. Our team set to work by dividing and conquering different aspects of the vision and put together a presentation that we delivered to the founder by the end of our time in Granada. She was genuinely excited by the ideas and research we had put together for her and our conversations and collaboration has continued since returning to Charlottesville. It will be fun to see the direction of this jewelry line and the increasing number of people benefiting from the sales! (They also sell gorgeous ornaments in their Nicaraguan retail locations as souvenirs, which you can see below.)

The other half of our group did several community outreach projects, such as a soccer camp with youth and cleaning out a rehab center to prepare for its re-opening. We enjoyed coming back together each evening for dinner and to share stories from our experiences in Granada.

I found it very interesting to be able to see both rural and urban Nicaragua. It certainly helped paint a more accurate picture of the country as a whole to be able to see various areas within the country. One thing that struck me was the different challenges that are highlighted between the two. While both share some challenges, it was clear that public health was the more urgent problem facing rural Nicaragua, and education/employment was the more urgent problem facing urban Granada.

Despite spending many hours working on our project in the hotel, we did get to go on an early morning walking tour one of the days. Granada is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, settled by Spain in the 1500s. It was fascinating to see a glimpse into life as people walked to school or set up their stalls in the market to sell produce and meat. As you can see in the pictures, Granadians don’t shy away from color!

On our last night in Granada, we went on a boat tour of Lake Nicaragua – the 19th largest lake in the world. Granada sits right next to the lake, which has a massive dormant volcano in the middle of it.

We enjoyed a meal right next to the lake that evening. A common food that we ate throughout Nicaragua is fried plantain with fried cheese. Another common food is gallo pinto, or Nicaraguan rice and beans, which is served at nearly every meal.

On our last day in Nicaragua, our group gave our final presentation to a few people involved in the Jicaro Project, as well as to the other half of our group. It was exciting to see our teamwork come together so well. From there, we left for the third and final leg of our journey: Playa Santana – the Pacific Ocean! Stay tuned :).

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