February 24, 2014

Rio Coco

Last month, I (Cassie) had the opportunity to travel down the Rio Coco to visit various food security projects of Accion Medica Cristiana (AMC) where I work two days a week.  AMC strives to work in the most economically poor regions of Nicaragua in order to provide assistance and support. These food security projects that we visited are located in northeastern Nicaragua along the Rio Coco which forms a natural boundary between Honduras and Nicaragua.

_MG_1697 (2)

This map shows a few of the AMC transfer centers.  We followed the border from Wiwili to Waspam.

The food security projects are implemented in 38 communities in the RAAN, the autonomous northeast region of Nicaragua. For many years this part of Nicaragua has struggled with problems of food security. According to a 2005 survey by INIDE (Instituo Nacional de Informacion de Desarrollo or The National Institute of Development), the poverty index in the RAAN is 72.4% and 43.7% of its inhabitants are living in extreme poverty. This is about double the national index. While I am continually struck by the economic poverty that I see daily in Managua, what I saw in the RAAN was alarming.

_MG_1794 (2) 

Local leaders and the indigenous communities sought out the help of AMC to find solutions to the extreme poverty that exists in this region. Declining crop yields, increasingly limited access to land and changing climatic conditions have all led to the creation of this problem. Thus AMC with the help of partnerships from organizations such as World Renew have created Production and Technology Transfer Centers as a way to train and equip local farmers to respond in sustainable and creative ways.

_MG_1415 (2)

One of the Production and Technology Transfer Centers.  The newer centers are experimenting with a new model where less buildings and infrastructure are required.

The design of the program was very impressive. AMC has hired local indigenous workers to live and work in each community; these individuals are called technical staff. The technical staff recruits farmers that have interest in participating in the program, they are called promoters. These promoters are trained in themes of soil conservation, application of organic fertilizer, vegetable production, livestock management and nutrition. These promoters are also given the opportunity to work at the transfer centers or land banks where they are able to utilize the tools that they are being taught and see with their own eyes the successes that these alternative farming techniques can have.

After a year of working with the AMC project, these promoters are then connected to additional farmers that they will train to implement these unique methods. The program is able to have a large impact because of its design, where individuals are equipped to transfer their knowledge and tools to other individuals. One piece that was really impressive for me was the fact that farmers not involved in the program are showing up at the transfer centers wanting information. They are seeing the success that their neighbors and community members are having and have the desire to participate themselves.

_MG_1541 (2) DSCN0833

A proud farmer with his harvest of granadilla.                     The start of a watermelon crop.

While spending a week on the river was not the most comfortable time of my life – sleeping in hammocks next to twenty other individuals, sharing one outhouse, no running water, long days on the boat on hard wooden benches and being up to my knees in mud – I was very encouraged by the work that AMC is doing. Not many NGO´s are willing to work in these types of remote environments which are incredibly difficult and costly to access.  Beyond that, the success of the work was incredibly impressive and hopeful. It was reassuring to see good development work, a place where community members are empowered and participating in the actual work. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have seen this beautiful part of Nicaragua and have a firsthand look at the outstanding work that AMC is doing there.

_MG_1353 (2) _MG_1376 (2)

The beautiful scenery of Rio Coco.                                 Women down by the river doing their wash by hand.

If you would like to read more information about this project, I encourage you to read more from my friend and colleague Bethany who works for World Renew: 

Where Land Is Alive 

Real Heroes

February 17, 2014

Do I Really Love My Neighbor?

Kevin and I recently had a conversation about what it means to love ones neighbor as oneself.  The conversation has caused us to look very concretely at our actions within the community that we find ourselves in.  Though our attempt is to live as our neighbors, we find ourselves in a position in which we have more economic resources than those around us.  Thus, we have been pondering some questions in our own life.

If I really loved my neighbor, when I got home from a long days of work wouldn't I smile as my neighbor kids ran towards me instead of think, "I am so tired and have no more energy?"

If I really loved my neighbor, I would be glad, not annoyed after the tenth child of the evening yelled my name at our front door asking for a glass of water.

If I really loved my neighbor, wouldn't I offer the two extra beds, full of pillows (and even decorative ones) to my neighbors who as a family of four share one bed with no pillows?

If I really loved my neighbor, wouldn't I be glad each day when my neighbor boy Derrick asks to climb my mango tree and not be frustrated that I am losing twenty minutes out of my day that I had planned for something else?

If I really loved my neighbor, wouldn't I be better at sharing our space?  The space that Kevin and I live in is the same size that sixteen people share next door.

If I really loved my neighbor, wouldn't I do everything that I could to ensure that none of the children or their parents go to bed with hungry stomachs?

My mind is always considering what we can do to be a helpful neighbor, recognizing the needs around us.  I know that I need to take care of myself, that after a long workday it is okay to say to my neighbor kids that I am tired and model self-care to them.  We are also doing everything that we can to avoid dependency and I know that giving “handouts” is not the best model for development work.  But seriously, who cares about a “handout” when kids are starving. 

It is hard to know how to best relate, not always as the person giving, but living in equality among these beautiful and beloved individuals. 

I have a long ways to go on this journey of loving my neighbor as myself, Lord guide me.

James 2:8 - Love your neighbor as yourself

February 10, 2014

Solentiname Islands


Often times when we behold a beautiful sight, a brilliant sunset, a unique bird preening feet away or the diverse landscape of the world drawn together, the words, "that should be on a postcard" or "this would be perfect for the month of July" escape from our mouths. We are so amazed at the sight before us that we can not even begin to describe with words the amazement and wonder that we in that moment are experiencing.


Thankfully our senses and memories allow us to pleasure in the picturesque sights and sounds of our world; to interact with and share our memories and make new ones with loved ones in the present.  Back in September, Cassie and I ventured to the Solentiname Islands of Nicaragua with our friend David.  Once there we thought as though we had returned to the land of 10,000 lakes and I think neither one of us would have been surprised if we would have heard Suzy (Cassie's mom) calling the loons as we paddled across the lake.


It was one of those weekends in which we thought a lot about our past trips to the BWCA; swimming in the frigid lake, beautiful sunsets over the water, mosquitos, pit toilets, mosquitos and islands with boat being our only mode of transportation.  It made us miss our family as we were reminded of the beauty that connects us. However, we also realize that through our visiting of Nicaragua's "BWCA" we are making a path for ourselves; experiences to be shared, memories to be had with the calendar like imagines fresh in our minds.  Someday a sight or sound will conjure up these memories and we will be able to sit, imagining ourselves sitting hand in hand watching that beautiful sunset when we ventured to the islands of Solentiname.


In a somewhat related, but still in sidebarish fashion, I would like to take this moment to share a recipe with you.  Stopping by a roadside stand, where food and drink were being offered for purchase, Cassie and I embarked on a culinary adventure.  The owner was presiding over the stand and our short stop turned into a long talk and tour of the 10 acre farm.  After the tour we sat down for a cup of coffee and excitedly ordered our hosts recommendation of desert. 

Of course we loved it so much that we asked for the recipe which I would like to share with you:


  • 4 ripe plantains (boiled and then fried-see not below)
  • 1 quart milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 T whole wheat flour
  • 5 T sugar
  • 1 t of salt
  • 1/4 cup of margarine
  1. In a medium pot mix the four egg yolks with flour, sugar, and salt.
  2. Add the margarine and milk and place over low heat.
  3. Continue to stir vigorously until the mixture begins to boil.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Slice the four plantains (which have been boiled and fried) lengthwise--imagine that you are hollowing out a canoe
  6. Seek to submerge your plantain canoe with the hot custard.
  7. Sprinkle cinnamon over custard as you so desire.

Two notes:

  • Hopefully you see the connection and are not asking yourself why I included this recipe, but if you did not, the desert is called a canoe, which is the boat that Cassie and I used in the islands and it is also the most typical mode of transportation in the BWCA.
  • I realize that very ripe plantains are extremely difficult to find in North America. We have learned from our neighbors that boiling a plantain for ten minutes will greatly expedite the process of frying it to the desired place in which your plantain is sufficiently soft and delectable.


*We apologize for the non-appetizing, plastic filled photo.  We first ate this at a roadside stand and the presentation wasn’t their number one concern.  But really, they don’t even have to consider it.  This was way too delicious!

February 4, 2014


Time can make a person tired. The seconds continue to tick down, though one may feel as though everything were standing still. We knew coming to Nicaragua that we would need to get ourselves adjusted to a different conception of time, one which we are still seeking to grasp and understand.

We have learned some things about time. We have learned that time is different in each and every country and just as people from the U.S. will talk about Latin American time, a Nicaraguan will talk about the conception of time of a Cuban or Colombian as a Nicaraguan who has spent time in north will often talk about Nicaraguans.

A few weeks ago I left the house at 6:45 in order to meet my boss at our bus stop in-route to the Baptist Convention of Nicaragua. She was slated to pass by at 6:55 (she determined this very specific time the night before). Thus, seeing as it would not be a good choice to leave my boss waiting for me at a public bus stop during rush hour in a country were over 75% of the population depends on public transportation, I was there at 6:54.

I stood and waited, standing in the hot sun, beginning the daily process of saturating myself with my own sweat. I wanted to check the time but avoided it. I chatted with a neighbor, bought a mango, let the thought pass though my head that maybe I had missed her, maybe she had been early and unwilling to wait.

I looked and it was 7:23.

I decided I would call if she was not there by 7:30. I have forgotten to mention that she, my boss, was scheduled to lead the devotional this morning at the convention, which made me think--I have been waiting for almost 30 minutes, but soon almost 1,000 people will be waiting for you.

I called, she said she was on her way, though I could clearly hear from the background that she was eating, that she was still with her husband--who was not joining us today--and the fact that there were no traffic noises in the background, made it quite clear that I would be waiting a bit longer.

At 7:47 she arrived for a conference that started at 8:00 which was a little over an hour away from our current location.

My boss is Cuban, and a Nicaraguan will readily tell you in a conversation about time, that a Cuban's value or sense of time is the poorest of any Latino. Which begs the question, why would time be of great importance for a group of people who live on an island whose neighbors refuse to treat as human beings (a personal thank-you to president Obama for shaking hands with Raul Castro) because of a political theory conjured up by George Kennan in the 1940's.

All that to say that time continues to be a frustration, a fine balance of cultures that we continue to struggle with. Really its our attempt to navigate a point of nonverbal communication to let the people that we know, care for and work with that we respect and love them, it is also a practice in patience, and a point of curiosity for how transitioning to another way of viewing time will affect the two of us.