By Tameeka Norton
Hello everyone! It’s hard to imagine that I’ve been in Nicaragua for almost 3 weeks! My internship is with UNAG (Union Nacional de Agricultores y Ganadores), a non-profit organization that works with small and medium producers in various areas of the agricultural sector including land, credit, market products, and technical assistance. I am here through the Duke Microfinance Leadership Initiative- a student organization that promotes microfinance and sustainable development.
This is DMLI’s first time working in Nicaragua. As the only graduate student in the group, I serve as the quasi-leader of the group, helping facilitate and maintain a positive relationship between UNAG and our group.
Trouble a’ brewin?
A couple of weeks before the internship
began, I became concerned at the lack of communication between myself and DMLI. I had no idea where in Nicaragua I was going, where I would be staying or any other logistics typical of a formal program. Luckily I was able to bridge the gap with a lot of help from fellow MPPer Ivy Blackmore, who interned with UNAG the year before and initiated the connection between UNAG and DMLI. I decided to use the program as a learning experience in leadership and make adjustments later if necessary.
Time to start working…
It became fairly apparent that I was the only person in the group able to communicate in Spanish with relative ease. As the de-facto translator of the group, I arrange transportation to the various communities, communicate with our host, and manage our work with UNAG.
We are based in the lovely city of Matagalpa- an agricultural town located in the mountains of Nicaragua. We are working with cooperatives in 3 towns- Jucuapa, San Dionisio, and Dario- spending a couple of weeks with each location. Part of the time will be spent evaluating the cooperatives and providing technical assistance as needed.
It took a couple of days before we were able to have our first meetings with the cooperatives. When meetings were finally arranged, we quickly had to get used to “Nica time”: having a meeting scheduled for 9 not begin until 9:30 or 10am. In the case of Jucuapa, a lot of the tardiness was due to the fact that many of the cooperative members had to walk long distances to the meeting location. In some cases, attendance was determined on the amount of rain received the night before.
There are two UNAG-affiliated cooperatives in Jucuapa- one comprised of youth, and one of women. Rather than focus on the issue of credit, we are providing recommendations focused on local capacity-building; problems include decreased participation in cooperative projects, and communication gaps amongst the cooperatives’ Administration Boards and general body members. As some of you may have already guessed, we are presenting our suggestions in Sanford-style memos! I had a lot of fun leading a training session on the memo format for my non-public policy associates. The final products will be delivered to our clients on Friday.
Of course I’ve managed to find the time to have fun on this trip! In addition to exploring Matagalpa, I visited a coffee cooperative and learned about coffee cultivation, volunteered at a home for women with high-risk pregnancies, went to a chocolate factory and hiked around a cloud forest. I just came back from a long weekend in Bluefields, a city in an autonomous region on the Atlantic coast, to participate in Palo Mayo (May Pole) celebrations. This area is unique in that the majority of the inhabitants are descendants of emancipated slaves from British Caribbean islands. Next up are visits to the colonial city of Granada, an active volcano (volcano surfing anyone?), and to the Pacific-coast beach town of San Juan del Sur.
I really enjoy the work I’ve done so far with the cooperatives and am excited to move on to our next location of Darío.