Update from our Mahogany Project in Nicaragua

n February this year, Renewable Energy Consultant Andrew Tod packed his bags and headed to Nicaragua to project manage our Mahogany project, providing household solar systems to families within the Mahogany Reserve in partnership with regional partner blueEnergy. In this latest blog Andrew begins to adjust to life in Nicaragua as he works to identify the communities most in need of our support.

Pictured:  Andrew at an informal meeting with a family and FADCANIC representative in Hone Creek. Photo taken the Nicaraguan way, without smiling.

It has been just over three months now since I arrived in Nicaragua and started working at blueEnergy, and things which would have shocked or surprised me at the start of my time here are slowly starting to become normal and routine.

I’m getting used to being woken at 5am by the neighbour’s cockerel and dog exchanging opinions or by the music pumping out of another neighbour’s house. People here tend to wake up with the sunrise and take advantage of the light during the working day – something that is particularly important for the rural population where electricity and light at home is a luxury. Although at times I think not having electricity might be a luxury, as it would reduce the neighbour’s ability to play Celine Dion at full volume at 5am.

I was becoming quite accustomed to not having enough water during the dry season. This meant being selective about when to shower and washing using only a few bowls of water from a bucket shower, and only after pumping water around blueEnergy’s snaking pipework network, from the correct well to the correct tank. I became quite familiar with the water system here after spending a Sunday inside a water tank, cleaning it of mud and leaves and then repairing some damaged pipework. It is all hands on deck at blueEnergy and I was more than happy to help out – knowing that that evening I could wash myself and my clothes with clean water.

Just as I was acclimatising to the dry season, the rainy season kicked off with a bang – quite literally – as thunder and lightning and a lot of rain hit the skies. Now at times it seems like there is too much water, with heavy showers striking without warning and the humidity in the air making it hard to keep anything dry. The increase in inclement weather also results in more power cuts, which can of course be a benefit at 5am when you’re trying to sleep, but can also last for long periods of time and interrupt the working day.

Pictured:Typical riverside home in the Mahogany region

Work on the Mahogany project has increased in pace over the past couple of months. As part of this initial feasibility period we have undertaken a series of meetings with project stakeholders to investigate their existing involvement in the communities we are looking to work with, and leverage useful information that could help to define our strategy. Stakeholders include the local authorities, micro-credit agencies, other NGOs in the area and the local Universities. The overall interest in the project by the different actors has been positive and the cooperation has been valuable for us to gain background information and contacts related to the communities.

We have recently carried out our first visit to three of the communities within the Mahogany Ecological Reserve where the project will be carried out. Over the course of 3 days we visited Belen, Hone Creek and Magnolia which are situated along the Rio Escondido, approximately an hour and a half by panga (speed boat) to the north west of Bluefields. The trip was an important exercise to introduce blueEnergy as an organisation and gather general information about the communities; individual homes, micro-businesses and community initiatives. Also we obtained various contacts of useful people, such as community leaders, cooperative workers, community water project committee members, who were vital sources of information in their respective topics and on the community as a whole.

The next step will be to return to the communities and present the idea of the project to gauge demand for the solar systems within homes and businesses there. Also to take more detailed information that will be used to analyse the sustainability of each individual project and serve as a baseline to describe the current conditions in the communities (in terms of energy, water, sanitation, health, education, communications, incomes etc), in order to make a comparison of the conditions following project completion.

Outside of work I have been enjoying life here on the Caribbean Coast, taking advantage of the riches the culture and location has to offer: I have danced in a prize winning group in a carnival at the climax of the Maypole cultural celebrations, I have toured through the jungle seeing a vast variety of weird and wonderful plants and animals, I have been fishing in the shark infested Caribbean sea in a rather un-steady wooden boat, and most importantly I have been welcomed into the homes of some very friendly people to share some very delicious food.