On June 29-30 Maria S, Doug and their son Josh visited Maria J in Candelaria, a small rural community of several dozen houses about 40 miles northeast of Jinotepe. What makes Candelaria’s location really distinct, however, is that it is exactly due south (2,012 miles) of Goshen, IN.
Candelaria is reached by a 40-minute bus ride from the nearest town, followed by a 20-min. walk over a rocky road. Goshen students have worked here in the past on projects run by Asofenix, a rural development organization. Last year a student helped one of the local families get a non-functioning biodigester up and running. Maria J is living with that family, whose biodigester is still working. The host mother is also named Maria (we had 3 Maria’s under the same roof!), and her host father is Apolonio (to whom we beg forgiveness for failing to get his picture). The biodigester provides enough methane to run a gas stove for a few hours each week, so the family still relies mostly on firewood for cooking beans and making baked goods. Asofenix would like Maria J to help get another biodigester in the community working, although they are having difficulties getting an airtight bag (that holds the methane gas produced by the manure) that doesn’t leak.
At the same time Asofenix has had Maria working on another project, helping families create vegetable gardens beside their houses. The land where the community sits is very rocky; the crops that form the community’s diet — beans, corn and sorghum — are grown in less rocky fields far away from the homes. Vegetables are not grown and rarely eaten. Because adding a variety of vegetables to the local diet would boost nutrition, Asofenix is encouraging families to start vegetable gardens next to their homes. This requires clearing rocks and leveling small plots to conserve the small amount of topsoil. Maria J helped her family build a small plot, and later will do the same for some other local families.
Maria J is also interested in using knowledge she has to help the community with another interest they have, that of using their animal manure to produce organic fertilizer, increasing crop yields and avoiding costly synthetic fertilizers.
Maria S accompanied Maria J to look for David, a community leader who works with Asofenix, to discuss strategies for all three projects: biodigester repair, vegetable gardens, and composting. The two Maria’s joined an elderly man sitting at a rock and taking apart an old radio transformer to salvage the copper wire. David joined us, his wife brought us mangos, and an assortment of curious kids also came to join the open-air meeting. For an hour the two Maria’s and David discussed the community’s needs, the order of priorities, a timetable for getting things done, names of local collaborators, acquisition of needed materials, and so on. By the end of the meeting they had a plan, and the copper wire was recovered, but the kids had gotten bored with adult talk and left.
Before supper we watched two of Maria J’s host brothers play marbles, and then we sat and watched the sun go down on distant fields in the surrounding hills. That night it rained long and hard, a welcome event after a 3-week dry spell that had been threatening their crops.
The next morning Maria S, Doug, and son Josh rose early and left at 5:30 to catch a 6:00 bus (everything starts very early in the campo) on their way to visit Benson and Olivia in another rural village about 15 miles and a 3-hour trip distant.