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Moultonboro volunteer making a difference in Nicaragua village



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Danielle Costanza of Moultonboro is volunteering in the village of El Hatilla in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps. She is working with villagers and people back home to help gather seeds for the community and improve health and living conditions.
September 23, 2009
MOULTONBORO — An effort to help the people of El Hatillo, Nicaragua, is underway thanks to a Peace Corps volunteer from Moultonboro.

Danielle Costanza was assigned to volunteer in Nicaragua, where she is starting an effort to collect seeds for local farmers and improve the failing infrastructure of one village.

Costanza grew up in Moultonboro and attended Moultonboro Academy. She recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire before going into the Peace Corps. After joining, she went through three months of training before being given a site assignment.

"She's just always been a person that's pretty much interested in social justice, and she wanted to make a kind of positive contribution," said her mother Sara Costanza. "That's just who she is."

On Aug. 1 she was assigned to the village of in El Hatillo, Telica, Leon for the next two years. El Hatillo is a small village in Nicaragua, which is a hot and arid region in the northwestern part of the country. Upon arriving at El Hatillo she met her host family and her counterpart, Delver Machado.

Delever Joseʼ Juaʼrez Machado is a graduate of the University of Managua, with a specialty in seed engineering. Costanza said in a letter that Muchado has worked in the fields all his life with his father.

"The community received me with open arms, and they are very hospitable and hard-working people," Costanza wrote in a letter.

The village is remote rural community in the Sebaco Valley, which has an eroding resource base and high levels of malnutrition.

In that village, most people are substance farmers and families have land. The villagers, however, lack the seeds, fertilizer, and other resources to plant and cannot borrow money. They have no way of getting seeds for their gardens from the banks have no means of obtaining seeds. Additionally there is no power and no running water in the village.

Over 10 years ago Hurricane Mitch washed out the one road and bridge over the Rio Grande de Matagalpa leading out of the village. As a result the road is impassable and the village is isolated.

"Life is hard here and the poverty is heart wrenching," Costanza wrote. "People do not have even the most basic needs. There is malnutrition among the children as well as the adults. Some families subsist on only one meal a day. The town does not have electricity, or a road that vehicles can travel on. People must walk or ride a bicycle (if they have one) to go to the next village."

Costanza is working with Machado to coordinate projects to improve the living situations in the village through helping develop more sustainable solutions.

"We have brainstormed many options as to how to raise the standard of living in El Hatillo," Costanza wrote. "The most decisive and appropriate way would be to improve and increase farm production. The mission of the Peace Corp volunteer is to assist the town in initiating and maintaining improvements that are sustainable. There are no financial resources here to jump start this project which we have named, 'Seeds for El Hatillo.'"

Costanza and Machado have created "Seeds for El Hatillo," an organization collecting seeds, planting recourses, and donations to provide sustainable living solutions to the people of the village.

"The community will be brainstorming their own ways of raising money for this cause, but the hard fact is that money is scarce and difficult to obtain," Costanza wrote.

The goals of Seeds for El Hatillo include increasing farm production by raising money through donations to purchase fertilizer and seeds for the farmers to plant. According to the program donations as small as $5 to $10 will buy plenty of seeds and fertilizer for even one family, with the ultimate goal of $1,000 raised.

"We anticipate we need about $400 to $ 500 to get started on this project, but the people of El Hatillo would be grateful for any donation no matter how small," Costanza wrote. Our goal would be to purchase the seeds and fertilizer by September in time for this year's planting. However, realistically speaking, we see this as an ongoing project and we will use the resources for the following planting year if we cannot meet this September time frame."

The program also hopes to improve nutrition in the village, starting a Seed Bank for women of the village to plant patio and other individual gardens to improve the diet of their children and families.

In this concept, a woman is given a certain number of vegetable seeds from the "Seed Bank," six months after the vegetables are harvested she gives back double the number of seeds to the bank so seeds are multiplied and always available.

Costanza is asking that individuals in the United States purchase a seed package and mail it to her. Vegetables needed include tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, melons, squash, and others.

The third goal is to begin a small business for the women. It costs $60 to build a mud oven and the women in the village have organized to begin a bakery to make and sell bread. Money is needed to build the ovens and to purchase the supplies and utensils they need to get started. The profits will be shared amongst them to improve the lives of their children by feeding and clothing them.

Another goal is to bring electricity and power to the village. The group is contacting nonprofit organizations such as Engineers without Borders to find assistance and advise on how to bring power to the village. The group is also in the process of speaking to these same contractors to create a passable road. With the road washed out, people must travel by foot or by bicycle.

Costanza did a fundraiser through St. Charles Church and United Methodist Church and had individual donations.

"The people are really organized and self-motivated there, continually seeking ways to improve their standard of living," Sara Costanza said. "(They) requested a person from the Peace Corps be placed here."

Additionally the women of the village are "pretty organized, they have really good ideas of things they wanted to do."

Danielle Costanza is documenting her experience on a blog at daniellecostanza.wordpress.com

Donations may be sent to the Seed Bank at: Danielle Costanza PCV de Cuerpo del Paz Apartado Postal 366 Nicaragua. According to a letter from the foundation it is helpful to write "Vive Jesus" or "Bendaigo Dios" on any package sent to ensure safe delivery, as Nicaragua is a strongly Roman Catholic country.

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