Erin Carroll is a Hydrogeologist at GSI Water Solutions in Portland, OR. Given her technical background and experience in Nicaragua, Erin and her boyfriend Patrick Hughes were invited to accompany and be mentors to a team of students from Portland State University’s Environmental and Business programs while conducting a site assessment trip in El Jacote and Bramadero, Nicaragua.
Traveling to Nicaragua with Green Empowerment was a breath of fresh air. Having completed my M.S. thesis project, A Water Quality Assessment of the Upper Rio Fonseca Drainage Basin, in 2006, it was great to return to the Department of Boaco, Nicaragua, and immerse myself in the local culture while contributing to projects with tangible results.
In the past I spent most of my time in Nicaragua conversing with and rummaging through the offices of people in regulatory and academic organizations in Managua searching for background information about ‘my study area.’ It was always a welcome reprieve when I went to conduct field work in the Central Highlands, but even then I was ‘on-guard’ as I was coordinating sampling activities with my driver and field staff to make sure that we met the objectives of the study. Although I learned a lot and was happy with the outcome of my project, I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with the rural Nicaraguans themselves.
The two years that I spent working on my thesis project combined with subsequent volunteer and travel experiences, where I felt the responsibility of ‘leading the pack,’ made this trip with Green Empowerment and their partner organization, Asociación Fénix, unique. I feel that their ability to not only plan for but also implement the logistics of our trip and meet the needs of everyone in our group was unprecedented.
This logistical freedom combined with the PSU students self motivation, gave me the liberty to soak up my surroundings and immerse myself in the moment. Rather than always using my Spanish skills for translating and seeking technical project details, I was able to have conversations with people and learn about their lives. From Juan Jose’s insights on El Jacote’s past, to the children’s knowledge of the current landscape, I was impressed by the inherent self reliance of the old and young alike.
To a large degree I feel like the people of El Jacote and Bramadero realize the influence their actions make on their current environment. They realize, for example, that deforestation contributes to the degradation of their watershed yet they continue to cut down trees because they need fuel for cooking. While they know that they are outgrowing their resources they also feel like they should take their share while they still can. What they seem to not fully comprehend (or maybe have yet to embrace), is that there are things that they can do to mend some of nature’s wounds. That together they can plant trees, grow nutritious crops and start to revitalize and protect their natural resources.
Fortunately, the communities of El Jacote and Bramadero have formed a strong relationship with the staff at Asociación Fénix and Green Empowerment (both of whom have pledged to retain a long-term presence in the region). With assistance from these knowledgeable NGO’s, these communities will be enabled to work together toward a sustainable future for their children.