On three occasions now, while talking about financial goals, savings, and loans, I have had participants draw their financial goals. I thought of the activity because I have been working with two cooperatives whose members have low education levels and some of them cannot read or write, so drawing is a better method. I have only photographed their drawings on one occasion, but the activity has turned out excellent, and what they draw and express really helps me understand the people, their communities, and their hopes and dreams. I wish I had thought to take pictures on the other two occasions as well.
These pictures are all from members of the rural tourism cooperative at Telica. Nearly all of them drew something related to education – either higher education for themselves, or improving the schoolhouses in their small communities. You can also see transportation (the communities have no roads or vehicles), and a lot of improvements to their land and farms (one of the participants wants fruit trees, another electric and maybe cattle). In the future, as I continue to replicate this activity, I’ll be sure to take pictures of the results. When I did this activity at Mejora tu Vida! Isabel told me that there are even studies that say that if people express and share their goals they are more likely to realize them.
I mentioned that I’ve done this activity three times – once at Telica, once with Mejora tu Vida!, and the third was with a fish processing cooperative in Poneloya. And there are a lot of similarities between my work at Telica and Poneloya, right down to the time in my service that I am actively working with both groups. They are both organized as cooperatives. Both of them have members with low education levels, and both cooperatives expressed deficiencies in their business and management that they wanted my help addressing.
The cooperative at Poneloya is led by Juan Carlos (pictured above). Of all of the Nicaraguans I have met in the last year, his life may be the most interesting. Juan Carlos moved to the beach with his mother before he was five years old. By 14, living in an impoverished beach village, he still could not read or write. That’s when he joined the Sandinista rebels, who were successful in vanquishing the Somoza dictatorship, and remain in control to this day. During the revolutionary war more educated rebels taught him how to read.
After the revolution he returned to Poneloya and riding the wave of popular socialism and being a heroed rebel, he formed a fishing cooperative, the same one that he is the President of today. The cooperative has had many incarnations. In the early 2000’s the government tapped Juan Carlos to go to Panama and Peru to learn deep sea fishing and bring the industry back to his hometown. While in Peru he got the idea to process the fish into fish cakes, and they’ve been running with that idea for many years now, although not very successfully. They’ve also dabbled in dried fish, fisheries, mangrove regrowth, harvesting black clams, and eco-tourism (getting them to focus on one activity has been a challenge for me).
With this cooperative so far I have been focusing on setting financial goals, the pros and cons of savings vs. loans, knowing your costs and establishing a price for your product, and marketing techniques. Unfortunately, we found out together that a tray of their fish cakes costs about C$ 40 – C$45 to make, but they are only selling them for C$35. Luckily, I’ve hooked them up with a local business university that has a food sciences major, and the students and professor are helping them tweak the product and reduce their costs, so they do not have to raise the price too much. Simultaneously, I’m helping them market the fish cakes better and find and reach new clients. They certainly have potential. Hopefully within the next year I can watch them get on to a great path for growth and betterment of the members of the cooperative.
I’ve chronicled before my first meeting the Telica rural tourism cooperative. It took me a while to get back up to work with them, but recently I made a connection through an NGO, and I’ve been heading up semi-regularly (flying boulders being the only roadblock to the work right now). This cooperative unlike Poneloya, is relatively new, and they need help with getting the business up and running – not the corrective help I have been facilitating at the beach. However, the members of this cooperative are equally under-educated. Each of two communities that the cooperative draws its 12 members from has only a one room primary school.
If they continue on to high school, they can only go once a week for a full Saturday or Sunday. “Chico,” pictured above, is 23 and one of the founding members of the cooperative, along with his older brother Donald. He is a senior in high school now, and told me it takes him two hours to walk down to the school. And his intelligence is impressive. He is very sharp (along with some of the other members) when we are working on new business concepts together. He wants to continue on to university, but he is not sure if he will be able to. These people in no way lack the capacities of intelligence, they just severely lack access to quality education.
So with the Telica group I’ve been working on bookkeeping and pricing their services. I’ve also helped them understand how to approach the distribution of profits and how they need to differentiate between wages for hours worked and profits, apportioned based on their ownership share in the cooperative. The next few visits I make we’ll be talking about budgeting and tracking the budget (plan vs. actuals).
The cooperative, with the help of an American-British NGO, is setting up a complete array of rural tourism, based at the volcano. Within the next few months they will be offering transportation, food, lodging, community tours, agriculture and bee-keeping tours, of course volcano tours (complete with a bat cave), horseback riding, and maybe even some rock climbing/rappelling. And everything will be locally ran and guided. The next trip I make up there I would like to see the model farm. The NGO has agriculture experts working with the locals on improved agriculture techniques, and they center their work on model farms that all of the community members can participate in.
So that’s the rundown on some of the rural work I have been doing. It is certainly challenging. It is a challenge to come up with sessions and to develop materials for them, but the participants are eager, and the need is there. I’m also glad to have traction with these groups, because it was very difficult making progress with the different avenues I was trying to do business advising through. I also love visiting the communities. They are pleasant and nothing like dirty, hot and noisy León. I usually feel very relaxed and calm when I leave. I’m really hoping to keep working with them over the next year and make a push for some noticeable positive results. The goal is just for the groups to generate more income and with the money improve their lives; work towards the realization of the goals that they drew on those sheets of paper when I first met them.