Photo Journal From Tomabu, Esteli

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Nota del editor: In collaboration with the ATC, Friends of the ATC facilitates a small internship program for learners (usually university students or recent graduates) who are committed to solidarity with social movements. Each intern has a unique experience and brings a unique perspective and contribution to the ATC while they are in Nicaragua. In this post we share with you an article written by ATC intern MB Grimes.

Photo Journal From Tomabu, Esteli

by MB Grimes

As an intern of Friends of the ATC, I am fortunate to travel the beautiful country of Nicaragua and experience life from the perspective  of an everyday Nicaraguan through community visits and home stays. With the help of the ATC and its connections to rural communities, interns are provided ample opportunities to observe and work in the “campo”, or countryside of Nicaragua alongside campesinos and their families.

In October, fellow intern Ari and I went on a community visit to Tomabú in the northern department of Estelí. In contrast to the city life and heat in Managua, Esteli’s  climate is fresh and the mountains are vast. Tomabú is a community made up of about 200 families, located about 30 minutes from the city of Estelí, up a steep and rocky hill that can only be reached by motorcycle, a 4×4, or a horse. We willingly rode up on motorcycle, enjoying the breathtaking views offered by the mountains. Upon our arrival, we were warmly greeted by the community and of course promptly asked “have you eaten breakfast?”. You will never go hungry in the campo, that’s for sure! Don Bernardino and his wife Doña Maria Dolores eagerly welcomed us into their home, ensuring we were fed, comfortable, happy and attended to.


As Ari and I went on a walk around the community with Bernardino, our first stop was at the water harvesting system, implemented last year with the help of the ATC. The idea here is to catch and store rainwater using agroecological principles. The water that is conserved is used for animals, plants, and washing hands and dishes. We learned that the department of Estelí is located in the dry corridor of Nicaragua and it is necessary to use creative methods to combat the chronic lack of water in the area.

Right around the corner is the community school, which currently serves roughly 100 students. Primary school is held in the morning, secondary school is in the afternoon, and breakfast and lunch are cooked and provided by women in the community. We had the opportunity to visit numerous classrooms, introduce ourselves and hear about what the students were learning. In the picture above, first graders are in a class dedicated to learning about women’s rights. The government has prioritized this as a strategy to stop machismo in the country, and we were amazed to see it in practice at such a young age. In another class we visited, students were learning about values, to instill important soft skills. We had the chance to talk with the director of the school for an extended period of time. We expressed our awe for the progressive and forward-thinking curriculum. She shared with us that the school is lacking in supplies and technology. Just imagine what this school could do with more supplies and access to better technology.

Pictured above is one of the most kindhearted, giving souls I met in the campo. Doña Maria Dolores is a very special woman, always attentive and ready to offer you coffee, food and a warm smile. In my down time, I enjoyed sitting with her sharing stories and asking life questions while munching on some homemade tortillas, cuajada and coffee. In the photo, Doña is putting the last touches (salt) on our batch of cuajada (a traditional Nicaraguan cheese) we made together. It was the first time I got to see the process of making homemade cheese, and this was only the beginning. She taught me how to make tortillas, a daily task she has done for as long as she remembers. I also witnessed her kill a chicken, pluck the feathers, cut it up, and make a delicious soup for lunch. Campesinos utilize the resources that are available to them, while living off the land and sharing with one another.

Pictured above is Dionys, coordinator of the youth movement for ATC in Estelí, working in the “cama profunda” or deep bed system for raising pigs. The deep bed system in Tomabú is modeled after the system used in La Montañita, another rural community in the department of Esteli. Both systems are based on the same agroecological methods, but the difference between the two are the resources used to build it. Here in Tomabú, cement was utilized as the main building material instead of wood. There is a large reserve surrounding the community that protects the forest and trees from being deforested, a recurring issue this department faces. Once the foundation was finished with the help of neighbors, the interns stepped in to carry bags of rice husks to fill the deep bed. The rice husks were purchased from a nearby community to create a 45-centimeter-deep bed for the pigs. In conventional and industrial methods, pigs live on concrete floors that induce stress on the animal and require daily cleaning, which uses a lot of water. The husks act as sponge, and absorb all of the pig waste, while reducing odors and requiring minimal upkeep. After 6 months, campesinos can use the waste that is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as compost to replenish and enrich the soil. Not only is this method better for the environment and the pigs, but it also benefits the campesinos as it requires less energy and resources to maintain the animals.

The following day, Ari and I took a break from working in the cama profunda to enjoy an early morning community tour and hike with some of the youth in Tomabú. We quickly learned that everyone in the community of 200 families knows one another. They took us to the top of “cerro” or little mountain, but the journey to the top felt more than “little”. At one point we were stumbling on rock after rock, scaling the side of a mountain to reach the summit, and I questioned what I was doing. However, once we reached the summit, we saw breathtaking views of the entire valley and talked with the Tomabú youth. They shared their love for the community and their desire to continue along the path of a campesino. Nowadays, it is more common for youth to seek out work in cities while abandoning their lives in the campo. It was reassuring to hear their dedication to their community and lifestyle.

On Saturday, Dionys gave an educational talk to the community about the cama profunda system. The hope is that this recently implemented project will act as a model for community members raising pigs and encourage them to develop this agroecological method in their own backyards. Women, men, youth and elders all came to the school to hear Dionys’ informative lesson where he shared photos from Venezuela, the country where this method originated. He shared benefits of the system as well as other photos from different countries that have highly sophisticated cama profunda systems. It is important to create time and space for information sharing to ensure the spread of knowledge about this new agroecological system in the community.

I was particularly sad to leave this community, especially not knowing the next time I will return. Pictured in this photo are four generations of strong, hardworking, empowered women, all operating together collectively to complete household tasks and lend a hand when needed. Evenings were spent sharing stories, histories, and struggles with each other. They genuinely were interested in learning about our experiences growing up in the United States and we enjoyed asking questions about their lives throughout Nicaragua’s different political periods.

Since I arrived in Nicaragua at the beginning of September,  I have been privileged to visit numerous communities. I can easily say these experiences have had deep and profound impacts on me.

The importance of learning about the life of a campesino becomes obvious when you realize that 45% of all Nicaraguans live in the campo, and produce all of the food to feed people living in the cities (as well as themselves). Without the campesinos, Nicaragua would not be able to feed its population with food grown on its own soil, which would reduce its high level of food sovereignty. There is so much to learn here not just about food systems and production, but also about kindness, generosity and sharing.

I left Tomabú on Sunday with a full heart and utmost respect for all of the hard work these families put into their daily lives. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with my hands and learn directly from others, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of my internship has in store!

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