Monday, March 31, 2014

Growing Pains

Our current small and really awkward training area
The clinic is running out of space for the volume of patients we have coming through our doors…so one of our main goals for 2014 is to begin fundraising for and construction of the third building at the clinic.

Right now we have the first building built that has 3 exam rooms, 3 bathrooms,  an office, a room for emergency care (wounds, injections, IVs, etc.), a room to check patients in, a pharmacy, a large room for storing medicines, and a waiting area with a large corridor that stores our files.

Our second building has 2 dental rooms,2 bathrooms,  an overflow room for volunteer doctors and dentists, a eye correction room/counseling room, a laboratory, a large waiting area that doubles as a teaching area, and a storage room for equipment.

Dentist Inya in an overflow area while volunteer docs use her room
I thought we would NEVER out grow this space…I was wrong.  When we have more than one volunteer doctor or dentist that comes, we shift and scrunch to get people seen. 

 Our training area is not conducive to actual teaching and support…because other patients are walking through the training to get to the dentist or lab.

Our orthopedist needs a clean room to do some minor surgery on his patients…one that is tiled, sealed from the outside, air conditioned, brightly lit, etc.  He has patients with open ulcers that need care…cleaner care that what we can offer now.

Our orthopedist making due without a clean room
Our staff of 15 huddle in the office to grab their lunches instead of having a room that they can gather in to eat…most cannot go home for lunch and there are no restaurants in the area…you have no idea how funny that idea is to those who have seen Nueva Vida!
Our radiologist wants to begin to do X-rays, for which we need not only the equipment, but we also need a lead lined room…who knew!  Wow!  The stuff I learn every day!  X-rays are another service greatly lacking in Ciudad Sandino.

We need more space.  This is not a big dream…oh no!  We can dream much bigger.  This is quickly becoming a necessity

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The World Needs These Businesses

Last week I wrote about our goals to stabilize and expand the post-production process in sesame and peanuts.  I wrote about all the problems we have had to deal with and the difficulty of addressing them with insufficient funding.

This week in talking about our final goal in sustainable agriculture, I want to stress the importance of a few key supporters. 

 Once Again Nut Butter and Nuts to You have been backers of our farmers even sometimes when it was hard for their businesses.  They have fronted capital, paid for product quickly, and helped last year by re-processing what they could from product that was mishandled.  They could have just turned all of it away and COPROEXNIC would have had tremendous losses, BUT instead they worked with us to come up with solutions to salvage what could be saved.

This was FAR and BEYOND what most businesses would do.  On top of that, Lloyd Kirwan of OANB made numerous trips down to help Mike and COPROEXNIC work through problems (including here now with Kim Moriarty from OANB).  There were times that I did not know who would keel over first, Lloyd or Mike…so much was on the line.

Bená Burda from Maggie's Organics, the oldest organic clothing company in the USA, also buys from our cotton growers.  One of our goals is to increase cotton production in order to make the gin economically viable so that our 25 workers in the gin are not just seasonal workers, but can provide for their families year-round.

These companies understand that doing business does not have to equate with greed and obscene profits.  They understand that business done ethically is not only good for the soul (maybe not the heart, but definitely the soul), but also good for the world and for the earth.  One of the reasons they know this is that because – unlike most businesspeople – they have come to Nicaragua and met the people who provide them with raw product…they have come to know them.

Can you imagine the CEO of GAP going to Indonesia to meet with the women who sew their garments…meet their children…go into their homes?  Can you imagine the CEO of Planters going to meet with their peanut farmers…can you imagine Planters even working with small farmers? Can you imagine the CEO of Dole being willing to spray bananas and pollute the land if he actually got to know the farmers and the children who suffer from the polluted land and drinking water?

The world, the earth, the poor NEED businesses like OANB, Nuts to You, and Maggie’s Organics.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

In Our Lifetimes

I've finally come to accept that I will not see Justice in my lifetime

The world we are working to build -- the one where we all love one another as brothers and sisters and actually act like it too, the one where everyone has enough and no one is hungry -- is not going to come about while I'm still around to see it. That doesn't stop me from continuing to work toward Justice, I know that all I can do is do my part...

Still and all, the mortal in me thinks would be really nice to see a little progress once in awhile! So much of our day-to-day work is two steps forward and one step back (or two or three steps back), it gets frustrating. Then there are the big things we've absolutely poured ourselves into that just fall apart around us despite everything we do (i.e. the spinning plant project). It's hard to keep taking hits like that and to keep going.

Sometimes though...every once in long, long while...I get a glimpse of dreams coming to pass. This happened to me a few weeks ago up at the sesame processing plant.

We'd just begun to see the first seeds coming out of the processing line -- the machinery that we were running, in a sesame plant where we've had our seed processed for years, but we were in charge of for the first time ever, able to process the way we believe it should be done...and I picked up the camera to get a few shots. Through the lens of the camera, I saw
César sitting on a stool, eagerly sucking up impurities with the vacuum hose, his reading glasses perched on his nose. 

Through the lens of the camera, I saw Mike posted at the end of the line, filling the first sack with clean seed, running it through his hands. 
 Then, through the lens of time, I saw those same men 20 years ago (skinnier, sunburned, moustachioed and without glasses) out in our first sesame fields, harvesting the first organic sesame. 

And it hit me: right now, they're realizing a dream they've been steadily working on for 20 years. A lot of other wonderful people have been involved in these two decades, but more than anyone else, Mike and César have worked with the farmers to bring this project forward:

Mike and César planted that first organic sesame...

...they cultivated it...

...they worried over it...

...they harvested it...

...they dried it...

...they threshed it... 

...they picked it clean...
Full disclosure: this is really them hand-sorting mung beans for another project, but isn't it a great photo?

...they heaved the sacks into our old gray bus...

(...and broke down...)

...and finally made it to the sesame processing plant...

...where the processors held their sesame hostage, telling Mike and César that they wouldn't process it unless they sold the sesame to the plant as conventional (prices were good that year, and the processors wanted the profit for themselves).

That was when Mike and César realized that unless the farmers had control of the processing, they were always going to be subject to the whims of the processors.  From that day forward, they have been steadily working toward getting their hands on a processing plant.

And here they are, processing sesame at our plant. It may not be in perfect shape yet, we've certainly had a few set backs, but this is what they've been working on for the past 20 years...and they lived to see it!  -- Becca

Friday, March 21, 2014

Our Sesame-Induced Stomach Ulcers

Returning to the subject of Goals for 2014 

Two main emphases in our projects are 1) sustainable agriculture and 2) sustainable economic development.  This year we have been trying to “fix” last year’s problems, when the organic ag co-op COPROEXNIC had substantial losses due to processors mishandling crops after they left the farmers’ hands.

Part of what we experienced and continue to experience is that without the necessary funding, “fixing” problems makes worry and ulcers…lots of stomach ulcers!

A major goal for the agriculture projects is to obtain the lease of the only functioning – and we use the term “functioning” loosely – sesame processing plant in the country (see last week’s blog).  After 6 months of negotiating, in January we did obtain the lease from the Nicaraguan government which owns the plant. 
When we finally got access to the plant, we discovered there was no electricity because the last renter did not pay his electrical bills of 1.7 million córdobas (more than $70,000).  Now the electric company wants COPROEXNIC to pay the back bill before hooking the plant’s electricity up…there is no way THAT is going to happen.

So to solve the power problem, together with COPROEXNIC we have bought a generator…only to find important wiring ripped out of the plant.  Now we are trying to get the generator hooked up and trying to repair broken machinery.
We’ve been cleaning and repairing, but we have miles to go and many dollars to be spent before the plant is fully functioning and certified.*

Hopefully, in the not too distant future we will have a good load of sesame ready to run through the plant and will be able to begin to make the plant sustainable, and next year to be fully operational for all our farmers’ crops! 

Another goal is to help get the post-harvest peanut processing stabilized.  We have located a new processing plant that this year processed the 15 containers of organic peanuts properly.  Processing at this plant is more expensive, but well worth it. 

Controlling more of the process means we’re adding value to the crop while it’s still in the farmers’ hands.  The more we can do this, the more value stays in the country with the farmers and does not go outside the country to third party processors. 

Nicaragua is rich in natural resources, but not rich in money…money which seems to always go to others.  We want to keep the wealth here to help feed and educate children, provide health care, and boost the infrastructure in THIS country.   The farmers here work hard…harder than you can imagine…they’ve earned the right to keep the profits here for their own people.

*We also want to make sesame oil with the by-product sesame…again adding value in-country.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tour the Sesame Processing Plant

Mike said to me (while showing me around the sesame plant before we were going to have a night together), “Just think, I take you on the most exotic dates!

Actually, I was thrilled to see what was involved in the processing of sesame seeds.  I really had no earthly idea…so I thought I would share the lay person’s version of how those tiny seeds end up looking like they do on your hamburger (or veggie burger) bun.

The sesame grows in pods that look a lot like okra.

It is stacked in sheaves to dry.
They are dried and then harvested and thrashed until all the seeds are broken free from the pods. 
Then the main trash that is mixed with the hulled seeds is blown away using the wind or fans.

The seeds are then bagged and trucked to the processing plant.  The seeds are dumped into a huge cleaning machine that vibrates them along screens, knocking out the majority of the field trash.
The seeds are rinsed and drained.
The seeds then get moved to a big vat of water with a propeller that spins the seeds knocking off the hulls and impurities.  This is then repeated in another vat.
They then get sent to a drying tank that slightly heats the seeds while blowing them around.  They are then moved to a second slightly hotter tank again blowing making sure they are nice and dry…then onto yet third tank to cool them down.

After cooling they then go onto a conveyor belt where women have little vacuum tubes to suck out whatever impurities they find in between all those bitty seeds.
 The seeds move under a strong magnet to get any metal slivers that might have come off of the machinery. 

The seeds are then sent through ANOTHER inspection by more women with little suction tubes before they are bagged and shipped.

So enjoy your sesame and appreciate all the hard work that goes into your tahini, sesame bread, sesame seed salads, etc. -Kathleen