A short time after the revolution brought the Sandinistas to power in 1979, Reagan’s US government illegally began to fund the armed resistance in the north of the country, who soon became known as the ‘contras’. The struggle against the well-armed contra and the simultaneous economic blockade severely tested the new government. Although it won the first democratic elections ever held in Nicaragua in 1984, it ceded power at the next elections in 1990. After a decade of war which cost 30,000 lives (including members of many Masaya families), people voted for a right-of-centre government which quickly reached an agreement to disband the contras and end the war.
Then the difficult process began of demobilising the armed groups. Most of their members had lived in isolated areas with no political involvement during a time when, under the revolution, community-based groups and co-ops had proliferated in most of the country. Many had joined the contras out of poverty and lack of land, and successive governments began to allocate land that had been abandoned by large landowners when the Sandinistas gained power, but which was often in parts of the country remote from where the contra families lived.
One such area was El Timal, 20 km to the north of Masaya, and one of the plots of land was an abandoned sugar farm that became Cuadrante 84, now occupied by 28 families, each with 3.5 hectares of land. We have just installed solar electricity in one house (first picture) where the family has lived since they were granted a plot only ten years ago, having moved from Wiwilí (in the north, almost on the frontier with Honduras).
In this phase of the project, supported by a donation from Southern Housing Group in London, we are putting solar kits into five houses in total. But in this Cuadrante none of the other houses yet has electricity (nor will they, because they are so remote from the grid). So there is some way to go before everyone gets electric light.
By chance we were stopped by a group of women drawing water from the well which had originally served the sugar farm. They asked about the possibility of a solar kit to drive a pump, to raise water from the well to irrigate the land – which has very fertile soil but which they can only use in the rainy season. They want to grow tomatoes and other vegetables to sell, but at ten metres deep (in a narrow well – see third photo) they can’t draw enough water by hand.
Fortunately we have a project pending with the British Embassy that – if approved – will enable us to move into small-scale, solar-powered irrigation, so we hope to be able to meet their needs. If successful, we will post further news about the project here.