Teach A Man To Fish blog – February news from La Bastilla

February Blog on the Teach A Man To Fish site

Here is the link to my February article on the Teach A Man To Fish website, with lots of news and updates from a busy first month of the academic year at La Bastilla!   (Just click on the image) 


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Mini school update

Hi all, as this is the first week of the new term at La Bastilla, I thought it might be nice to give you a mini update about the school. 

The good news is that the results are in from 2011…  and the school was overall 36% self-sufficient!   

This means that we managed to cover 36% of the school’s running costs with income generated in our 7 small businesses; hotel, eggs, milk, piglets, vegetables, coffee plants and bakery. This is a great achievement and we hope to reach 60% in 2012!  

In 2010 we were 19% self-sufficient, so this represents a growth of around 90%!  

Our main contributors are the hotel and the eggs businesses, so we plan to focus on expanding these in 2012 to achieve the required growth. Here´s hoping for another great school year!  

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Chronic Kidney Disease – epidemic in Nicaragua

In the new year, I have decided to write more about challenges and problems facing poor people in developing countries that we hear little about in the developed world. A large part of this is health threats, but not just those we are bombarded with messages about such as HIV and malaria, but also increasingly non-communicable diseases and ‘lifestyle’ diseases. 

A 2010 World Health Organization report on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) shows that almost 80% of deaths from diseases such as cancer, diabetes, lung and heart disease occur in the developing world. These can no longer be considered “diseases of the rich”, but rather tend to be linked to problems such as tobacco use, high alcohol intake, poor diet and physical inactivity which disproportionately affect the poor.  

Although not included in the Millenium Development Goals,  NCDs are drawing more attention; the UN released a statement in September 2011, calling them “one of the major challenges for development in the 21st century”.  (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/ga11138.doc.htm).  

While it remains to be seen what the international community can put into place to prevent this complex and multifaceted health crisis, here in Nicaragua the effects are noticeable. Alcoholism, tobacco use and poor diet are incredibly common, leading to widespread obesity, diabetes and other such diseases. This in turn places great stress on an under-resourced health service. 

More on these diseases in another post, today I would like to share an article from the BBC about Chronic Kidney Disease: “A mysterious epidemic is sweeping Central America – it’s the second biggest cause of death among men in El Salvador, and in Nicaragua it’s a bigger killer of men than HIV and diabetes combined. It’s unexplained but the latest theory is that the victims are literally working themselves to death.” 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16007129.  While the exact causes remain unknown, it seems that hard manual labour in hot weather, combined with extreme dehydration may contribute to this devastating disease. Certainly few people have the habit of consuming water, or even realise that it is necessary, and many lack clean water to drink. 

Map showing rise in kidney deaths

One local NGO, La Isla, has taken up the challenge of uncovering the causes of the disease, and improving the lives and livelihoods of those affected: http://laislafoundation.org/La_Isla/Home.html

Overall while more research is needed on these types of diseases which overly affect the poor, it seems that greater emphasis is needed on health and nutrition education in affected countries in order to help people to take better care of their health and make informed decisions about lifestyle choices. The tragedy of these diseases after all is that they are, in many cases, completely avoidable.      

Update 14th Feb:  another article highlighting this problem published this weekend in the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/12/mystery-disease-central-america_n_1272286.html#s690748   

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Meet Nelson, one of our inspiring graduates

Happy New Year everyone! For my first post of 2012 I’d like to introduce you to Nelson Lanuza, one of our December graduates who is now working at La Bastilla Coffee Estates. He is a great example of how much education can transform people’s lives, if they are determined and take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.       

Nelson is 21 and comes from Pantasma, a small town about 2 hours from La Bastilla School. He has 6 brothers and 4 sisters, his mother is a housewife and his father cultivates maize and beans. Of all of his siblings only 2 of his sisters completed secondary school, the rest left with only primary education. All of his brothers cultivate traditional crops and all of his sisters are married with children. His parents did not even complete the first year of primary school, and his mother is illiterate although his father can read and write. Nelson has the highest educational level in his whole family.   

Nelson showing off the tomatoes on campus

After finishing primary school Nelson went to work with his father on the farm and didn’t attend school for 4 years. He started to lose his motivation to study until one day he met a doctor who asked why he wasn’t in school and encouraged him to go back. At this point Nelson was 15 years old but wasn’t able to stop working as his parents couldn’t support him. He found a night school he could attend, so each day after work he travelled to school and had classes from 5:30 – 9:30pm, travelling back to work at 4am each morning . He did this for 3 years, until completing the first cycle of secondary school.   

Nelson heard about La Bastilla from a friend and was offered a place at the school. It was a difficult decision to study full-time and stop working for the first time since he was 11. Initially he supported himself with savings and when these ran out, an older brother lent him the money to continue. At the end of the 1st year the coffee farm hired him to work during the harvest season, so he was able to pay back his debt and save up for the next school year. He continued working for the farm in the evenings and holidays, and so was able to support himself through the 3 years of school.  

Nelson was always one of our most highly achieving students, and during his final year he was even taking an IT course on Saturdays, because he felt that this would be an important addition to his CV.  Nelson says that he always worked hard on the coffee farm as he knew he could be hired after graduating and that this was a special opportunity as there are few good jobs available.  

Nelson has now been working for La Bastilla Coffee Estates since the 1st December, and is the deputy supervisor of the coffee processing plant, managing 5 other workers. He deals with the de-pulping, sorting and washing of the coffee and the drying process, as well as the treatment of waste waters.

He plans to continue working at the farm for the foreseeable future as he enjoys working with coffee which has good employment prospects as it is one of the most important products that Nicaragua produces for export. He is currently earning $250 per month which will increase with each year that he works at the farm.  He is also enrolling at university in Jinotega to study agriculture at the weekends. He has the advantage that having graduated as a “técnico” from La Bastilla he can get his degree in 3 years rather than the usual 5.    

Nelson says that he always dreamed of having a proper career, but he almost gave up and became a small producer like his father. However, thanks to his motivation and willingness to make sacrifices for his education he has a really bright future and says that studying at La Bastilla has really helped him along the way. He says that he is especially grateful to all of the teachers at La Bastilla who work such long hours and devote their time to teaching students, as many of them have supported and inspired him.  

Nelson at graduation in December

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December at La Bastilla – meet our graduates!

December has been a very special month at La Bastilla as we celebrated our 2nd ever graduation! Preparation for the event was intense as all of the students’ final exams had to be corrected and the marks approved by the Ministry of Education and then diplomas issued and signed by INATEC (the national body which approves technical education).

Eventually everything was completed on time (no small achievement here) and on the 2nd December we held the graduation ceremony.  The students’ families were all present to watch them graduate and the students had beautiful graduation robes made for the occasion. The director of the charitable foundation, the representative of INATEC, the school director, the community leader and myself had the honour of handing over the certificates! Some inspiring speeches were made and then everyone enjoyed a special lunch.  

You can see photographs of the graduation here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.817474904442.296989.286102316&type=1&l=3c38201c05

And profiles of each of our graduates and what they plan to do next here: http://teachamantofish.org.uk/tamtf-blog/class-2011-meet-graduates-la-bastilla

Having spent 8 months with them it was really sad to see them leave, but I know they will go on to have bright futures and will come back to visit us from time to time! 

We are now in the school holidays so all is quiet with just a few students coming in each week to help feed the animals and maintain the vegetable garden. In our office the work continues however!  We are planning for the new school year which commences in February and writing timetables, lesson plans, recruiting the new 1st year students and importantly working on our budget projections for next year. We are forecasting that the school should generate enough income from the businesses to cover around 55% of its running costs, which is on track for self-sufficiency by 2015. We have donor support to cover most of the shortfall and are investigating new income generation activities for the school, so it’s all exciting progress!  

The whole team is looking forward to a well earned rest so I will update again from La Bastilla in 2012!   Happy holidays everyone! 

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My Teach A Man To Fish blog – with November update

This is a very quick update for those of you who enjoyed the October update about the conference, I wanted to point out my Teach A Man To Fish blog where I post updates about happenings at the school. My November article talks about the final year students and the presentation of their business plans as part of their graduation. More soon to follow including profiles of all of our graduates for 2011! 


Teach A Man To Fish blog

My Teach A Man To Fish blog



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5th annual Teach A Man To Fish conference at La Bastilla!

October was an extremely exciting month here at La Bastilla as we prepared to host the 5th international Teach A Man To Fish conference; Educaction That Pays For Itself 2011!! There was a lot of preparatory work to be done sending out invitations, handling online sign ups and writing promotional materials in Spanish and English. We also had to work out the logistics of getting 70 people up to La Bastilla from the airport and housed and fed for 4 nights! We decided to accommodate half the guests in the Ecolodge, and half in Jinotega (our local town). This was a great chance for the Ecolodge manager and students to experience running the hotel for a week at overflow capacity! We rented buses to bring attendees up from the airport and hired extra help to run the school businesses so that the teachers and students would be available for the conference. We brought in extra chairs and tables and had the school dining room set up as the restaurant, the sports pitch covered with a gazebo for evening entertainment and the large classroom as conference venue. Everyone pitched in making table decorations, name badges, sign posts and stuffing conference bags to make sure we were all ready for the event.


Day On: Networking

When the big day finally arrived, the sun came out after weeks of heavy rain getting us off to a great start! Over 70 delegates from 24 countries arrived at La Bastilla Technical Agricultural High School in Nicaragua from Europe, Africa, the USA and Central and Latin America.

The theme of the conference was Transforming Outcomes for Students and the first day got started with opening words from Yelba Valenzuela, school director, Nik Kakfa, director of Teach A Man To Fish and Markus Fischer, head of the charitable foundation which established the school. After they had explained what ´Education That Pays for Itself´ is all about we moved on to ‘Latin Leaders’ where we heard from experiences in Paraguay, Ecuador and Chile.  The rest of the morning consisted of “speed-dating”with people matching up their skills and needs to help one another, before then starting work on writing their own business plans. In the afternoon we had breakout sessions on Integrating Entrepreneurship, Income Generation and Education moderated by our experts, allowing delegates to explore in depth the issues surrounding sustainable education and start to suggest solutions to common problems.

The evening provided another great opportunity for networking and conversations and ended with a delicious dinner and a wonderful cultural presentation by the school choir and students.


Day Two: Brainstorming  

Another beautiful sunny day started off with morning activities including a nature walk in the reserve, a tour of the school businesses and a coffee tour of the farm.  Back at the conference everyone demonstrated their enthusiasm and entrepreneurialism at the Ideas Marketplace, showcasing their schools and projects as well as exploring and learning about other people’s work. There was fierce competition to see who could earn the most beans, our marketplace currency. The stalls selling products from the primary and secondary school enterprises earned a great sum of money for the schools!

The ‘forum on fundraising’ over lunch was a great opportunity for delegates to ask questions to professional and experienced fundraisers and get tips on how to make their grant applications more successful.

In the afternoon Martin Burt (Fundación Paraguaya) presented the innovative system developed by the Fundación Paraguaya to measure and reduce poverty starting with students and their families and the special curriculum developed to target key areas. He mentioned the importance of ´learning by doing and selling´ and emphasised the benefits of students participating in marketing and sales to gain skills and confidence, noting that a school which pays the student to learn will have very low dropout rates!

We then had the Words of Wisdom sessions in which delegates present for 5 minutes about their project and what they have learned from it. After some great presentations we moved on to the session on Replication, in which Yelba Valenzuela (La Bastilla), Celsa Acosta (Fundacion Paraguaya) and Steve Carver (Win Win Group) shared their perspectives and answer questions on replicating and adapting the model to different contexts as diverse as urban South Africa and indigenous forest regions in Paraguay.

The day ended with dinner and a local band Grupo Bongo providing the entertainment, while delegates from Paraguay and the United Kingdom showed off their performing skills !


Day Three: Goal-Setting!

After breakfast delegates had the chance to do another activity guided by our students and teachers, such as bird watching, coffee tour of the farm or excursion around the school businesses. The morning Peer Consultancy Clinic gave people the chance to put their problems to a panel of experts from across the world – Martin Burt (Fundación Paraguaya, Paraguay), Douglas McMeekin (Yachana Lodge, Ecuador) and Robert Miranda (Fundación Origen, Chile) – and learn from successes and challenges their schools have encountered.

We also had some excellent Words of Wisdom presentations from Ibis Schlesinger (Ties To The World), Jeremy Terhune (Puentes) and Helena Edwards (Fundación Fabretto). To wrap up before lunch I ran a question and answer session with a panel made up of some of our students, and some visiting students to the conference to understand what this type of education means to them and even how would they improve it further.

The conference wrapped up in the afternoon with delegates making their commitments and setting goals for their projects, before reflecting on “What do we need to win?”. After closing comments the first group of participants left for the airport while those remaining retired to the Ecolodge for a well-earned final dinner and  relaxation!


All in all it was an exhausting few days, but an incredible learning opportunity for all those involved, not least the staff and students at La Bastilla! We were delighted with all of the positive comments and feedback received and the wonderful people that we met, and we wish the best of luck to the hosts for next year!

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