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Suddenly... everything changed

Edition: Social Action Institute Juan XXIII

Managua, Nicaragua. September 2009

Coordination: Ketxu Amezua

Redaction: Marisol Cerrato and Amelia Mallona

Edition cares: Antonio Belli

Photographs: Aurora Velázquez, Amelia Mallona,

Marisol Cerrato and Itzel Fajardo

Translation: Regina Belli

Cover: Evening rest, paint by Augusto Silva

Counter cover: Breadfruit, peach palm (pijibayes) and bananas,

Sketch by Augusto Silva

We thank the people who participated in the systematization work-

shops and to the interviewed for the richness of their contributions
and testimonies; to the religious sisters of Santa Ines for their support,
and to CAFOD-England, who made this book possible.

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Many generous wills and solidarity efforts were combined

to restore the life of the families affected
on the path of Hurricane Felix in the municipality of Waspam,
so that in the middle of desperation for each one of them
would be built a
“Proper, Safe, Happy House”
From many parts of the world, including Nicaragua,
particular persons, religious congregations, public entities
and cooperation agencies responded to the call for help
from these families, gestating once again,
the miracle of the solidarity.
To all, our deepest feelings of gratitude.
Religious Congregations:
Mercedario Missioner Sisters from Berritz,
Jesus’ Sacred Heart Society,
Religious from Asunción,
Society of Jesus
Central American Province
and Loyola/Alboan Province
Cooperation Agencies:
Quixote Center (United States of America),
Entreculturas – Fe y Alegría (Spain),
St. Benedict Guild Quest Fund (United States of America),
City Council of Abadiño (Basque Country)
Particular donors: Alba Mallona, Olivia Cerrillo,
Personnel of the Central American University (UCA) of Managua,
Personnel of the Institute Juan XXIII and an anonymous Jesuit

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Introduction 6
Chapter I: Waspam’s Communities 8
Chapter II: Dawn September 4th 10
Chapter III: Reconstruction project: “Proper, safe and happy house” 14
First stage: The day after everything was different 14
Second stage: Organization of the working squads 16
Third Stage: Model houses 17
Fourth Stage: House-building phases 21
Fifth Stage: The new home and future plans 26
Chapter IV: Achievements and obstacles 29
4.1 Achievements 29
4.2 Obstacles 35
Chapter V: Apprenticeship and projections 39
5.1 Apprenticeship of the communities 39
5.2 Institutional lessons 43
5.3 Future projections 48
Actors and authors 50

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“We don’t know where Juan XXIII office is,

but they have sent help for us.
I am one of the grateful ones”
Casta, Santa Rosa community.

Institute Juan XXIII has the habit of
systematizing its project experiences,
as a learning mean for the institution
and for the beneficiaries of the
attended communities.
From this action-critical reflection
practice the institute identifies the
factors that facilitate the achievement
of the human and material development
objectives of the carried out projects.
The present systematization is about
the reconstructing experience in five
communities in Waspam, beneficiaries
of the project “The proper, safe, happy
house”. It is addressed to:
Recover and systematize the
project’s experience from the
beneficiaries’ and involved organisms’
perspective. Promote communal
education from a participative reflection
on learned lessons.

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Identify working ways that can be Beyond the tangible housing

widespread, to be taken into account in benefits, how does the population
future project actions in the North value and perceive the selfconstruction
Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) of experience of their homes?
Nicaragua. Of the experience, what could be
This is the first project in repeated and what couldn’t under
communities affected by natural similar circumstances?
disasters in RAAN, and as such, it is When finalizing, the project carried
important for the Institute to identify out a workshop with community
the methodology used and working leaders. There were working groups,
lessons obtained. Above all, because it plenary sessions, and individual
was implemented in a cultural, social interviews.
and economic environment different to
the regions in which the Institute was It is mainly the “voices” of the
historically worked in, succeeding in participants that we included in this
attending the three ethnics settled in work, in order to create a “collective
the zone. In Awastigni the population memoir” of the process, its benefits
belongs to Mayagna ethnic; in Mospam and learned lessons during the project.
it is of mixed parentage, and the The leaders and the population
settlers of Santa Rosa, Piñera and remembered how they lived before the
Kururia they are “miskitos”. It is within hurricane; they remembered the day of
this context that one tries to answer the the disaster and reconstructed their
following questions: own history through the building of
their houses and their own life.

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Chapter I:
Waspam’s Communities
The municipality of Waspam in the
north Atlantic Autonomous Region
(RAAN), located in the North-east extreme
of Nicaragua, bordering with Honduras; it
is has biggest extension in the country,
with 8,798.61 Km2.
The total population of the municipality
is 53,294 inhabitants (49% males and 51
females), 10,543 families, being one of the
municipalities with the least population
density in the country 6 persons per Km2.
The population is mainly of the Miskito
ethnic, including Waspam, a small
percentage is Mayagna (2.5%), and they
speak Sumu-panamhka. There is a
minority of mixed parentage who speak
Spanish and Creole families who speak
their own English.
The municipality has 111 communities,
including Waspam, the head of the
municipality, the only settlement with
urban character. 91.3% of the population
lives in rural areas in municipalities or
towns (as they are called) located along
the Coco River, on the Caribbean littoral,
and on the Pine Savannah, along the
Bilwi-Waspam road, Wawa River basin
and Likus River sub-basin.
According to the political constitution,
Law 445, the lands and territories of the
Atlantic Coast are communal lands,
therefore, the indigenous people have the
right to use, enjoy and benefit from its
natural resources.

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The communities lived quietly with

coastal little houses, with palm roofs,
because we had no zinc, a big family lived
in the same little house, stacked, because
of the same need.
Teekiamp community
We had our houses wood or bamboo
lined, palm roof, we had food in the
plantations, fruit trees and lots of timber in
the forest, and lots of palms for the
Awastigni community
We lived in high houses on stilts, some
had zinc roofing (the better well off)
others, the poorest had palm roofs;
everything was fine, with yard farming, our
fruit trees, our crops, the trees in the
Santa Rosa community
We had the schools, yard animals, fruit
trees, our crops. We cultivated rice and
beans; at least we had for our food.
We used to work in the mountain; we
would exchange our crops in town for fish
or shrimp.
Kururia town
Before September 4th in our town La
Piñera everything was normal, the radios
announced the arrival of the hurricane,
some people believed it would only affect
Puerto Cabezas, and part of its
municipality, others doubted the arrival of
this disaster. With the natural phenomenon
things changed.

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Chapter II:
Dawn September 4th
By the news we learned
the hurricane was coming…
The indigenous people of Nicaraguan’s
Caribbean Coast historically have been
affected by natural disasters, due to its
geographical location in the Caribbean
The impact of category 5 hurricane
Felix on September 4th 2007, caused
more than a hundred deaths, the
displacement of thousands of people from
their communities, the lost of their crops,
the destruction of thousands houses, and
an irreplaceable ecological damage
because of the lost of a vast forested area.
Most of the population has lived in
conditions of extreme poverty, in disperse,
isolated communities. Precisely because
of this, they are even more vulnerable to
natural phenomena.
Data gathered by OPS indicate that
162,373 people and a total of 27,281
families were affected by the hurricane in
the region.
It was estimated that 9,948 houses
were in vulnerable conditions in the
municipalities of RAAN, of which 7,945
were completely destroyed.
The OPS document also indicates that
5,190 wells were contaminated and 6,000
latrines were destroyed.

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The municipalities of Waspam and

Puerto Cabezas were the most affected by
Hurricane Felix.
The communities of Santa Rosa, La
Piñera, Teekiamp, Awastigni, Kururia and
Mospam, located in the plain zone were
hardly hit by Hurricane Felix, where 545
families lost their homes, production, great
part of the forest and reserves.
The families were in the middle of great
desolation and abandonment because of
the isolation and difficult access to this
region. The leaders of these communities
remembered how they spent the day of
the hurricane:
…we weren’t prepared and at dawn
the wind roughened.
By the news we learned that Hurricane
Felix was approaching, we thought there
was no problem, because hurricanes only
affect coastal beaches; therefore we
weren’t prepared and at dawn the wind
roughened, just then we realized that the
problem was upon us. We looked how the
tin roof was flown away, fruit trees fell.
During these difficult moments civil
defense did not come to help us, each one
fought to save ones’ family.
Kururia town

We did not know what to do;

everyone looked for a way to save
ones’ family.

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By the news we realized the hurricane

was approaching, but we didn’t expect it to
bring destruction.
At dawn the wind became stronger,
palm trees were flown away, some of the
weakest houses began to fall...
We didn’t know what to do, everyone
looked for a way to save ones’ family...
Some of us went to the school, but the
roof was taken away by the wind, people
were very scared.
Awastigni community

It was a day for grief,

lots of lives were lost,
flora and fauna disappeared

It was until dawn, September 4th when

we really lived the strength of this
disastrous hurricane.
It was a day for grief, lots of lives were
lost, and flora and fauna disappeared.
These were sad moments, in four hours
we were left with no forest, no houses,
living all people and families in La Piñera
School, because it was the only thing left.
You could see from one community to
the other a vast sea of giant fallen trees.”
Community Piñera

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At that time we lived terrible hours. The We thought the end of the world was
houses vanished, the roofs were flown coming; we had no help from anyone.
away and we got ourselves under the It attacked us from early morning, no
“tambos” of low houses. one was ready to face this kind of disaster,
People could not stay in their houses everyone looked for a way to defend their
because they were weak. families, and we saw how fruit trees fell,
Others ran into the school, because the roofs, the houses, the children crying
they saw it was better. in fear. The Santa Rosa hill was bald, not
one tree left, the deer and other animals
Our natural wealth is gone, the cassava were in the patios as if looking for shelter.
crops, and tubers. We thought the end of the world was
Teekiamp community coming; we had no help from anyone.
Santa Rosa community

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Chapter III. Reconstruction project:

“Proper, safe and happy house”
This chapter describes the stages
identified by the project’s participants,
starting from Hurricane Felix:

First stage:
The day after everything was different
When the hurricane past, everybody
was turned upside down and didn’t know
what to do, many wanted to commit
suicide. Why live? We thought we had
gone backwards. Some organizations
came to bring us food.
The following day everything was
different, destroyed houses, fallen trees,
some sideways, the school was roofless,
many dead animals. We saw how the
trees in the fields were destroyed, we
could see far, because everything was on
the floor, the roads were blocked by the
trees; we couldn’t even go into the woods
to look for food. We were scared by the strength of
Awastigni community nature; it destroyed not only the houses,
All plantations were destroyed. We the patio animals, the fruit trees, but all the
were left with no food, and no home. The forest. You had to think over, seeing so
animals eat the food that was left on the much damage.
fields, the birds eat they hadn’t ever eaten. We were left in plastic tents, brought to
We were in trouble because of the us by SINAPRED from Puerto Cabezas.
disasters left behind by the hurricane and The Waspam municipality helped us. The
by the radio we heard the announcement organized community went to see Lucy
saying that all community leaders had to and we explained our situation and she
take measures for the needs, and to get gave us a little help.
Kururia town

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Then, even when it seemed ironic, we

asked them to dream about how they
would like their house. At the beginning
they laughed and looked at us maliciously.
But then the dream began. Thus, we could
design the Proper, safe and happy house.
A request letter with the design of the
house was sent to Institute Juan XXIII. We
talked to Ketxu and after analyzing the
pros and cons and the possible funding
sources, Juan XXIII then began the
process of getting the funds. At the
beginning we had chosen two
communities: Santa Rosa y Piñera. Little
by little funds began to arrive for more. We
started adding communities, Teekiamp
followed, Mospam, Awastigni and Kururia.
The housing design was the product of
the consultation to the communities and
adjusted by an architect with the measures
needed to strengthen the structure,
preventing future natural disasters.
A few weeks later arrived in Piñera Dr.
Aurora Velasquez, Mother Myrna and In Piñera we built 12 big houses, with 3
Rose Cunningham to see our situation and bedrooms, living room, corridor and the
offered to ask for help from some donor kitchen aside. The kitchen aside was
organizations. decided by us, because it is our custom,
Santa Rosa thus we don’t get smoked, and a corridor
to go from the house to the kitchen.
Doctor Velasquez, who undertook the
project’s direction, remembers: When they asked us how we wanted
the house, some said with one room,
We visited the community Piñera where
others two. We did not want the kitchen
there lived 13 families. We talked to the
next to the house, but separated. We
leaders and they talked about the need of
asked our liking.
black plastic or some tin plates.
Beneficiaries from Piñera

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Second stage: Along with the social and organizational

Organization of the working squads aspects, we would count with the
When the funding was confirmed, we collaboration of Rose Cunningham, who
returned to the communities to give them has worked in the zone with indigenous
the good news, to orient the selection of women on rights and civil participation of
the beneficiaries and to promote their issues.
organization, because it would be a self- For assistance in preventive health for
construction project. Also the coordination the communities, there was Sister Myrna
was established with the project’s local from the Santa Ines congregation.
partners. A team was organized, which Another partner collaborator in the
was responsible for the execution of the project was the Association for the
project. Development of the Atlantic Coast “Pana-
Juan XXIII hired Dr. Aurora Velasquez Pana”, with the support of Lucy Law to
as project coordinator, initially supported organize communal plant nurseries.
on the technical aspects, by an engineer We also had the support of the
and two master builders, later on a sawmill authorities of the Regional Government
operator was hired. and of the army.

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A madam Ketxu, Doctor Aurora, Mother Third Stage: (January – March 2008)
Myrna and Lucy came to the community in Model houses
2008 and we talked about the need to get The first activity of the institutional team
organized in order to build the houses. was to motivate and organize each
Sometime later, they returned to Piñera community for the house building,
telling us they had the money to build the beginning with a model house in each
houses and that institute Juan XXIII would community. Squads were formed to clean
help us. and reconstruct the roads in order to be
Piñera able to go through the tangle of fallen
trees, and looking for the more appropriate
First we got organized to start building pieces for the construction.
the houses, beginning with chainsaws,
and then with a saw-mill. Once the self building squads were
organized, the Institute gave each
They told us this project was called community two chainsaws, fuel, lubricants
HAPPY, PROPER AND SAFE HOUSE. and tools to start working.
We thank them all.

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When the Doctor arrived, we were

already organized. To direct the work and
start the project, came Eng. Eric, along
with a master builder, Mr. Reynaldo, and
the first house was built. It was the “Model
house”, the Proper, Happy and Safe
We worked with him. He taught us lots
of building matters, there was a lot of
responsibility to look after the materials.
Group of leaders, Piñera community
The engineer decided the style and the
design of the house, we didn’t do it, but he
asked if we agreed.
We worked together and obeyed in
everything. We learned so we could do it
when he was not there.
Teekiamp community
As the trees were selected, started the All the pillars of the model houses were
cutting of the wood for the 61 square cut with the chainsaws, more than 9,000
pillars (for each house) 8” x 8” and 2 pieces of lumber. The hardest work on this
meters in length. stage was not to saw all the pillars, but to
10 squads were organized (two in each transport them into each community by
community) as permanent saw-mill sheer force, carrying each piece among
workers, integrated by a chain saw four to six men, even for more than three
operator and two aids. kilometers, to their places.
After we got an agreement for the We started working with chainsaws,
construction of the houses, we got cutting logs. Then we took out the timber
organized to build the model house and cutting the logs without barking them. We
we did it in eight days. We worked noted that two persons alone could not do
together, carried the timber, and the it, so it put in more men.
engineer told us to watch how this house For the houses, the Institute gave us
was built, and that afterwards we would all laminated zinc, nails, fuel, lubricants, and
be able to build it. files, among other materials.
Santa Rosa community Kururia community

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There were lots of difficulties, because

at the beginning we thought about cutting
the logs the hurricane had knocked
downed (pine).
But with time, it was moth eaten and
we had to bring timber from the forest, it
seemed easy at first because it was with
chainsaws, but the work was slow.
First, we got organized to bring the
pillars, then to make the holes. At the
beginning everybody agreed and worked,
but some stepped back, because they saw
it was a lot of work. Along with the construction of the
Men would carry the timber, women model house, in each community we
would cook. The owner of the house was worked in the preparation of the terrain,
in charge of feeding all the workers. outlining, laying the foundations and hole-
Piñera community digging for the remaining houses.

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During the construction, the budget for

the materials was adjusted, the
transportation costs, and above all, the
communal effort to extract the wood from
the mountain was valued. A total of 6,661
board feet for each model house.
The cost of the community contribution
was estimated in US$ 3,000 for each
house, which includes timber, terrain,
labor, and transportation for the wood.
Kururia’s integration
The town of Kururia was not included in
the project, it was the last to be inserted,
and a beneficiary from Kururia tells us:
I want to talk as a woman, Melba was
in a plastic tent and we were invited to a
meeting in Teekiamp. We were told: go to
Teekiamp and tell us how is their situation,
in Kururia’s list there were only men as
beneficiaries, no women, so we went to
the meeting.
I went to see a house, Donald’s, it was
the model house, I saw it had three rooms,
a kitchen, a living room, when I saw it, the
Doctor asked me: Did you like the house?
And I said yes.
But Donald told us: This is no game,
we worked a lot, at dawn, day and night,
and that’s how we are fighting. Here at the
saw-mill there are two women that cook.
Can you cook? And I said yes. Here
twenty families were benefited, 12 men
and eight women alone with children.
Kururia beneficiary

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Fourth Stage:
Construction phase
Once the model houses were finished,
the squad analyzed, along with the
beneficiaries the difficulties and a new
working strategy was defined, to save
time, improve quality and lower the costs.
First, buying a portable saw-mill,
because cutting all the wood with
chainsaws was slow; with the saw-mill you
could cut an average of 1,600 board feet
using diesel, while it would take 5 working
days for the chainsaw operator to saw the
same amount, and at a higher cost
because of the use of gasoline.
Second, working on simultaneous
phases of the construction of several
houses at the same time in the five
communities, instead of building the
houses one by one.
When the model house was finished,
we talked to the Doctor, there was a lot of
work and she told us they would bring a
saw-mill. We have pine forests, so we got
ready; when the saw-mill arrived, we took
it to the forest and started sawing. Another
problem arose: the vehicle could not get
through to the place where the saw-mill
was, so the timber we carried among the
men from the forest to where the house
was, that was a distance of four
kilometers. The Doctor saw it was too
hard, so she negotiated with the army so
that a truck transported the timber from
the forest to the houses. Awastigni

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With the saw-mill it was more

successful, but it was also hard working.
The logs, 10 and 11 feet long we
carried among three to four men and took
it to the place where the saw-mill was
With the saw-mill working, each
community could count on the first stock of
sawed lumber.
From then on, the team proceeded to
organize two building squads in each
place, integrated by six to eight people,
with a technician in charge of each one of
them, so that two houses could be built at
the same time.
The participation of the beneficiaries in
the process was very important, a total of
325 people were integrated, of which 150
women and 175 men.
For the squads, the important
reinforcement team was the women and
children who would pass the materials, For many women this was a difficult
bring water, act as “couriers” between experience, of battle and personal growth.
communities, and the women taking care I went to the woods when the logs
of the crops while the men were occupied were cut and were sawed into 8 x 8 feet
in the construction. long and worked along with the men, but
Many women, after cultivating and since it was too heavy, I asked them to
preparing the food for everyone, helped to help me and not to give me the big ones.
move the wood and some helped even Among three women we would carry
with the construction the 6 x 6 boards, with those we could
In the communities it was the first time cope. On this shoulder I carried 6 x 6
that men and women all worked together, boards. I fell and was hospitalized.
especially sharing an activity that was My 16-year old son helped me; we had
traditionally carried out only by men. marks on our shoulder for carrying wood.

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The children were in charge of carrying

water or some refreshment for the men in
the different squads, and also carrying
boards. In Santa Rosa it happened like
“The children would help you to get on
the shoulder the boards that were light
when they were brought from the saw-mill
with the truck, after they were downloaded
to be distributed among the families,
where each one would get their own
wood, that’s when the small children
helped to get them on your shoulder.
My boy and girl, for example, would
grab a piece of cloth, put it on their head
and bring one board home”
Woman, Santa Rosa community.
During the construction did some field
work using the ancestral indigenous
system of “mano-vuelta” .
Everybody worked on everyone’s fields.
I also climbed up the house to nail the This way they cultivated beans, cassava
wood, I did not know how to use a and plantain.
hammer but I learned; the men used to
say: you are a woman, you cannot do it. During May 2008, they cleaned the
parcels in order to cultivate rice, and in
I helped in the kitchen and carrying June they planted it.
water for the men.
In 2009 the climatic changes affected
Gladys, Kururia community the seeding period, because of the rains
My 18-year old son helped me until we out of season, which prevented the
finished the house, he is a chainsaw preparation of the field, and became a
operator, and I helped with the food for the great feeding limitation for the
workers. Sometimes with oil, but when communities
they had no meat I sent them a hen. .
Woman, Awastigni community

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House-building phases
The working organization in squads
and simultaneous building stages was
designed with the leaders, in order to
guarantee a balanced and fair participation
of the beneficiaries, in such a way, that
you could not go into the next stage until
all the houses in a community had
completed the previous level.

Phase I: outlining, leveling and posting Phase II: Setting the beams
The activity of setting the foundation of Once prepared the different wooden
the houses was difficult. The first step was pieces, we started installing the beams
to clean the terrain and carefully measure and columns, which are attached to the
the outline, and then proceed to dig the pillars with bolts introduced with an electric
holes 90 cm deep with 60 cm diameter. drill, for which we used a portable electric
The posting was a complex task in generator.
those terrains, because the 61 pillars Afterwards, was placed the frame of the
should be completely plumb and aligned to walls and the structure for the roof. The
guarantee the safety and resistance of the roof cover of 12-inch, caliber 26, laminated
house. Therefore, only to set the zinc, and the most resistant in the national
foundations of a house it took the squad market was also bolted to the structure, to
two working days. give more safety to the house.

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Phase III: Walls, floor and kitchen. Phase IV: Internal divisions.
The walls of the houses were made of The internal divisions are a significant
one inch thick, eight inches width and four change with respect to their traditional
“varas” in length, everything nailed down houses which used to have only one
to the respective posts with four and five- room. The actual houses have four interior
inch nails. rooms: three bedrooms and a multiple-use
The floor of the house rested on the 61 living room.
pillars, at an approximate height of 1.5 During the construction workshops for
meters from the ground, in order to avoid the population were conducted, especially
flooding during the rainy season and the for the women, to promote some behavior
wild animals, especially the snakes. The changes in the use of the house,
floor also covers the ample corridor in emphasizing taking care of the couple’s
front of the house. privacy, and separating male from female
Following the Miskito cultural tradition children in the family.
and the will of the communities, the I am a single mother of seven children
kitchen is set aside, separated from the and I am supporting them all. I am happy
main house, but also connected to it by because I never had a house like this, with
the corridor. The kitchen is equipped with three bedrooms; this way my children are
a sink, drainage tube for the gray waters in one room, my mother is in other, and I
into a septic tank. am in another one. Kururia community

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Phase V:
The new home and future plans
At the end of the previous stage, the
families thought that their homes were
finished, but as they were making the
divisions and interesting dynamic
appeared, in order to decide who would
occupy each of the rooms, who would take
care of the keys of the house, where to
find material for the curtains, etc.
The house has five doors: the main The play of roles took them to the most
entrance door, three interior doors for the important: recovering the dignity, the
bedrooms and the kitchen door. It has five surging of life and hope in the community.
windows, one in each room, another one Now they have new illusions, to
in the living room and one more in the improve the house, keep it in good
kitchen. conditions, clean and with flowers, to plant
During this stage, while the houses trees, there is also more awareness about
were built, a carpenter along with the more their rights and claims, like food security,
advanced beneficiaries, were making the better health services in the community,
doors and windows of all the houses. and electricity.
They made 840 doors and the same On the other hand, they are taking
amount of windows, using manual and steps for new projects that contribute to
semi-manual tools, and because of the solve the problem of food security, a first
rudimentary equipment, it took a lot of time priority in this zone.
and effort.

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Plans for the future

In order for the plans and ideas not to
stay up in the air, a workshop was
conducted, where the leaders of each
community elaborated plans to keep their
homes and improve their lives.
They worked out four plans for each
community: reforestation, health, house
maintenance and contingency for disasters
Now we are committed to do some
continuation and finished what little is left.
We are committed to give them a
proper maintenance for the durability of
our pretty home.
Piñera community
We want to have nurseries, so we can
leave the trees as a heritage to our
children, to improve the living conditions of
our family and the future generation, so
that our streams don’t dry up and the We want to know more about natural
animals can survive. disasters, so we are going to look for help
To prepare the conditions so that our from the organizations, so that they teach
houses can last longer, for this the us more about natural disasters.
deteriorating parts should be repaired in Kururia community
time. We will get organized, do some
Teekiamp community cleaning-work, ask for help from the
We are happy with our houses. But we organizations, meeting with all the
ask you to take steps to help us in other members of the benefited community, ask
things we are missing, because we have for support from MINSA, so that they visit
serious alimentary problems, and us more regularly, guaranteeing us a
electricity would also be fine. health center because it is too far to go all
the way to Waspam.
Santa Rosa community

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The opening of the houses

The project officially finished on July Some 300 people participated, all the
10th with the act opening the houses families of the Teekiamp community, family
carried out in the Teekiamp community. It delegations from the other project’s
was a great celebration, with much joy, communities, regional and municipal
organized by the beneficiaries, with authorities, as well as the vice-mayor, the
piñatas for the kids, lunch, a cultural act, police and Pana-Pana, Wanki-Tagni
speeches, singing and typical dances, organizations, Santa Ines Sisters and
mixing their own from the Caribbean coast Institute Juan XXIII representatives.
with others from the Pacific.

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Chapter IV:
Achievements and obstacles
4.1 Achievements
Now 172 families live in better
conditions, 117 families that completely
rebuilt their houses, and 55 which made
improvements aided with laminated zinc
and construction materials. For them it is a
proper, safe and happy house.
A proper house: is one in which one
can live at ease, here lives my daughter,
my living room to rest, my veranda where I
hang my hammock, a house where you
can move around tranquil.
YI used to sleep with all my children
piled up. Now we sleep apart, each one in
its room. That is important, because now if
I have a man, I can sleep apart with him
and my children don’t see.
A safe house: because it is mine, I am
a lone woman and a mother. When the
hurricane comes, it won’t tumble it down,
because now the house has 61 posts and
will fight the hurricane. Now when the rain
comes we don’t get wet, before the water
would come in and I had to protect them.
Each one is in its room, before we slept
all together, sleeping apart is new. Now we A happy house: because everybody is
can sleep naked with the man. more tranquil, motivated to look after their
“A house where we have the assurance health, cleaning the houses, patios and
that no wind will take it down, my windows latrines, eliminating puddles and practicing
and beams are well tightened up, and no personal hygiene, like washing hands.
thief will break in, it is a long-lasting
Now we sleep fine, we are not
house.” Woman, Teekiamp community
worried about the rain, we are happy.

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More awareness of their rights New capacities

The participants have more awareness A new model and a new way of building
of their rights, there cannot exist a happy houses. The beneficiaries expressed their
home if there is no respect for the human satisfaction in having learned and enjoying
rights of women and children living in the their homes.
house. We learned to build better. These
“Right now, we women have more constructions are magnificent.
rights than men. Before men would beat The project has helped us a lot with our
us, hit us, they could do anything they houses. We have learned the construction
wanted, but now… they can’t beat us”. of the new houses. The ones we made
Woman, Santa Rosa community with palms are destroyed.
“Before, men were judges, deputies, We didn’t know this housing model, but
presidents, and now women also can in we did it. A lot of people from other
the community” organizations asked who was helping us,
Woman, Kururia community because they saw them pretty.

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In the communities now there are more Young people learn how to get
people trained as chainsaw operators and organized, they learn to be honest and
carpenters; a good group of young people humble, they obeyed the master builder
learned to use electric drills, circular saws, and so they learned.”
electric generator, measuring tapes and The participation of women in non-
plumb, tolls they hadn’t used before. traditional activities, such as nailing boards,
They learned to build safe houses, created awareness that they can do other
plumb and bolting techniques. With them, things, besides cooking, and sometimes
they can keep and expand the houses, or they even work better than men:
work as salaried worker in other “I helped to nail the boards. I would
constructions. climb up the house and the men would tell
Besides, young people learned new me “you are a woman, go now, you cannot
values: do it” and I would answer “Oh, how come I
“At first we started with the master can’t? I nail boards better than they do.”
builder, now the communities can take As a woman, I learned to work, to make
care of these activities. posts, nail boards. There I was following the
men, helping.

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Improved self esteem

The beneficiaries have developed their
self esteem and pride of belonging to the
We have a house that, nowadays, they
will look at us as decent people, with a
presentable house, and that’s why I have
to look well after it, so that it does not rot.
Woman, Santa Rosa community
Among women, pride is expressed
tidying up the house, cultivating flowers
and placing curtains on the windows.
Some have put shelves to store the
Communal work strengthened. china. Others think about building bunk
For the first time we worked in a beds in the children’s rooms.
common project that mobilized the entire In the interior of the houses you can
community in organized way, facilitating see some self-made beds. With pride they
the recovery of the ancestral miskito value said the new houses have divisions and “it
of working together and looking after the is known there is a house of respect”.
common wellbeing. Others, with wooden leftovers have
“We hold communal assemblies in constructed hen houses.
order to organize men, women, elderly The communities are aware that they
and children. With the men we make can have better living conditions inside the
several groups to work on different house; one can see the planning of new
activities. We formed four groups and projects like solar panels, roads, improving
send them to a house for setting the wall schools and health centers.
frames, lay the laminated zinc, and then
the wall lining. We worked day and night. “We are telling the project Proper, Safe
Sometimes we work until dawn. The and Happy House that a painting
women’s activities are feeding everyone; protection is needed, so that the houses
make coffee, at night moving boards, the last longer”
kids bringing water and boards also. The
project helped us get more united, the
community is changing”
Group, Teekiamp community.

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Relations and communications

The communal leaders expressed their
interest and need of friendship and
collaboration links between communities.
To them, the workshop represented a
first step in the creation of flowing
relationships between the different ethnics
that live together in the zone.
Improved planning
With the construction stages of the
houses, subsequent keeping and the
response to disasters plans, awareness
was developed on the importance of
Synthesis of the beneficiaries
Thus, the short term vision is changing
Community beneficiaries houses
to a longer term vision that requires
planning. Santa Rosa 162 27
Piñera 65 13
Self determination
Awastigni 210 15
The beneficiaries had the opportunity of Tee Kiamp 228 37
practicing leadership centered on the Kururia 186 25
common wellbeing. Total 1091 117
They got aware that self-determination
involves compromise, persevering work Improvements with laminated zinc.
and cooperation. Community Nr of families
In the change of attitude of the Mos Pam 33
communities stand out the participation in Kisalaya 11
the self-construction of their houses and Piñera 7
the appropriation of the communal vision. Special cases 4
This way they fight the dependence Total 55
created historically in this zone Social programs Beneficiaries
. Teekiamp schoo 98 children
Maternal house, Waspam 400 women
Women’s house, Waspam 110 women

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Preventive health attention

Along with the construction project the
population of the communities received
health care. Mother Myrna of the religious
order of Santa Ines, along with the
project’s coordinator, who is a doctor,
trained the health leaders and midwives
for children’s illnesses prevention and
attention to pregnant women.
General consultation was offered, as
well as medications and transportations to
the hospital to the most severe cases.
The project also created a training
place for house maintenance, hygiene,
sexual education and family health.

Communal nurseries project

Institute Juan XXIII funded, through
Pana-Pana, a local organization, a
forestall nursery project in the three
communities that were more advanced
with their houses.
The community participates in the
cleaning of the terrain, and they are
provided with barbed wire to fence the
place and technical assistance.
Most of the participants in the project
are women and children. There is the
integration of school teachers along with
their students.

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4.2 Obstacles.
The socioeconomic context and local
politics under which the project was
developed were full of obstacles, and
influenced its execution in one way or
“It hasn’t been a flowing project, it was
rather a permanent steeplechase run, with
constant difficulties: bridges, rains,
captured saw-mill, strikes, tense political
situation with local elections …
You had to maneuver to keep people’s
confidence, to keep on walking regardless
of the obstacles, and not let people down
with the confidence they had on the
Ketxu, Institute Juan XXIII
Food safety
Food safety of Waspam’s communities
has depended greatly on what they fish
and hunt, and from the subsistence
agriculture, activities which, after the
hurricane were diminished.
In consequence, food security of the
population was extremely precarious
during the construction period, even
though there were efforts from the World During 2008, the population had to
Food Program (WFP) to supply food, it invest time for the rebuilding activities,
was insufficient, and especially sporadic competing with the time they should
and out of time, because of institutional dedicate to agriculture.
burocracy and the bad condition of the Therefore, Institute Juan XXIII
roads to transport the food to the region. contributed with coffee, rice, beans and
maize at certain moments, to guarantee
the food for the building squads and keep
the constructions going.

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Rain, floods and isolation

The 2008 rainy season strongly
affected the population still living in tents.
During the second semester of the
year, the intense rain occurred during
several days caused the flooding of the
Wawa river and the destruction of the
bridge, which obstructed the way to Bilwi
in the RAAN.
During October, the tropical storm Nr
15 affected with torrential rain for more
than 12 consecutive hours.
The rural communities were isolated
because of the flood and roads and bridge
For around two months the roads
were impassable, having to carry
materials, fuels, accessories, tools
and other inputs at sheer force
and on foot, causing delays in the
execution of the planned activities.
The lack of spare parts and minimum
technology to solve simple problems,
like repairing a vehicle, a chainsaw
or a portable generator, forced to send
all damaged tools and equipments
to Managua, taking around two weeks
to get them repaired and send them back
to the community.

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Political conflicts and civil violence

During 2008, RAAN was the scenario
for strong violent confrontations and social
conflicts between the groups of the
different political parties because of the
delay in the municipal elections.
The continuous strikes and peoples’
demonstrations, the closing of the airport,
suspension of school activities, interruption
of basic services: electricity, water,
telephone, the closing of different
governmental institutions and community
access road blockades were some of the
regretful episodes that delayed the work.

The dispute for the ownership

of communal forests
Due to the lack of clear territorial
delimitation of the indigenous
communities, the indigenous communities
and private owners of foreign origin
dispute the right to the trees tumbled down
by the hurricane.
This caused the Kuiwitigni community
(which did not participate in the project) to
hijack the saw-mill (project property) which
was sawing the wood for the houses in the
community Piñera.
Therefore, Institute Juan XXIII, along All this took over a month of comings
with communal leaders of Piñera, had to and goings, meetings and negotiations
turn to the authorities of the Regional between the parts, but the most important
Council in Bilwi to denounce the fact and is that it was possible to overcome
search for mediation of the authorities to the problem without violent acts, prone
solve the problem. in this zone.

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Methodological differences
At the Mayagna community Awastagni,
arrived a foreign organization offering to
pay for cutting the wood (US$ 0.30 / board
foot) and to build 28 houses with foreign
technical personnel and no participation
from the community.
Because of this, of the 40 selected
families in Awastagni, 20 opted for the
easiest road to obtain their houses, so in
Awastagni only 15 houses were built of
the initially foreseen 44, the rest were
assigned to the Kururia community,
incorporated later.
The houses built by the Institute used
6,967 board feet each, which were
supplied by the community, that is, the
equivalent to a little more than two
thousand dollars per house, only with their
sawing efforts and transportation of the
wood for their homes, to this has to be
added the voluntary work provided during
the construction.
Another limitation was the lack of
fulfillment of the governmental
responsibilities in providing the
corresponding services:
The Estate has been inefficient
because there should be a map of how
many organizations are working, and what
those organizations can finance.
In the –housing- project it would be
freight elevator, to raise those logs, logs
which weight like ….

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V: Apprenticeship and projections

“Our ancestors dug holes on the
ground and put a low roof which served as
shelter. Because we realized that even
cement houses are demolished by the
Leader, Kururia communit
5.1 Apprenticeship of the communities
The communal leaders identified the
learned lessons from their own livings
during the hurricane and during their
participation in the rebuilding project.
One of the more important lessons was
to realize their vulnerability to hurricanes, it
was the first time they faced this kind of
phenomena and they were not prepared.
Now they know it is necessary to
prepare the population in the communities,
to look for support from the competent
authorities and keep themselves
communicated and informed.
It is important to organize civil defense.
Being attentive and alert, listen to the
news and get prepared before a
phenomenon like the hurricane arrives.
We want to know more about natural
disasters, for that we are going to look for
help form the organizations, so that they
teach us more about natural disasters. We
have to prepare good shelters to protect
our lives, saving children and ladies first.
Group work, Kururia

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Houses should be placed in less risky

Getting ready for response is
necessary, but no enough, preventive
actions are needed to avoid risks.
“We learned that, that the house should
be located where there is less wind, away
from the streams and rivers to avoid
“With Felix in 2007, I lived at the
riverside when it flooded. I lost 115 sheep,
8 cows drowned with the flood. It affected
my health, pain in the bones and even
malaria for being flooded for such a long
time. Now I live in the plains, where I built
my new house”.
This experience was not only to build
alone, but to build along.
The reconstruction of the houses and
their later maintenance was only possible
through unity, cooperation and
organization of the community.
The leaders recognized that:
We learned to work together. If there is
no unity, there is no force and now there
would not be one house here. I learned
that if we are not united we get nowhere.
That if we do not fight, if we have no
faith in God, we will go nowhere. If we
don’t work inspired and will power we
never do anything. If we do not get to work
together, the works fall behind, union
makes force.
Piñera group

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Men and women learned that it is not

easy to work together in activities that
have traditionally been destined to only
one of the two sexes. In this case, the
woman, to keep on going ahead has to
fight, that is the cost of having your rights
recognized. Even though at the end men
and women validated the experience of
working together, during the process there
were tensions when some of the women
expressed their minds regarding the
actions of some men.
The project taught us to get organized.
I was left homeless because of the
Communal organization is dynamic and hurricane, but I worked with my 16-year
it is necessary to adapt/improve it old son in this, we would carry wood from
according to the new projects of to face the forest to the house. The boy wanted to
emergency situations. Working together run away, but I would not let him, the rest
took them to new organized working ways. of the men would make fun of me saying
Being organized strengthens us as a the son would run away. For being a lone
community. Now we have to get better woman, many women treated me badly,
organized to face a hurricane. because they thought I was after their
Even though traditionally they have husbands, but I endured all these
helped each other with “mano vuelta”, this problems and now I have my house.
has been only for agricultural work where Woman, Kururia community
the owner of the vegetable garden directs The men did not treat me well, because
the work. I was cooking for all those building and
Instead, with the houses they learned there were some of them, who profited, as
to work in specialized squads, sawing, soon as I gave them their food they would
construction and finishing ones. get away from the saw-mill to avoid
In the building squads the fittest
member was elected as coordinator to Two men did not want to work, but to
direct the different tasks. negotiate the wood for their own benefit
and I gathered the community and made
An example is the case of the leveling them think it over, so they would not do
of the terrain, activity that requires certain that, at the end I managed the judge to
level of mathematical knowledge. them out of the group.

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A good planning
and work division
according to capacities
there are elements to meet the goals
in due time.

The beneficiaries learned that setting

small goals and working all in the same
could make the dream of a house come
First we began with seven houses. We
made a plan of how to get the work done.
First an excavation plan and we all
worked on it. Then the foundation plan
until we finished the seven houses.
Once he first seven houses were
finished, we started to build another
seven, getting to 14 houses. And thus, we
managed to build 36 houses in this
Teekiamp community

In the working groups the fittest

member was elected as the group
coordinator, substituting the traditional
This change suggests a disposition
from the community to identify, validate
and share individual talents to achieve the
common wellbeing.

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5.2 Institutional lessons

The project was a new and important
experience for the Institute, because it was
the first time we worked with a population
culturally different to the communities
historically attended.
It is also new because were supported
communities with which the Institute had
no previous organizational relationship.
The experience demonstrated the
advantage of executing projects in places
where the Institute already has an
organized support. It demonstrated that it
is necessary to get some previous, intense
and prolonged work done so that people
have better disposition to get incorporated
into the participation process.
Reinsures the institutional vision of
working under the institutional principles
based on a working methodology
“decentralization and development”.
At the same time, the decision to give a
specific aid to this zone reaffirms the
mission of the Institute towards
populations affected by natural disasters.
With this experience we managed to
visualize how to attend communities
where the Institute has not had previous
organizational work, and in cases where
they have not been attended by other local
or national organizations.
This project was made possible thanks
to the alliances with local organizations,
which supplied the lack of familiarity of the
Institute with the communities.
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With this experience we verified the To open participation spaces for women
need to have opening steps to face other requires perseverance in the
forms of alliance with local organizations accompaniment of the local organizations,
(solidarity networks). connoisseurs of the general culture and
One of the foundations of the alliances with working experience with gender
with the local organizations was the need approach to address relationship problems
to give good use to the scarce available between men and women.
resources. The reduced accompaniment oriented
Another base for the alliances was the to deal with gender issues while changes
continuity of the support to the were introduced in the role of sexes,
communities by local organizations. risked the dignity and integrity of some
participating women, especially lone
The housing project set the women (with no mate).
organizational foundations for the
development projects that can only be
deepened through the accompaniment of
the local organizations to the communities.

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It is important that the different local It is necessary to guarantee that

organizations share methodologies and communities and organizations rationalize
working visions to facilitate and obtain the contribution of the communities.
better results, better impact and avoid The organizations have to take into
conflicts between men and women account that the communities don’t have
beneficiaries. the capacity to execute several projects at
One of the main conflicts originates once, especially if they demand the same
from the assitencialists options which peremptory execution time.
donate everything and those which “It was hard, because of what?
promote compromise in their self- Because they didn’t plant anything, since
administration. they were decided to get their wood.
Coordination is very important. They work night time, they had to take
the wood from the mountain … It was
hard, some got sick. Now they are planting
malanga and cassava, but they have to
wait months”.

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Juan XXIII taught us to work to get the

house, but we could not cultivate.
The communities prioritized the house
construction because of the need of
shelter against the elements, and also
because of the execution times stipulated
by the project.
Besides, the rain began earlier and the
communities were with the earth
unprepared and could not produce food.
Even though climatic changes are not
predictable, the inclusion of a fair work in
the construction activities along with the
agricultural productive tasks is one of the
greatest lessons learned.
We thank them for their support, but we
were left with another problem, which is
the lack of food and for this we asked for
support from another organization.
Awastagni community
It is true that there was division of
responsibilities among participating
organizations, but it is unjustifiable that the
communities suffer from lack of food due
to maladjustments in the coordination,
planning or fulfillment from any of the
The food security should be a priority in
any support intervention in emergency
cases, especially when it is demanded
massive support for communal work in
building or rebuilding tasks.

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It is also important, while work

planning, to take into account the customs
and ancestral knowledge of the
As one of the leaders illustrates:
“The project had its timing. For example
we had a problem with the moon.
During new moon and full moon you
cannot cut trees, because the wood gets
moth eaten. Sometimes you might not
believe it, but it is important for us.
Even though, we cut the trees, much of
it was used, mahogany, oak, cortés and
Now we will have problems with that
wood if don’t cure it with used oil”
Líder, comunidad de Kururia

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5.3 Future projections

The plans articulated by the
communities were carried out by each
community, answering the following
What do we want to do? What do we
want to do the work for? What activities
can we carry out? How can we do these
works? Who is responsible for them? For
each of the following plans:
Preventive health
Indicating the activities that can be
carried out for the prevention of
sicknesses. Between them they mentioned
the importance of draining the puddles,
cleaning the patios, well, streams and
Contingency plan
They include preventive actions to
avoid/reduce the risks of future disasters,
like hurricanes or fires.
House maintenance
Identifies the activities for the
maintenance of the houses, among them:
protecting from
Moths and replace boards, bolts, nails
and laminated zinc whenever needed.
Reforestation plan
Conservation measures for the natural
renewable resources were identified, like
planting or replacing whatever is cut down,
to cut or use rationally and to allow natural

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Participants elected the “Board of

directors” which will supervise the
execution of the communal plan and its
respective working committees.
Besides, it was created a follow up
inter-communal committee to:
Supervise that each community gathers
the tools used during the project.
Make an inventory of the existing tools
and to name a person responsible for
Send to Institute Juan XXIII the tool
Coordinate activities with organizations,
according to the planned activities. For
example, Pana-Pana and the Health
Ministry (Mother Myrna), and to give
continuity to the inter-communal
communication initiated during the project.
At the end of the workshop, participants
elected the following persons to represent
their communities in the inter-communal

Community Representative
Awastigni Mario Salomon
Tee Kiamp Sabino Cruz
Santa Rosa Dionisio Paiz
Kururia Evenor Chale
Piñera Jose Martinez

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VI. Actors and authors

Social Action Institute Juan XXIII
The Institute Juan XXIII is an instance
for social projection of the Central
American University (UCA). With Christian
orientation and inspired by the example of
John XXIII and the Ignacian spirituality.
The social promotion is oriented to
generate organizational, participation and
social incidence processes with the most
vulnerable sectors. Its mission is
summarized with the implementation of
five programs: Health, education, housing,
organizations and participations,
preventions, emergency and
Religious congregation of the Santa
Ines Sisters.
The Santa Ines Sisters is a
congregation of religious missionaries
compromised with the transformation of
the rural and urban communities in Latin
America and the United States. They
support health, education, pastoral and
social service areas.
The congregation is inserted into the
communities with the goal of improving the
life quality, promote social justice, promote
women’s participation in church and in the
communities, and to guarantee mutuality,
inclusion and collaboration among
individuals, groups and communities.
Based on her religious mission, Mother
Myrna Alvarado Hernandez accompanied
this project.
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Wangki Tangni
“Wangki Tangni” or “River Flower” is an
NGO whose mission is the attention of the
indigenous women and their families,
through a program in the communities of
Waspam, Ulwas and Kisalaya.
A voluntary team of women gave
training and counseling on indigenous
women’s rights and family and communal
conflicts attention.
It is an autochthonous NGO from the
North Atlantic and based in Puerto
It was created in 1990 within the
political context of the “return” to the
resettled communities.
Its mission is to contribute to the
improvement of the conditions of the
population promoting self-development
and self-management of the communities
of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region
The communities
The communities of Teekiamp, Kururia,
Santa Rosa, Awastagni, Piñera and
Mospam, were selected by the local
organizations for being affected by
hurricane Felix and for lacking any kind of
local or international assistance to
overcome this extreme-need situation.

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Participants in the systematization

Santa Rosa community
Dionisio Paiz
Teresa Omye
Roger Balendres Mena
Semilia Bons Reyes
Landir Wilson
Teekiamp community
Donald Zamora
Sylvio Cruz
Realito Cruz
Nancy Zamora
Yadira Aguilera
Handel Zamora Lucas
Awastigni community
Airen Balderamos For the institutions
Santa López Social Action Institute Juan XXIII
Patricia Salomon Ketxu Amezua
Mario Salomon Sub-director
Kururia community Dra. Aurora Velazquez
Project coordinator
Evenor Charly
Marisol Cerrato
Melba Laiva Planning and projects
Ricardo Barrow Amelia Mallona
Gladis Alvarado A. Consultant
Rosdali Eliston Homphya Wangki Tangni
Piñera community Rose Cunningham
Jose Francisco Martinez Rubens Workshop facilitator
Elba Barberena Martinez Pilar Muller,
Translator: Miskito-Spanish

52 • Suddenly... everything changed

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