Simple things like radios, water tanks and 12-volt batteries are changing lives on the Mosquito Coast, and here
It's a long way from the deserts of west Texas to the jungles of Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast, but even farther from the lakes and foothills of western Maine.
Or from Paris.
“I was a French major in college,” said Paige Crockett. “I thought I was going to live in France.”
For the past two years Crockett has called Bethel home, but spent weeks at a time working away -- with other volunteers in the impoverished jungle villages of eastern Nicaragua.
Even while here, she devotes much of her time to recruiting and preparing other volunteers for the next trip.
Crockett is U. S. Field Director for Peace and Home Trust, a nonprofit organization committed to providing relief and development in remote regions of Nicaragua.
She grew up in Midland, Texas, then came east, to Boston, for college. While there she learned of Peace and Hope and its mission.
She volunteered herself, and the dreams of France began to fade.
“I went to Nicaragua in 2003 and just fell in love with the place,” Crockett said.
The summer of her college graduation, she returned, leading her own team. She has now led 13.
The Nicaragua Crockett encountered in 2003 had come a long way from the violence of the 1980s, when “Contra” rebels terrorized the countryside, torturing and killing civilians, and systematically assassinating healthcare and human-rights workers.
But by 2003 the country had experienced more than a decade of relative political stability, and the terrorism was a thing of the past.
“It was pretty peaceful,” Crockett said,
But still impoverished, especially in the remote eastern regions, known as the Mosquito Coast--named not for the insect (of which it has plenty, along with hurricanes) but for the indigenous Miskito Indians who make up most of the population.
Peace and Hope, whose director lives year round in the country, is working to bring sustainable economic development to the region, starting with small-scale infrastructure necessities.
“We try to work with locals as much as possible,” Crockett said, “people who are already doing projects in their own country, and to partner with them.”
Especially, she said, by providing resources and volunteers to support the local person's own vision.
This summer's project was a radio and solar-charging tower for the village of Makantakita, in an area so remote that communication between villages is limited to travel by dugout canoe.
“The goal was to give them a means by which they can communicate with other villages,” Crockett said.
“Before we got there, they had no connection with the outside world. And these jungle villages are so remote that if they don't have a radio they have no way of hearing about oncoming storms, and if they have an emergency they can't radio for medical help.”
The solar-charging towers can also be used to re-charge batteries. The batteries provide villagers with a source of electricity to power small fluorescent lights that can replace the candles with which they previously lighted their homes.
“They can take a 12-volt car battery, charge it, take it home and have electricity for a month.”
Other typical projects include such basics as rain tanks and rice mills.
“Clean water is a huge issue,” Crockett said.
“They collect rainwater during the rainy season to drink during the dry, but they have very few means of collecting it that would also keep it clean and safe for drinking.”
Plastic tanks are available, at roughly $500 each, but in a region where an average family makes less than $100 a month, not realistically affordable.
A concrete tank, however, modeled on a prototype developed by a British PHT volunteer, can be built for roughly $50.
The tanks are composed of thin layers of concrete reinforced with chicken wire, and take several days to build.
Crockett's team completed several this trip. “We first started out installing them in central areas of the community, where more than one family could use one, then went back and began building them for each family,” she said.
And the rice mills, powered by small gasoline engines help provide economic stability for both individual families and whole villages, she said.
“A lot of the villages like rice mills. We've installed several, because everyone grows rice for their family, but with the mill they can actually grow enough to sell in the market.”
Just to do it
To Crockett the works of Peace and Home (and, she said, of countless similar organizations) are important not just for the change they effect in faraway places, but the change they bring to the volunteers themselves.
“It has definitely changed my perspective on the world, on life, my priorities, and what I think is important,” she said.
“It's good to encourage people to just get involved.
“I took a woman who is 68 years old. She had never been on a trip like this before and was scared to death to go, but she went, and had the time of her life, doing things that she didn't feel she was qualified for.”
In the end, Crockett said, “the real point of doing this kind of work is just to do it. To face the fear of not being adequate and actually reach out – to do something as simple as just building a water tank, which to us seems like no big deal, but to these families, who rely on rainwater, it's life saving.
“It's important to realize the impact of small actions, and especially for those of us in Bethel – our perfect little small town – to realize that there are things happening all over the world.
“All you have to do is get involved.”