History of the Peace Corps in Nicaragua
The first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Nicaragua in 1969. Between 1969 and 1978, the program ranged in size from 75 to 125 Volunteers. Volunteers provided assistance in areas such as education, vocational training, rural nutrition, rural waterworks, agricultural extension, cooperatives, and municipal development. After the earthquake of 1972, efforts were dedicated to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.
The Peace Corps program in Nicaragua was suspended in 1978 because of civil war. In 1982, the Peace Corps attempted to reestablish a program in Nicaragua but was unsuccessful because of the highly polarized political situation in the country. Four experienced Volunteers from other Spanish-speaking countries reinitiated the program in May 1991. The program has since grown to more than 160 Volunteers working in four projects throughout Nicaragua. In January 1995, Peace Corps/Nicaragua piloted community-based training (CBT), an innovative, experiential learning model that you will soon participate in firsthand. CBT helps trainees adapt to field situations while living with Nicaraguan families during the full training period.
Peace Corps Programming in Nicaragua
Peace Corps/Nicaragua works in five primary areas: small business development (SBD), community health education, environmental education, agriculture (i.e., sustainable food security), and teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). All projects focus on helping Nicaraguans develop sustainable responses to local needs. In 1991, when the Peace Corps returned to Nicaragua, the first Volunteers were assigned to vocational training institutes.
As a result of that effort, the SBD project was created. This project has since expanded and adapted to meet Nicaragua’s emerging needs and challenges. This project provides sustainable business and life skills to youth, including out-ofschool youth, enhancing their capacity to create or gain employment and increasing income and economic opportunities in their communities. SBD Volunteers focus most of their efforts on conducting entrepreneurship and job skills training courses for youth in secondary schools, technical institutes, and in other educational centers. Nearly all SBD Volunteers are assigned to work in secondary schools with the Ministry of Education (MECD), and they live in small towns and cities. Based on community needs and opportunities, Volunteers also provide information technology training and business advising to local small business owners.
The community health education project began in 1992. Working in partnership with the Ministry of Health (MINSA), Volunteers in this project strive to improve the health and well-being of poor rural Nicaraguans. To address the critical health needs of Nicaragua, community health education Volunteers are based out of rural health clinics and posts. In conjunction with local health promoters, Volunteers educate community members on basic prevention techniques to help them avoid or diminish the effects of devastating but controllable diseases. This project emphasizes three primary areas: environmental health, adolescent health, and maternal and infant health. Preventive health education focuses on diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, malaria, nutrition, breastfeeding, drug and alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS, maternal and infant health, parenting and child care, vaccinations, and life skills for youth. Volunteers conduct health education activities in rural health clinics and posts, in local primary and secondary schools, and with community groups (women’s groups, adolescent groups, etc.).
Peace Corps/Nicaragua initiated the community-based environmental education project in 1995. This project aims to change attitudes and promote positive behavior at the community level toward the sustainable use of natural resources. Peace Corps Volunteers work with the Ministry of Education to help local teachers enhance their participatory teaching methodologies. They do this by integrating environmental topics into the classrooms and by implementing hands-on activities outside the classroom setting. All Volunteers in this project utilize a jointly published (Peace Corps and MECD) environmental education guide for primary schools to direct their activities. Volunteers are assigned to rural school districts where they work with at least three elementary schools. Volunteers work directly with teachers, students, and community members supporting environmental education using interactive, student-centered methods and community efforts to address local environmental concerns. Peace Corps Volunteers model participatory education methodologies, conduct teacher-training activities, and coordinate other environmentally focused activities based on community need.
Peace Corps began working in the agriculture sector in late 1999 in response to damage from Hurricane Mitch in the northern region of the country. These areas continue to suffer the consequences of hurricanes, floods, and droughts that have devastated crops and lands and caused a serious socioeconomic rural crisis. Rural households from the north, central, and Pacific regions suffer high poverty levels caused by low crop productivity and inadequate use of backyard space and available biodiversity. This results in malnutrition and a low standard of living. Peace Corps Volunteers work with the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), and are assigned to small rural communities. The project has a strong family focus. Volunteers work with local farm families to improve their food security by enhancing soil fertility; promoting soil and water conservation, implementing crop diversification and integrated pest management; and maximizing available resources and space in a family’s backyard or patio area. Agriculture Peace Corps Volunteers also work with families on food-processing activities for consumption and/or sale.
The teaching English as a foreign language sector began in August 2006 and is the first TEFL program in all of Latin America. Volunteers work with the Ministry of Education (MINED) and work in secondary schools to help teachers' English skills, improve their teaching methodologies, and develop materials and resources.
Each Peace Corps/Nicaragua project involves youth and takes a gender-sensitive approach to achieve equality and sustainability. All projects are adjusted and refined as new opportunities and needs emerge. For example, as new information technologies are developed and access grows throughout the country, the Peace Corps strives to use those technologies to aid Nicaraguans.