Photo: Zenia Nuñez (CC BY 2.0)
Crook Fellow Dane Ulik has been spending his summer working for Artists for Soup, a nonprofit whose mission, amongst many others, is to improve food security in La Paz Centro and Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Dane is applying his research and data analysis skills to aid the organization in refining their initiatives, and shares with us now his experiences in the country so far:
The first night in Matagalpa, Nicaragua I was invited to dine with a young man, Ricardo, and his family at his home. He had overheard a conversation I was having with a backpacker from Colorado, and he began to speak to me in English. Later that night as a walked to Ricardo’s house, I noticed two little boys on bench. They were homeless, drenched in dirt, rags for clothes, and looked like they hadn’t eaten in days. The image stuck with me as I arrived at Ricardo’s home, where he and his family were waiting for me.
“Barriga llena, corazón contento,” my friend, Ricardo, said to me and the rest of the table as we sat down to enjoy my first meal in Nicaragua. “A full stomach, a happy heart”, although I understood the saying in some sense, Ricardo goes on to explain that Nicaraguans often face problems of food security, especially accessing healthy, nutritious food. The table was set with many Nicaraguan favorites, including Nacatamal, Indio Viejo, and Gallo Pinto. As we enjoyed the surfeit of food that was prepared for us, I couldn’t help but think of the two young boys I saw in the plaza. When would their next meal be?
Which brings me to the reason for me being here in Nicaragua in the first place. I came to Nicaragua to work for an organization, Artists for Soup, whose focus is on supporting sustainable development projects leading to greater food security, educational retention, creative enterprise, and overall well-being in both La Paz Centro and Matagalpa, Nicaragua. During my time here with Artists for Soup, I will be working on a variety of research and data analysis projects that are focused on food security and organic farming. The most fulfilling part of my job however, is communicating and interacting with the local people as I attempt to relieve their struggle to find and consume healthy and nutritious food.
These interactions not only take part in my work, but also just walking down the street. “Hello, how are you?” the people will shout out as I pass them by. Although some may feel uncomfortable constantly being stared at, I just take it in stride. In the end however, my job here is to help, and more importantly teach the people here about what it means to truly have a healthy diet. Rice and beans are the staple foods in most Central American countries, and Nicaragua is no exception. To find a salad on the table here is somewhat of a rarity, but hopefully during my time here I can help initiate some sort of dietary change.
In the mean time, I am committed to learning everything I can about the people and culture here in Nicaragua. Although it has only been a couple weeks since arriving, I already feel a connection with the local people. Despite the frequent drops of my internet, the absence of hot water, and me having to learn how to wash my clothes by hand, I think my time here will be life changing for both the people here in Matagalpa, and for myself personally as well.
This blog post was first published by The Robert Strauss Center at The University of Texas at Austin on 18 July 2017.