Where we work
(Country programme completed in 2021)
The Republic of Nicaragua, located on the Isthmus of Central America, is a country with a population of 6.8 million, geographically belonging to North America. Nicaragua is the largest but least densely populated country in Central America. It shares borders with Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America: according to the World Food Programme (WFP), 30% of Nicaraguans live below the poverty line.
According to the World Bank, the root causes of poverty in Nicaragua include a lack of education and poor productivity. For instance, in terms of productivity, Nicaraguan agricultural land produces about 40–60% per unit area of what is produced in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and less than 20% of what agricultural land produces in Costa Rica.
The International Solidarity Foundation worked in the country for nearly 40 years: from 1982 until 2021. These years encompassed numerous challenges related to poverty, climate change, political turbulence, and more – but fortunately, also included many successes and fond memories.
Our activities in Nicaragua began in 1982 with the La Dalia children’s food project, which grew to become the largest Finnish NGO project in Nicaragua at the time. The aid project continued uninterrupted for over ten years, during which 20 children’s dining halls and daycare centers supported families with the help of Solidarity and donors.
The children’s dining halls were crucial support for families, for example, in the city of Condega, where the majority of adults were unemployed in the early 1990s. The main purpose of the food projects was to help take care of Nicaraguan children during the Sandinista government’s revolution, along with the guerrilla war and food shortage it brought. During the project, over 4,000 children received their daily meals in dining halls supported by the Finns.
In a changing global situation, it became clear, however, that development projects needed to bring about long-term change and not just aim for immediate relief. In addition to temporary assistance, people needed information, skills, and tools to be able to sustain their families independently and thus secure a more stable future for their families.
With this in mind, our work expanded in the late decades into rural development and support for small-scale farmers. Initiatives against domestic violence also took their first steps.
By 1996, we had taken significant strides into new areas in Nicaragua, and our operations continued to grow. The importance of supporting livelihoods and entrepreneurship became more emphasized in our work; for example, at Asdenic’s farm, new cultivation methods and the production of food crops had been experimented with and studied for several years. Additionally, Solidarity had a bakery, computer school, and carpentry workshop in the city of Estelí, providing local support for their livelihoods.
In Boaco, with the support of Solidarity, small coffee farmers began adopting organic production methods. In Europe, interest in organic and ethically sustainable production had been growing throughout the 1990s, and in 1998, Solidarity, along with four other organizations, founded the Fair Trade organization.
The organic coffee project initiated in Boaco was highly successful, and by the turn of the millennium, there were already 799 coffee farmers involved. The incomes of the coffee farmers tripled during the course of the project. The significance of the project also highlighted the identity of those within rural communities: instead of being recipients of aid, participants now saw themselves as skilled and capable entrepreneurs.
As we entered the 21st century, we narrowed down our work to two mutually reinforcing themes: gender equality and improving livelihoods. These themes aligned well with our efforts in Nicaragua, where we had been involved in various projects related to sustainable agriculture and the prevention of violence against women. Throughout the decade, we particularly supported the livelihoods of rural villages and communities by strengthening the position of small entrepreneurs, for example.
In the 2000s, our operations also faced challenges. During President Daniel Ortega’s era, the activities of non-governmental organizations, especially women’s organizations, were restricted. Gender inequality was evident in other ways in society as well; for example, family and sexual violence were still widely accepted. Changing the societal attitudes required considerable effort.
The 2010s in Nicaragua were marked by ongoing political challenges and the impacts of the climate crisis.
Despite the challenges, we continued our work to eradicate gender-based violence – and rightfully so, as according to the UN’s assessment in the early 2010s, over one-fifth of women aged 5–49 in Nicaragua had experienced physical or sexual violence in their relationships. Gender equality education was widely disseminated to both women and men. Additionally, some received training to act as support persons for women who had experienced violence.
The deepened societal and political crisis in 2018 left its mark, especially on the lives of handicraft entrepreneurs. Due to the country’s unstable conditions, its major market, tourism, suffered significantly. In 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the economic downturn, further affecting the livelihoods of artisans.
In response to the deteriorating situation, we started looking for new, alternative markets for Nicaraguan handicraft products. In the Manos Nicas (“Nicaraguan Hands”) project launched in 2016, the brand for various crafts, such as ceramic items, baskets, and bags, was developed to be suitable for broader markets
In the late 2010s, Nicaragua experienced exceptionally low rainfall. The combined impact of the economic crisis and climate factors particularly undermined the ability of small and medium-sized farmers and livestock breeders to engage in profitable agriculture.
However, assistance in this challenging situation came from Solidarity’s climate resilience project. Thanks to the project, participating producers learned how to better plan their activities and respond to the challenges posed by climate factors. The project supported the climate resilience of nearly 400 agricultural enterprises.
Our work in Nicaragua, which lasted for nearly forty years, came to an end in November 2021. Around the time of the conclusion of our work, especially the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic complicated the outlook for the future. Nevertheless, the results inspire confidence for the future: by the end of the climate resilience project, the incomes of production systems had increased by almost a third.
Thanks to our projects, the income levels of the women who participated, in particular, have permanently risen. The Manos Nicas project has grown into a stable business during our work, with sales experiencing significant growth and local public figures also collaborating with the enterprise.
Our work has also made an impact on gender equality. Although traditional attitudes regarding the roles of men and women persist, the discourse on violence has become more open, especially among the youth.
“Women think they are weak. In training sessions, they realize they are not alone. Women are amazed to hear that they have the right to take care of themselves and be happy,” says Ingrid Soza, a local trainer for Solidarity, emphasizing the significance of education aimed at combating gender-based violence.
The International Solidarity Foundation works for women’s rights in East Africa.
We are experts in the field of combating violence and mutilation against women, as well as promoting livelihoods.
But we can’t do this alone: we need new committed supporters by our side.