Ill start with a bit of background on Fundacion Fenix. Maria (the executive director) began the foundation after having developed her own “D.A.R.E.” type program here in Nicaragua. She would (and continues to) go to schools and teach teachers how to give the program to their students. While she and the director Karla continue to go do this, their primary focus is direct intervention. With the aid of the police they target gangs and working directly with the parents hold an intervention and invite the youths to come to foundation to learn a trade (currently they offer mechanics and woodworking) at no cost. On Friday we held an intervention in Zona 6 of Ciudad Sandino where we were able to talk to 20 plus youths and got them interested in the foundation. We hope that they will pass the word to their friends bringing more youths to the foundation but its hard to say how many will even show up. Another program offered through the foundation is microenterprise, they (specifically Karla) teach willing students how to farm, organically of course, and allow them their own plot of land on the property. Currently the students are growing pipian, a vegetable that outwardly resembles a white eggplant but on the inside is a similar to a squash.
The foundation is able to sustain itself financially through 40% donations and 60% they earn directly through the sales of produce, some grown directly on the foundations site. The way it works is we go to the Mercado Orientel (the largest market in Central America and easily the most dangerous place in Nicaragua) and buy bulk produce for very cheap. We then clean and package the produce at the foundation and then sell it to the grocery stores. What produce we can grow and sell we do but currently it’s the dry season so not much is growing. We are in the process of building a second better greenhouse, provided by a grant, where we plan to grow pipian. This past week we planted the seeds in rich soil flats so that they should be ready to be transferred into the greenhouse when it is finished.
Part of my work while I am here is to increase the percentage of income generated through produce sales by expanding their market. Currently they have produce stands with signage in 2 supermarkets, one in Managua and one in Leon. We hope to expand into the supermarkets of the neighboring cities of Masaya and Tipitapa. All of the supermarkets are owned by the National Police. This is a weird concept for me but apparently it exists in the US, Miami for example, but I am not familiar with practice. There are not many supermarkets here. There is Pali , which is a Walmart auxiliary and there is La Colonia which is owned by one of the 4 super-rich families, who in essence own Nicaragua. Fenix has opted not to involve themself with Pali, which I completely agree with and as for La Colonia their standards for produce are unrealistic for organically farmed products. We are happy to expand our relationship with the supermarkets of the police because it furthers this healthy system of reciprocity between our organizations and in turn it secures a loyal market.
I am absolutely loving it. I really enjoy packing the products or making the deliveries though this is only a very small part of my work and is not why they wanted a skilled intern. In the very near future I am going to be teaching 2 classes a day of basic English. Prior to my arrival I was really adamant about not wanting to teach English but after discussing it with Karla she made me realize that just being able to say “Hello” will offer these youths more opportunity and pay in the job market. I am a bit nervous but I know it will be good. Other work I will be doing with Fenix includes increased outreach with the police about the Fenix’s work with the intention that it will increase our sales and soliciting donations to expand the types of vocational training we currently offer. The next three months are going to full of a lot of work but Im confident, and most importantly happy.