In August 2014, GRID Alternatives led a trip to Nicaragua with volunteers to install an off-grid photovoltaic system on a primary school in the community of Los Encuentros (“Meeting Place” in Spanish). Los Encuentros is quaint town tucked away deep in the foothills of the mountains of Matagalpa where there is no road access. One must walk a narrow, winding footpath 45 minutes from the main dirt road.
The community consists of 36 houses, some clustered around the school, and others about 20 minutes walking distance from each other. The main economic activity in the community is agriculture however, there are a number of families who make a living raising cattle and tanning cow hides to prepare leather to be sold and made into leather goods at the local market in Darío.
The school consists of three classrooms and was built in 1997 by the Nicaraguan government. There are a total of 81 students (preschool through sixth grade), three primary school teachers and one preschool teacher. Families in Los Encuentros use kerosene lamps in their homes to see at night. Although cell phone service is poor in the area, there are 12 cell phones in the community.
The Los Encuentros school had a small 100W PV system that was donated three years ago by the Ministry of Education to allow the community to offer adult literacy classes in the evenings. However, the community did not receive any training on system maintenance so the system no longer worked. GRID Alternatives upgraded the PV system to a 1.38kW system that will provide the school with AC electricity. Members of Los Encuentros agree that given the large student population and the growing needs of the community, the school will greatly benefit from having a larger system. The photovoltaic system will provide not only lights for the school but would serve as a central charging place for cell phones and other appliances. The community is excited to be partnering with GRID Alternatives on this project.
Tourism and Cultural Activities:
Volunteers also had the chance to visit the colonial city of Granada, the first city in the New World, established in 1524. During this time of year, the annual festival of the patron saint of Granada, Virgen de la Asunción, takes place. Processions fill the street with colorful flowers, decorations and fireworks. August 15th was the “hipico”, a parade of horses with cowboys dressed to impress. The Friday preceding the hipico is the “tope de torros” or running of the bulls, where men and boys dress up in red and are chased by bulls in the street, similar to the Spanish tradition. While in the community of Los Encuentros, volunteers participated in cultural activities like learning how to make artisanal leather goods and tortillas. Click here to see the trip photo album.