Tuesday 31 December 2013

ICS Raleigh International: 13X Week 1 to 5

 Charlie 1 - Natural Resource Management Project

Week 1 

Pre-Project Induction

It's a two hour flight to Managua from Miami, we fly in the midst of a thunder and lightening storm and land in Nicaragua, all of us a little ragged from the 15+ hour journey. After a night's stay at Ipade Hostel, we board a school-bus for a three hour transfer to Esteli, where we begin our 3 day induction into our ICS placement. 

Cuallitlan Hotel - Induction Location
It's a quirky, cosy and characteristic hotel setting, where our first induction day consists of: 
  • A cultural awareness presentation
  • 1:1 medicals
  • A brief history of Nicaragua
  • 6 project briefings
  • Raleigh ice-breakers!
It's my first full day in Nicaragua and I genuinely feel settled and happy to be on the ICS programme with Raleigh. The induction helped to ease any previous doubts or worries I had before departure and the fellow volunteers I'd met so far have been lovely. 
We were given the option to choose our team leaders after the 6 project briefings. I chose not to express a preference, as all the projects sounded equally rewarding. 

The morning after, all the Raleigh volunteers were buzzing with energy and anticipation. We were given the task to 'hunt' our new team leaders, all of whom were scattered within the grounds of the hotel. I find out I'm placed in Charlie 1! A team I grew to love and appreciate after 10 weeks together in El Cacao.

Charlie 1!
Our project focus was 'Natural Resource Management - Climate Change Mitigation' with tasks such as extending the water system, producing vegetable plots and eco-ovens and forming Womens/Youth groups. After we all divided into our 6 project groups (called Charlies), we continued our induction with a safety & First-Aid presentation, a visit to Esteli town and a dance evening!

 On our last induction day, we took the bus straight down to the riverside in order to practise using tools safely, how to cross a river and how to perform a team 'casevac' (casualty evacuation: taking an injured team member on a make-shift stretcher to a safe location!). 

Fiery, little red army ants 
at our practise site
Picturesque river crossings
 We close the final day with a classic 'Charlie vs Charlie' challenge! Each task involved teamworking whether solving a logical puzzle or a physical feat. With just 1 - 2 days together, we were thrown straight into the task, attempting to teamwork amongst 14 others in our group. 

The evening closed with a slideshow of pictures and the announcement of the CvsC winning team....Charlie 1! I felt a genuine burst of happiness and pride, having secured such a early victory in the induction phase. 

Introduction to our Community

It's a four hour, mountainous drive to our community, El Cacao, in Achuapa. There is a small crowd awaiting our arrival and a welcome speech is made.

Ben, Ana and I are placed together in a household. As we gather our belongings, we realise that we are staying in the same house as Yamil and Naomi. We become fondly known as 'the house of 5' and we spend our first day playing frisbee with the kids in the monsoon rainfall and conversing with our new host family (our host dad, Jader, was an ex-Raleigh volunteer!). 

My new room

Casa de Cinco! (Naomi, Yamil, Ana, 
Me, Ben and our host mum, Patricia)

Week 2

Our first week was spent integrating as a team and within the community. 

(Green: Team activities, Red: Activities with the community
Blue: Volunteer Duties)
  • We wrote up and brain stormed team rules.
  • Designed a map of the local community, showing all the homestay locations for Raleigh HQ.
  • A visit from another Raleigh group, Charlie II. 
  • A trip to the river with the locals.
  • Macheted and cleared an overgrown football pitch with the help of the locals (3 - 4 days to complete due to monsoon rainfall).
  • Planned the first Women's group meeting. 

Trip to the river with local youths 
A snake outside the community centre!

Clearing the football pitch!
The bonds grew quickly and there was a great sense of community spirit as we macheted and cleared the football pitch together. Our project began falling into motion as we established mini committees for planning the Womens and Youth group meetings. 

However, 8th October marked the day when I fell sick with terrible stomach cramps and traveller's diarrhoea. I wasn't the only one, with nearly every British team member down with the same symptoms or unexplained fevers. Looking back, I found this the most difficult time during my ICS placement. The illness lasted eight days for me, where it became a repetitive and draining cycle of toilet trips, lack of appetite and lack of energy. I was dehydrated and frustrated at feeling lethargic. Rocky, our team leader, reminded us that this was the most difficult time of our project: adjusting.
Regardless of illnesses, we gave it our all with our team member numbers varying on each day. On the 11th October, we celebrated Emma's birthday and planned the day for Charlie two's visit to our community. 

After door to door invitations, the turn out to our first women's meeting was incredibly high with over 50 attendees! We gave out refreshments to the women and elected a committee leader for each sector of the community.

Women's Meeting

Week 3 

Week 3 marks feeling at home in El Cacao and momentum for the project with most of us recovered from illnesses. 

(Blue: Volunteer Duties, Red: Activities with the community, Green: Team activities)
  • The clearing of the overgrown plants outside the community centre.
  • The start of water infrastructure work (digging trenches: 7:00am - 12:00pm).
  • Environmental youth film night.
  • Translation of water manual and formulation of waterworks map.
  • CAPS meeting (Water committee) and Womens Meeting.
  • x2 school sessions on conservation and environmental issues.
  • Trek to a coffee plantation.
  • A visit from a Raleigh staff member, Pedro. 
  • Trip to the local town, Achuapa. 

I feel week 3 is the time we all felt fully settled as a team, with our host families and in our new community. I drew joy from the everyday encounters, from holding a baby chick within the palm of my hand, to bonding with the children through playing games and providing impromptu English lessons. 

There was one afternoon where I sat beneath the community tree with two girls. Tatiana found 5 pesos (UK equivalent of 15p) on the ground. She was overjoyed with her luck. She skipped to the shops and purchased three lollypops, graciously handing me one with a smile and another to her friend. It is within these small moments we encounter compassion, empathy and genuine selflessness. 
I loved how such a small but significant act demonstrates utter humility. I think of the UK. There is a stark difference in wealth, I wonder if we would act in the same manner. If I or a friend found £5.00 on the floor, would we share it? 
We make these conscious decisions everyday and I feel that the exposure to these random acts of kindness upon my travels makes me thrive to be more and more loving as an individual. 

The Start of Water Infrastructure Work 

Day 17 marks the beginning of the water infrastructure work. On the previous day, we trekked together as a team to the old Raleigh built water system. I was bitten by a lot of bugs but the setting was incredibly beautiful: a concreted water source amongst hummingbirds, trees with dappled sunlight, trickling streams and rocky rivers.
From that day onwards, we dug for up to five hours each morning, working in collaboration with the locals. We split into small groups of 3 - 4 Raleigh volunteers plus 3 - 4 local volunteers, digging at different sites in order to lay down pipes to extend the water system.


Excluding Sunday, we dug everyday for the following 8 days. The trenches had to be a minimum of 50cm deep. Digging in the Nicaraguan sun can be really tough. I had small blisters beneath my fingers and I felt a constant, unquenchable thirst as I worked. Although the mornings were difficult, we worked together as a team. There was a strong group spirit and feeling fatigued after work was often cured by a long bucket shower and a hearty portion of rice and beans! 

Rice and beans really grew on me after the first week! 

It was monsoon season. Some evenings we spent as a team playing cards together, listening to music and having mini review meetings. The night storms were hauntingly beautiful, with claps of thunder and lightening across a expanse of glowing, moving stars. 

We became a Charlie One Family, working together and living together. I cooked tuna mayo pasta (Naomi brought ingredients!) with Ana as a little treat. We devised a little initiation for a visiting staff member, Pedro, which involved catching chickens and eating choco-bananas. Karen made a improvised condense milk & biscuit cake for Alnufo, after he kept his birthday a secret. We trekked together as a team to a local coffee plantation, on our day off on Sunday. 
During one lunchtime, Chama arranged a surprise 'rain circle'. Arm and arm with each other, we spent the time reflecting on our time in the community and giving each other appreciations. We were in the forest, utterly drenched in the monsoon rainfall. It was a wonderfully unique moment. We were given the opportunity to envisage our goals and feel and listen to our thoughts. 

Alnufo's Birthday 

Visit from Pedro! 

The final days of Phase 1 flew by. We were delivered a lovely food package from the Co-operative consisting of fruit and veg. There was a full community house for the youth environment themed film night, and as a team we greatly anticipated 'Changeover'. Changeover is a 2 - 3 day break away from the project site, at a Nicaraguan city. The time is normally spent reflecting on the project work, meeting up with the other volunteer groups and free-time to explore the town. Our first changeover was in Esteli in Northern Nicaragua.  

Week 4

  • 2 - 3 day Changeover in Esteli (Myers Briggs and Action at Home presentation, x3 Charlie vs Charlie challenges: video-making, a team presentation and a dance-off. 
  • Finished water infrastructure work!
  • Community House Action Day 
  • x1 Womens Meeting and x2 Environmental School Sessions
  • Film night: screening of Arizona
  • Eli and Yahoska (Raleigh staff members), visited our team. 
         (Purple: Changeover,Blue: Volunteer Duties, Green: Team activities)

Phase 1 Changeover

Our bus breaks down on the way to over to Esteli, just twenty minutes away from the city. We all go a little crazy! (fun crazy).

Ana my homestay sister and her 'baby' whilst we wait for another bus
It's lovely reuniting with the other teams. We exchange little anecdotes, catch up with friends and we spend the first day exploring Esteli town and succumbing to 3 weeks worth of cravings such as fruit smoothies, chocolates and internet communication to the outside world.
The evening is spent comprising a team presentation to show to the rest of the group what we've been up to in our communities.

On our second day of changeover, we spend the morning together as a team producing a video for the topic 'How to play Ninja'. Ninja is a famous Raleigh 'energizer' that we played throughout the 10 weeks. The video task helped to equip us with the skills to make a project video in the next phase. The penultimate evening closes with a Charlie vs Charlie dance off competition!

Charlie 1 dance off winners! :)

Back to El Cacao (Phase 2)

It's a restful Sunday on our first day back in El Cacao. A change of environment can be incredibly stimulating, I feel renewed and content to be back and I realise that El Cacao feels like home to me. I spend the day at Mark's house with Emma, Karen and Chama where Mark prepares a lovely meal for us all.

It's back to digging the following day. We've now dug the majority of trenches for the pipework. Day 29 is when Daibelis and I install our first tap for a neighbouring house.

 As Mark and I are sticking up posters advertising the community events, we hear a rumble and bump into Eli and Yahoska driving into the community. We spend the afternoon cooking together as a team, preparing a group banquet and laying out a long table for the 17 of us to eat together. 

Home-made mud candle holders!
(Made by Yamil + kids) 

Chloe, Laxmi, Karen and Ana prepared a delicious chilli & basil pasta served with soft, floury tortillas and garlic oil. We spend the evening conversing as a team with Eli and Yahoska and finish with dinner party antics such as the cereal box game and charades. 

A month has now passed. We have all gelled together incredibly well and there is a powerful group calibre. We stand with our arms round each other. We make 'massage chains'. We buy each other treats, make hair braids and organise film nights. Yes, there are food cravings and the infrastructure work is hard but it makes me appreciate the little treats even more. From a make-shift powdered oreo 'milkshake' with Mark to watching World War Z with the team, there is so much joy to be had from these little moments we have together as a team. 

Community Action day - 1st November 

Work-wise, we organised a Community Action Day. New, electrical lights were installed in the community centre and we repainted the entire inside of the building with the help of the local people. The walls turned from a washed-out, unpainted grey to a bright yellow with a dark green stripe running parallel to the floor. 

My host brother
with the new tap at
 our house.

We finish off all the water piping and tap installations this week. There is just work at the water source to finish off the extension. Water access in the community has now increased from 28 to 45 houses and we installed a total of 2275 metres of additional piping.


Week 5

  • Community Sports Day with the youth.
  • House to house Surveys for next project phase: Organic vegetable plots.
  • Made first vegetable plot.
  • Women's Meeting and CAPS meeting (Water committee).
  • Team Bonfire.
  • A visit from Dan and other ICS staff from London.
  • Trip to Achuapa.

(Red: Activities with the community, Blue: Volunteer Duties, Green: Team activities)

We spend our Sunday afternoon on the newly cleared football field, playing football and volleyball with the local youths. 
Our new week of work started with house to house surveys across all five sectors: La Mora, El Cacao, California, Los Carbones and El Pacon. We covered 74 households in total in order to comprise a list of families who wanted organic vegetable plots/eco-ovens.

We were midway through our placement, and tensions did begin to arise in our team. There were poor dynamics such as team members coming late to the morning meetings, people finishing work early without informing the leaders and not following instructions. We had a evening meeting with our team leader's in order to address this and the problems were attributed to lack of motivation and a lack of free time in the work day. The meeting was a gentle reminder about respecting each other by working well and our overall goal of being in Nicaragua with ICS to make a difference.

It's a week of strange health ailments for me. My toenail fell off in the shower (it's been purple since a long walk I did) and the random appearance of dark red/brown marks on my legs and that didn't disappear for the rest of my time in Nicaragua. Regardless of this, Chloe, Alnufo, Mark, Daibelis and I produced the team's first vegetable plot in El Pacon
We were welcomed warmly into the household. Half way through working, the mother invited us in and presented us with sour cream, tortillas, cuajada and warm cinnamon milk.


Our project video was on Vegetable plots and how to construct them, the video we made can be watched here:

It's a bit of a uncomfortable week. There was no water due to the construction at the water source, and the alternative shower block was quite exposed with short walls, nearby a busy path. 
We spend the afternoon preparing a vegetable curry for Dan and Ross's visit. Luke prepared a presentation to sum up everything we've been doing for the past month. We wrap up the evening with another classic Charlie 1 group banquet and a dinner quiz.  

Chloe making use of the opportunity to shower
at a house where we finished a vegetable plot!

Round up

  • The 3 Raleigh/ICS objectives are project impact, volunteer personal development and the creation of active global citizens. This is done through: 1) Action Research, 2) Peer to Peer Education, 3) Training, 4) Awareness Raising, 5) Infrastructure and 6) Resources.
  • A summary of our activities from 1st October - 9th November: We completed all the water extension (Infrastructure), held a Community Action Day (Awareness Raising), re-painted and installed electricity in the community centre (Infrastructure), established a Women's/Youth Group and planned meetings (Peer to Peer Education), held 5+ school sessions on health/hygiene/environmental topics (Peer to Peer Education), Completed 74 house to house surveys (Action Research), produced a water system map and a translated water manual for the CAPS committee (Resources), organised a vegetable plot and compost training with the local co-operative (Training) and showed videos and hosted information meetings with the CAPS committee (Training).  
  • Rest and relaxation activities included: a trek to a coffee plantation, swimming in the river, film nights, 2 group dinner nights, 2 town trips to Achuapa and a team bonfire.
  • 8 Raleigh/ICS Staff members visited us: Eli, Yahoska, Pedro, Ross, Dan, Sarah, David and a photographer. 
  • x1 snake encounter and x1 scorpion encounter (both in the community house).
  • x1 poisonous caterpillar in Yamil's bed.
  • x1 'adopted' pet in Casa de Cinco - hero cat! (we named it hero cat after it ate a cockroach that was about to crawl into Naomi's bed in the middle of the night).
  • It's £800 to fundraise for a 10 - 12 week placement, go to: http://www.volunteerics.org/ for more information and to apply for the scheme.
  • To read part 2 of ICS blog go to: http://days-of-adventure.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/ics-raleigh-international-13x-charlie.html  
El Cacao
Hero Cat 


  1. This is brilliant, thank you for keeping such a detailed log of what you did :) I'm leaving on the 6th of Feb to Nicaragua and I'm really nervous! This helped a lot x

    1. Don't worry, I was nervous too! Everyones in the same boat before they go, you'll have a wonderful & unforgettable time, it's a really humbling and eye-opening experience and Nicaragua is a beautiful place to be.

  2. Brilliant blog, thanks for sharing! Gave a great insight into life as an ICS/Raleigh volunteer :)