Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nicaragua Trip - Part II

The team

February 23
The Young Life Nicaragua ‘La Finca’ camp here, like every other Young Life camp in the world – including Woodleaf, the Young Life camp I both attended as a kid and worked at many times in High School – focuses on reaching kids for Christ through living out in nature, having lots of fun and exciting activities, and introducing them to God in a low pressure but compelling way.
But something else we’re learning about on this project is…coffee! With 150 acres here at the camp, and at an elevation of 4800 feet, growing coffee has become a major part of running and funding the camp. It’s a great model for ministry – using the resources of the ground, with local labor, to help pay for local kids to come to camp. But first, a bit about all they’ve taught us here about coffee. (And yes, this really was the trip I was ‘randomly’ assigned to! ;) )
The finished product - available online from Young Life.
Coffee was first discovered in the 10th century in Ethiopia. Today, only oil is a more commonly traded commodity than coffee. Here in Nicaragua, coffee is the number one export.
Coffee grows well in relatively high elevations of tropical climates, where mild and warmer days cede to cooler nights. The cold nights are key – the coffee ‘cherries’ that house the beans mature slower when the nights are cold, allowing the sugars to develop and enhancing the flavor.
Ultimately, Young Life Nicaragua views coffee as a way to reach kids with the gospel. Each plant produces 2 pounds of coffee each season – enough to send a kid to camp for a day. Since they see many of their campers make decisions to start following Jesus during camp, they look at their plants as representing a kid entering the Kingdom of God each year.
In addition, their coffee operation is a ministry to the workers – on average, they pay their coffee laborers 25-35% more than the average wage in Nicaragua. In an age where Western supported mission is being scrutinized heavily by even the West itself, it’s exciting to see a ministry get creative in supporting themselves, and finding a way to expand their ministry impact as well to include building a labor force that finds deeper meaning in their work.
Freshly hand-picked coffee 'cherries'
being sorted on the La Finca site.
The end of the wastewater treatment for the water used in
the coffee bean processing.
The roaster...conveniently located in our work room!
Two of the wives on the team got to help package.
The coffee 'station' in the Dining Hall, made available to our
team pretty much anytime, day or night. Since the roaster was
in our workroom, we could only take so much of the glorious
smell before heading over to use one of these presses.
February 24
Today we finally got down to the business of the trip. As it turned out, I found myself starting the day doing hand calculations for determining the seismic loads on the bridge (think ‘Southern California’ as far as Nicaragua’s seismic potential), and ending the day spending several hours drawing the structural details for the bridge.
Getting the low-down on bridge options.
Surveying across the drained pond to locate the new bridge.
The soils engineer got some help from a couple Nicaraguans
to dig a soil test pit.
The drained pond.
Since as a trip leader I’m normally coordinating all the different disciplines on an EMI team, it was an unusual day to spend simply calculating and drawing! On this trip though, I’m here to ‘shadow’ the trip leader, Jon Burgi, since it’s just his second project trip. EMI trains trip leaders by having them co-lead on two trips – the first one they shadow an experienced EMI trip leader, and the second one another trip leader shadows them. Consequently, Jon is leading this trip with me along to just help out as needed.

Jon Burgi and I, ready to depart from the Colorado Springs airport.
Jon is also going to become our Latin America office Director once that office launches. After this project trip ends, the rest of the Latin America team is traveling down to confirm the presumed decision we’ve made to locate our future office here in Nicaragua.
Meeting about the bridge design - selecting the right kind of
bridge took us two days.
The bridge design team - 3 structurals and a geotech.
The architectural team - they worked on a completely different
project for the camp while we were there. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Nicaragua Trip - Part I


Saturday, February 21
Off to a project trip again! It’s been just over a year since my last actual project trip (the trip to Egypt in late September wasn’t a project). At 8 days, this will be one of my shortest trips, which I have to say is nice. I’m still not a traveler at heart.
The team in Houston - waiting for the flight to Managua.
Some notable points on the trip down:
·         Leaving Colorado Springs, once again I’ll miss a major weather event as the largest snowstorm of the season is bearing down on us. Fortunately, and against initial predictions, the storm isn’t expected to hit until about 6 hours after we fly out.
·         Flying through Houston, this trip not only marks my first time in Latin America, it’s also my first time “in” Texas. The Houston airport strikes me as a bit of patchwork. Since there’s room, it seems they’ve just added bits on as needed.
·         Flight time on this trip wins the prize – 1 hour 40 minutes to Houston, and 2 hours 40 minutes to Managua. Added together, it’s not even halfway to Europe, let alone Africa! I slept 80% of both flights!
On approach, landing in Managua.
·         On the flight to Managua, I sat next to some young guys who looked older than the college frat-boy conversations they had. It seemed they were on a ‘Spring Break’ type of trip, and every thought that comes to mind with that applied to these guys. I put in ear plugs and slept through most of it, but with their loud and inappropriate joking and foul language, it made me sad to think that the Nicaraguan people were about to be subjected to these guys and their drunken shenanigans (the flight attendants eventually cut them off of alcohol). They were polite to me, but I’m sure the image of America will be tarnished for some in the days ahead.
·         Driving through Nicaragua on the 3 hour bus ride from the airport in Managua up to the Young Life camp, I was struck at how familiar it felt despite being my first time in Latin America. It seems that Africa and Latin America have a lot of similarities.

The bus that drove us up into the mountains, 3 hours to the camp.
It had been a long time since I'd been on an old yellow thing of
beauty like this.
On the way up into the mountains - a little drier than I was
expecting, though up in the higher mountains it got wet and green.
February 22

We drove into the nearby ‘city’ of Matagalpa for church this morning. It was such a quaint town – clean, and with lots of charm that made me want to retire there! It’s the kind of city that, though it has over 100,000 people, it feels more like a town of 10,000 people.
Team selfie, on the way to church.
The singing/music time was fun - same songs, just in a different
The service was nice, and typical for most local churches we visit on trips – 2 1/2 hours long and a good cultural experience. The pastor was a likable Nicaraguan man, and at one point they stopped the service while some of the deacons and hosts walked around so everyone could say a verse they had memorized to them. I chose to recite Psalm 25:4,5 – my favorite verses.
After church we ate a nice pizza lunch, and returned up into the mountains 45 minutes to the camp. 
Good pizza.

Some of the team, doing their best album cover.

Matagalpa - such a quaint little mountain town. You'd never
guess 100,000 people live there.
A festival happened to be going on that day, so downtown was
an active place. 
Time to start the design!
This is a unique trip in scope – we have 3 purposes for being here:
1) Help design a bridge for the camp that crosses the man-made lake to access a new Dining Hall they’re building.
2) To do a flood and sediment mitigation study and propose a plan for channeling runoff from the rains.
3) To do a 3-dimensional architectural model for the camp, and come up with a plan for altering the movement of people and create a core, campus gathering area to give the campus a less disjointed feel.

Another non-profit, bridges for prosperity, sent a representative to meet with us as we’re considering using their suspension bridge design as a basis. Their design is more of a cookie-cutter bridge and ultimately won’t work as prescribed for the camp, so either way we’ll have to redesign what they do. After meeting and talking, it seems that we’ll probably have to come up with a design ourselves as their suspension bridge may not work given the site constraints.

A good evening devotion and worship time ended the day. So fun to connect as a team in this way each day – it’s one of my favorite parts of EMI trips.
The creek and flood plain between the camp and the new
dining hall is to blame for a bridge being needed.
The new Dining Hall beyond, under construction.