NEW ULM - In the fall of 2009, Luke and Stephanie Pekrul relocated to Nicaragua with the intention of helping isolated communities build sustainable livelihoods.
Two and half years - and two and "a half" children - later, the couple, son and daughter-in-law of New Ulm residents Bill and Peggy Pekrul, have expanded their work in the central American country.
Through a non-profit organization, Nuevas Esperanzas, the Pekruls serve rural communities nestled in the volcanic slopes in the west, from a base in the historic city of Len.
Planting tomato gardens and bee keeping are two new livelihoods promoted by Nuevas Esperanzas, to diversify local families’ income. Here, Nicaraguan women and children are pictured in their new tomato garden.
Over the past year, the organization has continued its work in several directions:
It has provided assistance for local people to plant family gardens, enriching the family diet and even diversifying the income stream for some families. A few successful gardeners have shown that tomatoes can supplement the traditional staple, beans, providing a crop to sell at market. Family gardens have also helped to challenge stereotypes about women's role in the home by helping them become bread winners; a priority identified by local women, said Luke Pekrul.
The group has also helped train bee keepers. Participation in that program has expanded, and some of the honey will be exported, thanks to a development worker's contacts, at two delicatessens in Britain.
In the past year, Nuevas Esperanzas also helped build a water distribution system in a municipality near its area of operation, upon the mayor's office request. The impetus was the discovery of naturally occurring arsenic in water sources. After the community's water well was shut down, Nuevas Esperanzas helped design a sustainable solution: a gravity-fed system channeling water from a hillside spring.
The group is engaged in a health study, mapping out the area of arsenic contamination and holding health clinics to determine the health impacts in affected communities, working with medical experts in Managua and reporting results to the World Health Organization.
It also built yet another water storage tank to harvest rain water in its own area of operation.
A volcanic eruption in May and heavy rains in October affected the organization's work.
To help deal with a potential crisis as a result of the volcano activity, and being closely connected with local communities, Nuevas Esperanzas put together contingency evacuation plans.
In October, volcanic gases mixed with heavy rainfall to cause acid rain, and some 60 percent of bean crops were lost. The group joined forces with other non-governmental organizations to help with some food aid distribution. The emergency lent further validity to efforts to diversify the local food supply, noted Pekrul.
In the upcoming year, the organization will expand its work in building water tanks, latrines and roads, and encouraging family gardens and bee keeping.
It will also stress a self-advocacy project in health, combating rural stereotypes and better connecting people to the national public health system.
The group will continue its reliance on Nicaraguan specialists (civil and agricultural engineers, etc.), with Luke Pekrul focusing on training Nicaraguan staff in project management. He will also continue to work on grant writing and connecting with outside donors. Stephanie Pekrul will remain involved in fund raising and book keeping.
The couple retain their long-term commitment to Nicaragua, said Pekrul.
The Pekruls' oldest son, now almost three, begins pre-school in March; and a new baby is expected to join him and his one-and-a-half-year-old brother.
To learn more about Nuevaz Esperanzas, visit nuevasesperanzas.com/.