Category Archives: Waslalan Economy

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By Justin Knabb, Director of Development

It is with great pleasure that I present our first ever Annual Report… hot off the press!  To download a copy to your computer, tablet, etc, you can click here.

Since Water for Waslala started almost 8 years ago, we’ve focused the bulk of our efforts on the most critical work at hand– the construction of cost-effective, sustainable water systems for the people of Waslala.  That important cause remains our focus, of course, but this year we’ve resolved to step up the ways we bring this remarkable place — Waslala — into the lives of our donors and support base.

We feel that an Annual Report filled with hi-res photos, key stats, and narratives would be an ideal way to do just that.

Our report can give you a better sense of the complexity of this development work.  It’s so much more than simply digging trenches for PVC pipe.  Our work also involves community organization, health and hygiene workshops, reforestation initiatives, and many technical partnerships (just to name a few).  Our work is ever evolving; in this report we tell you about the household filter pilot project we launched recently to bring clean water to the most remote areas of Waslala.  In our report, we provide some background on our leadership team, our story, our financial position and much more.

Special thanks to Matt Nespoli, WfW’s Founder and Executive Director, and Avi Loewenstein, WfW’s Director of Corporate Governance, for the many long hours they put into creating this report.  And thanks to our many other board members and contributors for helping to make this report a reality.

We hope you enjoy reading through it as much as our team takes pride in serving the wonderful people of Waslala, Nicaragua.

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Getting around in Waslala is not quite like getting around on an underground subway system or 6-lane paved highway that people may be accustomed to in the United States or other developed country.

Let’s take the community of El Guabo as an example, where we have just broke ground to build Water for Waslala’s next community water system.

El Guabo is close enough to central Waslala that you could almost call it suburb, especially as the town’s population continues to sprawl. However, between Waslala and El Guabo lies a monster of a hill that can be a bit tricky to climb over for the retired Magic School Buses that serve as the primary mode of transportation between Waslala, El Guabo, and all points beyond. Just recently, after a heavy rainstorm, I saw a bus stop at the base of the hill to apply chains to the tires so that it could have enough traction to reach the summit. And the last time I was in El Guabo, I watched the bus crawl most of the way up the hill… huffin’ and puffin’ black diesel fumes like the Little Engine that Usta-Could… only to stall, back down again to the base, unload half of its passengers, and then try it again (still full enough to be considered standing-room only in other parts of the world).

Although El Guabo lies no more than a stone’s throw from town, the hustle-and-bustle of central Waslala and the lonesome tranquility of El Guabo are distinct realities. Their location just between town and country makes for a world of contrasts for its citizens. An electricity grid has not yet been developed in El Guabo (or at least the bulk of the community). Yet, folks in El Guabo earn a hard but dignified living off the land– an option that a lot of people in town don’t have. And, as readers of this blog already know, the people of El Guabo don’t yet have reasonable access to a reliable, clean source of drinking water.

The heartiness and motivation of the people in this unique village have made for an auspicious start to the project, even before a single pipe or bag of cement has arrived in the community. Over the past couple of days, the community brigades have been busy at work, excavating at the water source, hauling sand and rocks, and making preparations for when the group of Villanova engineering students to arrive this week. And we will really kick things off with the construction of the intake works.

I have a feeling that the mutual enthusiasm of the arriving students and that of the community will be self-reinforcing, and together, we’ll build not only the heart of the water system, but hopefully some kinship between two communities that are slightly more distant apart than central Waslala and El Guabo.

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By Matt Nespoli, President & Founder of Water for Waslala

One of the first concepts taught in Economics class is that markets function most effectively when there is a high level of competition, which puts downward pressure on prices and fosters quality and innovation. Conversely, markets fail when an individual or firm monopolizes the production of a certain good or service, and can therefore raise prices and reduce quality without losing customers.

Yesterday Nora and I learned of a great example of market failure in Waslala that is negatively affecting our bottom line on the ground.  If you want to design or build something in Waslala – a building, a bridge, a water system, etc – there are only two qualified engineers living in the area that know how to produce the requisite engineering design drawings. Therefore, these engineers can charge increasingly exorbitant consulting fees with impunity. And because there are many international development projects occurring in Waslala, these two engineers are free to select only the most lucrative projects to work on.

The same is true of general contractors, who actually construct the buildings, bridges, water systems, etc. Because there is so much demand for this specialized labor among international aid agencies, the few contractors working in Waslala can bid up their prices, to the chagrin of small organizations like WfW.

The lack of qualified engineering specialists in Waslala, coupled with the growing number of internationally-funded projects in Waslala, is creating a difficult situation for us. If we continue to use local labor in designing and building our systems, the costs of our projects will skyrocket – think $50 to $100 to supply one Waslalan with clean water, instead of $25. However, if we decide to rely more on US volunteers, such as the Villanova Engineering Department, to design and help construct the systems, we would forgo the local, on-the-ground presence that is critical to ensuring that projects are designed to best meet the community’s needs.

What is our solution? In the interim, we’ll likely continue to use our local resources to construct the projects in our 2010 pipeline. But as we look to the future, we’ll need to think of another solution to overcome the failures in the high-skilled labor market in Waslala.

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By Meaghan Gruber, Water for Waslala Field Manager in Waslala, Nicaragua

I have spent the past year here in Waslala and have missed most of the economic downturn in the US…..the challenges of finding a job, and keeping a job, the government’s intent to help stimulate the economy, etc. Here in Waslala the economy has always been a discussion.  The people of Waslala live in poverty and many in the communities in extreme poverty without access to health care, education, clean water, clothing, or sometimes even food.

Recently I was traveling back on the bus from a rural farm three hours away and stopped for a few hours in Naranjo, a small town that is a community within Waslala but has a larger population and is more developed. The interruption of our journey was caused by construction on the local roads. Workers were diligently trying to install drainage to avoid road closure due to heavy rains.

While we were stuck on the bus, I overheard all kinds of conversations. Stories about family, travels (one family had been traveling for 10 hours … by boat, then horse, then foot, then bus)… and, almost always, the economy.  The effects of the downturn in the economy have reached all parts of the world, including Waslala and the nearby communities.   Prices have been going up and even fewer jobs can be found. There has never been a job market here – but people are finding it harder to sell basic goods or don’t have the minimal investment needed to start up a small business. The people are really just surviving: putting food on the table, some not even that, buying necessities, or some heading to rural farms that their family owns.

The most memorable of these conversations was one of a man who talked about one of his kids who had a strong high school education as well as some college experience, but today is cutting coffee and planting corn.  The majority of youth here today are not educated to that level.  In the city many attend high school but it is rare to study further, but in the rural areas it is common to end your studies by the 5th grade, as it would require travel to another town that has a secondary school.  Even the students that are determined to learn and become educated find themselves back working on the farm. The youth are disillusioned. Families are pulling their children out of school as there is little understanding (and little proof) that education beyond a certain point is helpful and will bring more prosperity to the family and more opportunity.  It is very discouraging and I question how we are able to move forward and make progress in such an economy.

Recently we hosted a dinner at the parish with a group to talk about the work that we do in Waslala. The group included representatives of the ministry, priests in the parish as well as a German group of women who were interested in learning about our challenges and the work that is done by the parish. Throughout dinner we began discussing problems of violence and the economy, history of the ministries and challenges faced in the past to the present – stories that are absolutely inspirational – and how we are all moving forward in our work.  We discussed how passionate the people here are about their work, and understand that there is much to be done despite our challenges.

At the water ministry we carry this same passion.  Sometimes it means lots of hiking and lots of work with little seen progress.  Sometimes it feels that it will take a long time to reach our goals because of the realities of the economy. But we understand that change is slow, and with passion and human connections we are teaching and learning together to create a better world.

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By Meaghan Gruber, Water for Waslala Field Manager in Waslala, Nicaragua

Si quieres promover la paz, protege la creación. If you want to promote peace, protect creation.

It is with this message that the Bishop Monseñor David, opened up a discussion on the environment and care of creation on a recent visit here to Waslala. The Bishop recalled the first time he stepped foot in Waslala back in 1975, and about the different trees and animals that existed at that time. He asked the youth in attendance if they had even heard of some of the animals he mentioned… none of them had.

The Bishop touched upon some difficult topics and posed some tough questions such as how the poor have fewer and fewer resources due to the destruction of the environment. He asked the audience, “In 60 years from now what is Waslala gong to be like? Are any trees going to be left? Will we breathing in car fumes? Will there be water? It is right before our eyes, the reality, and we are not caring for ourselves or our future.”

The Waslalan culture is not currently one of care for the environment and creation. It is completely normal and acceptable for everything and anything including aluminum cans and plastic bottles to food wrappers to be thrown out the bus window and onto the ground. Children also find it completely normal to kill birds with slingshots. Therefore, it is our responsibility to promote the importance of protecting the environment and all of creation with love. It is also our responsibility to promote investment in the future… just as we invest in education for a better future, we also need to invest in the environment to ensure that we will exist in the future.

To wrap things up the Bishop asked us to think about what truly are the most important things in life. Is it more important to have a fancy cell phone or fix a leaking roof? Is it important to have the latest dress and flashy jewelry or should we be spending our money on buying food to support our families? These are questions that need to be thought about and answered. With the right answers we can ensure a better future for our children and children’s children.

I enjoyed the bishop’s speech greatly and felt that it really ties in with our dedication to spreading environmental awareness through our workshops. I had the privilege of talking with Bishop one morning over breakfast, and he advised me to continue with this passion in order to reach a spiritual connection and better connect with the people.

With his words as inspiration, we are dedicated to move forward with our mission and work.


We're Proud to Announce that Water For Waslala Has Been Acquired By WaterAid - Read The Full Announcement