August 15, 2018
We’re excited to share this special Technology Edition of our Quarter Highlights with you. We want to take this opportunity to share how we are leveraging technology and innovative ideas to carry out our mission in rural Nicaragua, a place where technology is often nonexistent.
Technology is something that makes our lives easier and more efficient. It solves problems and is the bridge that leads us into the future. Think of the many diseases that have been eradicated, the access to education and expertise through the internet, the ease of communication, and the many systems and apps that make our lives more efficient. Technology is all around us, and when we leverage it, our lives are changed for the better.
We continue to dream big for the thousands of people we serve in rural Nicaragua. The stories that follow are these dreams taking form, and we are thrilled to have each of you on this adventure with us.
CEO and Founder
What is Plan 7? Plan 7 is Amigos for Christ’s community development model. The focus of this model is long-term, sustainable growth in rural Nicaraguan communities.
School cafeteria in La Coyotera: On September 25, La Coyotera inaugurated their new school cafeteria using the same ribbon they used at their water inauguration two years ago! They’re going to hold onto it for the next milestone. We love celebrating transformation!
Pedregal Water system: The community of El Pedregal and local volunteers installed over 5 kilometers of pipe in the last three months. That’s 10.6 Kilometers total! The main water line will be finished this October.
Modern Bathrooms: Our team has been busy this quarter. With each family helping with the construction, we’ve completed 40 more bathrooms for a grand total of 140 this year!
La Chuscada School: The finishing touches are all in place. We’re gearing up for a huge celebration in the coming months!
Scott Cunningham, director of the Strategies Team, says to best carry out our mission of making Christ more visible, we have to do what is best for people. That, he says, comes with having good information. “With good data, we will be able to focus on each family, each person and know what they need to move forward. With the constant collection of data and it being analyzed, we can guarantee that each family, each person, is treated with the same quality of attention and care necessary for long term transformation.”
Imagine if all the Amigos for Christ Community Development Team Members had tablets with a full database of information about the families we work with and projects that we are running. As they go from house to house, visiting families and building relationships, they could find each house on a map, and know how much water has been used, if parasites have been eradicated, and the daily income of each family over months and years. With constant access and input of this information, we’d know how to better serve each family.
You don’t have to imagine this anymore. Amigos for Christ is committed to the growth and empowerment of its team, and each member is encouraged to dream big constantly seek growth, which is why the Strategy and Innovation Team has been dedicated to developing and executing an application that we call Beneficiary Perfect (BPS). This application allows us to track results so that we can respond to needs, so that we can know if our strategies in the development of the community are effective and then develop new ideas to transform lives in Nicaragua.
What could we do with all this technology in our hands? We could use it to see the effectiveness of our programs, to know how many people are involved, to know everything we are providing, each tool, each format and each training program. With the use of BPS, we are allowing ourselves to evaluate Amigos on a constant basis. It is an honest way to see how projects are carried out, how we are growing, and how a project is actually benefiting people.
Everyone knows that a family without running water will benefit from a water system. It’s common sense to provide a flush toilet where there wasn’t one before or to give a family a pregnant pig or chickens to help boost their income. No one would argue the value of the projects Amigos does. Now, we’ll be able to actually see what these things do for a family in the long run. We’ll be able to know, with data, that lives are being transformed.
Envision a warehouse. What comes to mind? Endless rows with pallets stacked high? Maybe even computer-enabled forklifts fulfilling orders by Amazon or Walmart?
When people think of the Amigos for Christ warehouse, they might envision rows of shovels, bags of cement, and maybe even pipes that will eventually be laid in the ground to bring clean water to hundreds of families. What may come as a surprise is that Amigos warehouse is actually a tightly run, precisely accounted for operation that is the brainchild of Misael Baquenado. He studied at the Autonomous Christian University of Nicaragua for 5 years, earning a degree as a Computer and Systems Engineer – and he’s putting that to good use by helping Amigos make our warehouse operations and inventory as sharp and fine tuned as some of the best warehouse operations on the planet.
“Right now, what happens is that we have a really effective system that has high accountability, but it can slow down movement,” Explains Misael. “One person requests an item, one person writes the check, one person buys it, and then it is delivered to the Warehouse. The person who ordered the item then comes and checks it out. Everything has a paper trail and requires a form to be filled out and a signature.” But he’s got a vision and a dream to develop a true paperless and integrated system that will replace and update the current process.
He’s creating a system that integrates our purchasing, billing, and reporting so that it is seamless. “Instead of individual checks for each order, our vendors will receive one or two a month. When an item is ordered by someone, it will be logged in the in the computer system and then delivered to the warehouse – seamlessly. Every item will have a barcode. We’ll scan items in and out, requests and purchases will be made seamlessly, and it will all tracked in our computer system.”
This is state of the art for Nicaragua. It will allow clear accountability and it will streamline our purchasing. All construction materials will be accounted for accurately as needed for each project, and all donated goods will be easily tracked and managed. Misael explains that he plans to integrate all of this with our warehouse stateside. This will make importing goods a faster process and allow us to have a constant bird’s eye view of what we have, what is coming in and what is going out.
When asked why, Misael simply states, “We at Amigos are striving for excellence. This will make the system excellent and as we grow and it will make us worker smarter.” He hopes to have the first phase in place by early 2019.The vision is to use this technology in our Amigos warehouse to serve people better and be transparent in the process. Misael is paving the way for us, one barcode at a time.
Alan Perez Lopez, water system treasurer, heads out on his monthly journey to visit every family in his community of Rincon de Garcia. A journey that will bring him and the rest of his community leadership team to 52 homes. It will take them all day – at least. Alan and his team will monitor the water usage of every family by reading their individual meter and then administer a bill based upon this assessment. This system is all done by hand, using a data table, receipt notepads, and a notebook.
This same process repeats itself in each of our communities with water systems. Community leaders go out on these billing visits every month to ensure transparency, ownership of the water system, and precise measurement of water usage.
This system works. We know that from the 17 communities it is currently serving. However, as our projects and communities continue to grow, we are seeing the need for integrated technology. Two of our core foundations at Amigos are to pursue growth and strive for excellence. We believe in dreaming big and using our talents, resources, and creativity to ultimately better live out our mission and vision.
Water Perfect, an app currently being developed by Amigos, will allow us to do just that. This app will be utilized to store all information regarding the water usage of each individual home, how much families are paying, and how much money each community should have in order to sustain the water pump. Right now, all of this information is stored in a notebook. But with Water Perfect, all of this data will be easily accessible by Amigos and community leadership teams in order to build more precise water systems and help leaders manage their budget as a business.
Our dream is that Alan and every other community leader will utilize Water Perfect during these monthly billing rituals. Instead of notebooks, they will take a tablet and a portable printer on each house visit. With the data from Water Perfect, a bill will be printed for each family. On the back of the bill, there will be information regarding the system-wide usage and billing. Each community member will be able to see how much money has been collected, how much money was used to pay the energy bill for the well pump, and how much money is left in the bank. Water Perfect will empower complete transparency and a high level of efficiency for our leadership teams.
“We want community members to receive these improved bills and be able to make smarter decisions for their families, utilizing budgeting. It all comes back to the pursuit of thriving, not just surviving. We also want community members to have complete understanding, trust, and confidence in their community leaders. This type of confidence allows for true transformation,” John Bland said.
Everyone wins with this newly developed technology – community members, leadership teams, and the Amigos team. Community members will better know where their money is going, leadership teams will better know how to maintain the water system, and with this information, Amigos will consequently better know how to support or “acompañar” them both in the process.
In La Coyotera, thirty five families patiently waited in line as they brought their second round of stool and urine samples to the Amigos mobile lab. During visits like these, Community Advocates use the technology of the mobile lab to test families for parasites and actually show community members what the parasites look like on a computer screen. It’s part of an ongoing process to show families the results of better sanitation habits through the use of Modern Bathrooms.
Raquel Martinez Castro, a 27-year-old mother, brought her youngest child with her, a happy and curious three-year-old named Sarai Lopez. Raquel’s family represents just one of the many families in La Coyotera that have enthusiastically embraced the new water and sanitation infrastructure.
Raquel’s family was one of the first in Coyotera to build their Modern Bathroom, and she loves it. Diarrhea and sickness had been common, but she says that now it’s rare that anyone in her family is sick. As she sat and waited for her test results to come back, she said she hoped the test results would show her family’s decline in sickness.
As she saw the results on a computer screen, she was thrilled. Community Advocate, Juanita, explained to her, “You and your daughter are parasite free!” A smile broke across Raquel’s face, “I learned to wash everyone’s hands, and I never store water in open areas anymore because I know the flies can touch it and spread disease.”
Why is it so important for the mothers and fathers to see the results? Juanita explains it clearly, “We can tell them that they have parasites. We can build a water system with them and give them access to a sanitary bathroom, but ultimately it is their habits that we are trying to change. When they see the parasites for the first time, most parents are really shocked. The microscope and the computer screen show the reality, and then they are motivated to change their habits.”
In this follow-up visit, it was encouraging to see so many families were parasite free, but it also was an eye opener for many families that have water and a bathroom, but still have some strains of disease.
“It’s the perfect way to really reinforce what we’re teaching,” says Doctor Maria Jose as she visits a house and shows the family where potential sources of illness might be originating. “They do not believe that handwashing and covering stored water is important until we show them the follow up results.”
For Raquel, her day has been successful. “My little girl is healthy! And my sons wash their hands a lot now,” she chuckles. “Well, the six-year-old fusses at me, but I make him!”
This technology is part of Amigos’ plan to improve health and eliminate disease in La Coyotera and in every community that Amigos partners with. The combination of our mobile lab and ability to show active parasites on a computer screen, along with preventative health classes, is producing excellent results in the community of La Coyotera. “Parasites are down by 28%,” says Juanita. “That is a huge decrease since we just finished the last Modern Bathrooms in April of this year. We are thrilled for this community’s success!”
When the construction of the Model School of La Chuscada began in 2015, students could not imagine all of the amazing changes that were to come. At that time, the community’s primary school was a black plastic tent that was help up with sticks. On rainy or exceptionally hot days, it became an easy decision for parents to keep their kids at home. Students shared desks and teachers barely had the resources to facilitate learning. These conditions lead to poor attendance and a distracting, unengaging learning environment.
It was in the face of these realities that a dream was born: A model school in a place that needed it the most. Now, The Model School of La Chuscada is a marvel to behold. With three playgrounds, eleven classrooms, and a special teacher workspace, the school has plenty of space for students from preschool through sixth grade. The solid walls of the buildings are covered with interactive designs that protect the students from harsh weather and provide a creative environment where students can learn. Children are making use of these beautiful classrooms, and they finally have space to dream. But a quality education needs more than just infrastructure.
Computer skills are necessary for students to prepare for higher education, and we know those skills give students an advantage as they enter the workforce. That’s why the next big step for the La Chuscada school is a state-of-the-art computer lab, with daily access for students.
Students living in rural Nicaragua don’t have access to the technology that is available to students who study in the cities, so we want to bring the technology to the rural areas. Amigos is currently developing this technology project, and we look forward to having technologies like computers and internet access in La Chuscada. We hope that our model lab is something that can be replicated in other rural schools.
Nidia Bland has been a part of this school project since it started. She told us, “Our dream is that children are inspired to see who they can become. We want them to dream, we want them to understand that there is a great world beyond their community and that they can experience it. We want to prepare them for success by providing the resources, tools, and skills necessary to thrive in that great world.” We know that a state-of-the-art computer lab with high speed internet is a step in that direction.
If you’ve ever been part of operating a farm, you know it’s a difficult job. The physical demands alone are tough. There are variable weather conditions, planting at the right time is a science, then there is the difficulty of managing finances when every month looks different. On top of all of this, farmers in Nicaragua often face even greater challenges because the business side of farming is rarely analyzed or thought out. Agriculture in Nicaragua can be a goldmine if you can make smart investment decisions. With the rich volcanic soil, warm climate, and frequent precipitation farmers are capable of yielding multiple growing seasons. Harnessing this information – applying it season to season – is the key to thriving.
Marvin de Jesus Meza is a rural farmer from Dulce Nombre de Jesús. Working on the farm has been a way of life for him for as long as he can remember. Farming has provided a living for him, his father, and the many generations before him. Now, it’s providing life for his family.
When it comes to the details of what’s produced and harvested, Marvin hasn’t had the tools to properly evaluate the numbers. He hasn’t been ablt to track how much he invested in the last planting season, how much was produced, what the bottom line was, and how much can he save for his children’s future. It’s common for questions like these to be put on the back burner in Nicaragua. Rural farmers are so focused on making sure their crops actually grow that questions like these become secondary, if they are asked at all.
Imagine if Marvin had a simple tool that would help him track expenses on a specific crop growing on a particular plot of land. A way to easily track income by entering any profit made from a sale. This data, along with other farmers’ data from the 19 communities we are serving, could be accessible to any farmer in our system. The availability of the information from our team would empower small-scale, rural farmers to have life-transforming success.
We are developing this technology for Marvin and other farmers. Our hope is that the next time you visit Nicaragua, you could visit Marvin and he could tell you how much his small farming business has grown. He could tell you what his latest sales are, and what new crop he hopes to add to the next growing season. He could also tell you how other farmers in Nicaragua have learned to duplicate his success. We’re on a mission to help rural farmers and small business owners increase their daily income to $15 a day. It’s a number that really defines thriving for a family in rural Nicaragua. Implementing a system to track these numbers is the key to make the most of his small business.
“I never could have imagined that my crops would someday be exported, and now here I am working towards that goal with Amigos. It is a blessing from God. They are teaching me how I can change my way of living and thinking to dream big for better opportunities,” Marvin said. “I’m inspired to share what I’m learning with other farmers in my community and beyond. The intention of Amigos is to help one another, to lend a hand, and to contribute your time and efforts in order to be a part of something bigger. I want to be a part of that. We don’t work to benefit ourselves, but rather we work to make Christ more visible.”
Thank you for reading the Special Technology Edition of Amigos for Christ’s Quarter Highlights. If these stories and updates have inspired you to do more, you can find a few opportunities to support us at amigosforchrist.org/JoinUs. Make sure you’re following us on social media to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in Nicaragua, and thank you for everything you do to help us transform lives in Nicaragua.