New volunteer, Rose Martersteck, reflects on the impact of long-term commitment to development projects as work gets underway in 2015:

In the past decade, Nuevas Esperanzas has undertaken and completed an impressive range of projects. The team has worked with many communities to install rainwater harvesting systems, develop model farms, and set in motion a sustainable tourism initiative. While the benefits of these projects are unmistakable, the work of Nuevas Esperanzas is far from over.

Model farms set up in April 2014 are already in full swing, with crops from carrots to dragon fruit. Pineapple plants are cheerfully growing alongside plantain trees in fields carefully planned to prevent erosion and soil exhaustion. Six groups of beekeepers are running their own apiaries. Constant testaments to work well done, rainwater harvesting tanks reside alongside houses. These tanks provide safe, convenient sources of clean water. In recent years, the joint efforts of Nuevas Esperanzas and local residents have made tangible improvements. As 2015 begins, attention now turns to the less visible aspects of sustainable development.

The benefit of a development organisation with a long-term commitment to the communities in which it works is the ability to see a project through to the finish. Lasting change requires more than construction alone: those involved must also be dedicated to solving problems that arise along the way. Behind-the-scenes work may not be glamorous, but it is just as critical to achieving lasting change. The projects developed by local communities and Nuevas Esperanzas are functioning as envisioned, but there are challenges as well.

The model farms project depends greatly on the cohesive efforts of community members. Designed as a way to share knowledge of sustainable farming techniques, groups of residents share the work of weeding, maintenance, and harvest. Despite great care and attention, plant diseases are a concern. In one visit, Nuevas Esperanzas’ agronomist Eliezer Rocha shows farmers how to slice away plantain leaves contaminated by a common fungus. By cutting away affected areas, healthy plants are preserved. Without routine visits to care for the crops, these diseases may go unnoticed. Maintaining the connection with the community allows for a constant exchange of ideas and creative solutions.

In addition to the physical maintenance of model farms, current efforts include community meetings to decide how the work will be divided. While improved farming techniques can vary a family’s diet and reduce dependency on only one or two crops, farmers also have their own work to complete. Cooperative members involved with the model farms must agree upon days of the week to meet, and decide who will take responsibility for certain tasks. The agroecology team often meets with group members to discuss the cooperative’s vision for their farm, as well as the equal distribution of work. This ensures farms are fairly maintained.

The beekeeping project is buzzing with success. With six apiaries in three communities, groups of beekeepers are tending hives and preparing to harvest honey. Beekeeping specialist Erika Pérez guides local participants through a process called levelling. This important task ensures that all hives in an apiary are ready for harvest at the same time. Members distribute empty frames evenly throughout the hives, and place frames full of brood in hives which need some encouragement. In some communities beekeeping groups care for their apiaries independently, while in others new members are being trained to join the project. When local residents assume leadership of projects, it is clear that sustainable changes are taking place.

Nuevas Esperanzas embraces its goal of sustainable development wholeheartedly. Water distribution systems and burgeoning fields are welcome marks of progress. Much of the organisation’s effectiveness stems from the team’s dedication to sustainability in many forms. Community members are empowered to take over the initiatives in their communities, with assistance as needed. Completed and ongoing projects have achieved many positive outcomes. As the team prepares new projects to improve access to clean water in other communities, there are sure to be more positive outcomes ahead.