Events & Newsletters


The women’s advocacy group, which has learned to take on a giant project step by step, approach government and other agencies with confidence, strategize multiple avenues to solve problems, and network with individuals and organizations to achieve its goals.

Paso a Paso … Step by Step

Since March 2016, the San Carlos community has been laying groundwork for construction of the much-needed water system.

The San Carlos water commission began by seeking certification of its legal status and plan for a well, a process that requires recognition from multiple government bodies. The first step was to form a CAPS—Comité de Agua Potable y Saneamiento, a democratically elected committee required by Nicaragua law.

The process required collaboration and networking. The commission procured a letter of support from the Sutiava Indigenous Community, which has legal jurisdiction over San Carlos land. Multiple visits to pester the municipal office eventually resulted in its approval.

With endorsement from the local water regulatory body, a few trips to Managua garnered the national water institute’s consent letter. As the final step, the necessary documents had to be presented to another body, the National Water Authority (ANA in Spanish).

Representatives from SuNica—a nonprofit organization with roots in North Carolina that helps Nicaraguans gain access to clean water, education, and economic opportunities—took the required paperwork to the agency in Managua.

The proposal was denied, ostensibly for lack of a complete land study. Frustrated, SuNica told the San Carlos water commission they had 20 days to get approval or SuNica would drop the project.

The advocacy group refused to give up. A representative delegation went directly to ANA to advocate for the community. ANA accepted the documentation but replied with the typical, “We’ll call you.”

After three weeks of waiting and numerous calls, the women decided to send another group to Managua. Rosa arranged for a truck to transport the group.

The morning of departure, Rosa gave up her seat on the truck to a late-arriving San Carlos resident. The group panicked when they realized Rosa didn’t plan to go with them. But she assured them they knew where the office is, who to talk to, and how the process works.

When they arrived at the water authority office, they were told for the umpteenth time that the certificate was ready and needed only the director’s signature for approval. The group refused to leave until they received the signed document and said they could wait all day, if necessary. They weren’t going to miss SuNica’s deadline and lose the whole project.

The office staff sent a driver to track down the appropriate official, and several hours later the certificate was granted.

Arriving back in León, delighted and proud of their achievement, one woman told Rosa, “You sent us alone as a test to see if we could do it on our own, didn’t you? And we passed!

Residents Prepare to Dig (In)

Finally, the good news: the potable water project was approved by SuNica, which agreed to help organize work groups, dig the well, build the water tower, and provide most of the materials and an engineer to coordinate the water main installation.

SuNica recognized the efforts of the water commission in acquiring the necessary approval from ANA, something the mission, even with its money and foreign nonprofit status, hadn’t been able to do.


The initial subscription for water service will be $43 per household, a token amount symbolizing the homeowner’s commitment to the project. The fee will defray costs for digging the well, installing the water tank, and providing connection sites. Additionally, the community must feed the supervisor and three to seven daily workers while the project is underway.

The water commission is setting up a management team, including the CAPS members, to ensure water is fairly distributed and properly billed, and that the well and pipes are well maintained.

Harnessing the Power of a Backhoe

Question: Why is a backhoe such an important resource for this project?

Answer: A huge amount of daunting, even overwhelming, physical labor will be required to build the water system.

  • To transport water from the well to subscribers’ property requires 14 kilometers (more than 8. miles) of PVC pipe.

  • The entire trench, one meter deep and half a meter wide, will be dug through dense, rocky soil.

  • Half the trench must be dug by hand, because some areas are too steep for machinery, and machinery could damage other installations.

  • Stumps and large rocks will need to be removed along the entire route.

A backhoe would speed up the process immensely, saving months of backbreaking labor.

The CAPS and the water commission have devised a two-pronged strategy to obtain a hoe.


Strategy 1

The commission asked a large, nearby sugar cane company, Ingenio San Antonio, to donate its equipment. CAPS networked with the indigenous community office, which has authority over land use in the area and a good working relationship with the company.

Result: The sugar company approved a donation to the project of 24 hours, only a small fraction of the time that will be needed.

Strategy 2

The commission has asked the León municipal government for use of the city backhoe. After the usual run-around, waiting, and visits to multiple approval agencies, the mayor signed off on the assignment.

Result: San Carlos leaders awaited information about how much time would be scheduled for the city’s machine. The community is be responsible for backhoe fuel (costing as much as US$2000) and feeding another five to seven workers.

The Latest

The project is inaugurated.

The water commission gathered with PML and SuNica representatives in a simple ceremony to inaugurate the project on October 14, 2017.

The first trench is dug by machine.

In 21 hours during the first week, barely one mile of the needed 9 miles of trench is dug.

Everyone in the community participates.

Each family is responsible for 88 meters (about 96 yards) of trench. Everyone is required to participate to the best of their ability in the effort. This includes hauling sand, delivering water, making lunches, and chalking trench lines.

Half of the total trench cannot be excavated by a backhoe, so residents form work teams to dig by hand.




Twelve teens who are participating in the youth cultural exchange show up to work on Saturdays. Their labor counts towards the 125 volunteer hours they must complete to participate in the program.




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