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Nicaragua Project Description -
High Quality Low Cost Housing
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$300 House
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This project has produced a result which is quite remarkable and which offers exceptional opportunities for improving the living conditions of the Nicaraguan people.Beyond this, it offers an example to other developing countries. It is important then to acknowledge the conditions which made it possible.

I want to say first that we have often been critical of the Nicaraguan government and its agencies. We have felt sometimes that important considerations were overlooked, that the bureaucracy was inefficient or illogical, and that this slowed work or caused personal frustration and at times anger. Having said this I want to point out that this exceptional project is only possible because of specific actions and conditions created by the Nicaraguan government, and in this case specifically the Agrarian Reform.

We have demonstrated that people in conditions of great poverty can create for themselves a high quality living environment with only their own labor and creativity and the native resource of their land. However, in most parts of the world it would not be possible to do this. Why? Because people do not have access to the basic resources of their country. We were able to build fine floors from the local stone of the region. In many places people could not do this because the land with the stone belongs to someone else, and they would not be allowed to use it. Or if they had materials and were ready to use their labor to create their homes, they couldn't because they don't have the land. Further, although a tremendous amount can be done with purely local resources, these problems cannot be solved with zero outside help. Some minimum amount of assistance is needed. The purchase of nails for example, which are not otherwise available to the campesino. A small item, but very difficult to work without. Also some education and technical assistance is required, because people do not know everything there is to know about their own local resources.

Thus it should be first acknowledged that the Nicaraguan government has provided the most fundamental conditions for doing this work. Through the agrarian reform this cooperative has the land on which to build its housing and the raw resources of that land with which to work.

On a more personal level, I want to note that this particular project was made possible by the energy, initiative, and foresight of Miguel Barrios Johanning, the director of MIDINRA Region VI. It was at his invitation that the project was undertaken and it was he who arranged for the funds for the pilot project in San Dionisio, first guaranteeing them from his operating budget, then obtaining grants from the EEC.

Groundwork Institute has a large amount of work to do.For example we are currently working in Cuba on the design and construction of a new town for 20,000 people. As a result we must choose our projects carefully. Miguel Barrios' understanding of the concepts behind this work and his strong endorsement of it within his agency were major factors in our decision to raise funds and provide technical and material support for this project rather than another. It should also be noted that there was a risk in undertaking an experimental project of this sort, and Miguel Barrios showed courage in undertaking it. We think he deserves much credit for the success it has had and for the coming opportunities it offers.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, we want to acknowledge those people who did the actual work. The members of the agricultural cooperative Jose Benito Escobar II, in San Dionisio.

Some of the fundamental problems we have seen confronting poor people in developing countries are lack of community organization and lack of education. The technical problems we have always seen to be solvable. It is the social problems that are most difficult. Thus it has been a great pleasure and inspiration for us to see this cooperative work and to work with them. First I want to note the willingness of the members to work and to work hard. They worked at heavy labor day after day without slacking. On many occasions when emergencies arose they worked from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 at night. And after working 6 days from Monday to Saturday they worked again on Sunday.

But willingness to work alone does not achieve much if their is no organization and consistency to it. So it was also a pleasure to experience the excellent organization that the cooperative is developing for itself. They have demonstrated much discipline in their work, they have created work schedules, assigned work teams and otherwise kept the work moving ahead. Equally important in this respect is that they are aware of their shortcomings and failures and are working to improve the organization of their cooperative.

Not only did they work hard, but they worked with great skill. They showed an ability to learn fast, and a concern for the quality of their work. Although this house was the first they had built, the results are high quality and beautiful. Furthermore they displayed great creativity, originality, and the ability to create beauty. Their work exhibited not only practical utility but also art.

If this sounds like an overstatement I can only offer it as my personal assessment after having work side by side with them during the design and construction of the demonstration house. I offer this observation as a person who has more than 25 years experience in construction, who has two degrees in architecture, who has taught architecture at major US Universities, who is a journeyman carpenter, has built many of the buildings he has designed, and who has worked with laborers, builders, engineers and designers in a number of developing countries as well as in the United States.

We believe that these characteristics are typical of the campesinos of Nicaragua when given the opportunity and necessary minimum support. As a result we feel these people offer an example and inspiration to others in the country.

We have to mention that this work is taking place during a time of war. We are impressed that MIDINRA found the resources to look after basic living need of campesinos when so much of the national budget must be directed to defense. We are also impressed with the determination of the workers who sometimes had to stop their work on the construction to work with the militia or to patrol and guard their land.

The war can slow our work, perhaps destroy parts of it, but it will not stop it.

Yours in Solidarity,

Huck Rorick, Executive Director
Groundwork Institute
July 1986


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