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Nicaragua: Land of Lakes, Volcanoes, and Sustainability

The field of environmental sustainability has been growing in recent years, working its way into international development theory, newspaper editorials, and university studies, among many other fields of study. A new link between SUNY Geneseo and Enlace Project has embraced this important issue, providing students with a chance to analyze and compare sustainable environmental efforts in both the United States and Nicaragua.

The professor, Dr. Kristina Hannam, designed the course to provide students with an opportunity to explore the concept of sustainability "where the environmental, geographic, economic and social/political factors at play are very different from the factors at home in New York." For the pilot trip, four students and the professor were accompanied by Enlace Project's Volunteer and Academic Trip Coordinator, Juan Mairena. The group traveled around to various sites around the Pacific slope of Nicaragua, meeting with local people and programs that are impacted by and addressing sustainability problems in the country. The very different climates of New York State and Nicaragua's western coast are important location-specific influences that students learned influence sustainability problems and solutions. Through the two-week hands-on learning experience, students not only learn the situation in Nicaragua, they see it. Dr. Hannam explains, "in New York, precipitation levels generally don't vary dramatically from month to month, but annual variation in temperature is significant (comparing January to July, for example), the opposite pattern (dramatic variation in rainfall, relatively little variation in temperature) is the case for the Pacific slope of Nicaragua. This difference was clearly illustrated by the delay in the rainy season [that] the group observed, and its impacts on agriculture and water issues."

Doctor Hannam confirms that the trip was transformative for the students involved. One striking example was, "standing on top of the Masaya volcano and being able to see the dramatic impact it has had on the landscape of the region... and how the active geology could be a vital renewable energy source for the country..." "A couple of days later [we visited] a community that lives downwind of that volcano and [learned] about the particular challenges it poses for agriculture, health, and water availability there." The sustainability trip offers Enlace Project a unique perspective as well. Although EP does not work directly on sustainability efforts, it is impossible to ignore the environmental concept of development. In the month of May, the Enlace Project staff underwent a workshop on sustainable development, including environmental factors.

Doctor Hannam is now working to revise and expand the course, in hopes to offer it again next summer, possibly with an online lecture component before the trip.

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