TM: How is León a transformative destination?
Evan: León is in many ways an ideal location for students. It is a large Spanish colonial city rich in architecture and culture. It is the center of academic life in Nicaragua, boasting the national university of law, medicine, business, and other graduate level disciplines, undergraduate degree programs, and numerous other college institutions. It has been the center of international aid programs since before the revolution, and a great destination for travelers of all ages.
What is Viviendas León?
Viviendas León is an international sustainable development organization, founded in 2003. Our goal is to alleviate poverty in the rural communities of Nicaragua through a human centered model of development. This is supported by capacity-building partnerships, and the involvement of student volunteers and interns through our global citizenship travel program.
How do you support Nicaraguans?
Nicaragua ranks among the lowest countries economically in the western hemisphere. Rural communities suffer with chronic undernourishment, struggle with an unreliable food supply, and rely on international food aid. 23 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from these conditions.
Levels of education among the adult population averages just 5.8 years, while school age children attend for an average of 10.8 years. The combined gross enrollment in 2012 was 70 percent.
48 percent of the national population lives below the poverty line. 79.9 percent of this group lives on less than $2 per day, and 80 percent of the indigenous population lives on less than $1 per day. More than 50 percent of the national population is either unemployed or underemployed. Nearly 4 out of 5 of the population of Nicaragua lives in rural communities, many of which are within proximity to large towns or cities.
Viviendas León works with rural communities in León, a region with an urban population of 201,000 and a rural population of 188,600 (as of 2005), including an indigenous population of 10,863. Rural communities are characterized by clusters of family lands ranging in size from less than one acre to more than ten. These communities share similar characteristics of poverty, including apathy and lack of capacity; low levels of education, civic engagement, and youth development; and undernourishment, unemployment, and chronic diseases.
Viviendas León focuses on the most widely available resource in Nicaragua: human potential.
We work with people who have been marginalized by generations of poverty to help them regain their self esteem and capacity to become productive and successful citizens. Our development philosophy emphasizes direct engagement of the population through education, training, and project based programs to help them be the agents of their own transformation. Student volunteers and interns play a critical role in assisting families in their development through direct project involvement, research, and logistical support.
How does your work impact the local communities?
Since 2003, Viviendas León has worked in Goyena, a population of 1,250 within the indigenous population of Sutiaba. Our deep involvement in this community has allowed us to closely examine the needs, deficits, and assets of a rural community, as well as to design, implement, and evaluate a variety of programs for adults and youth that create sustainable development.
The work of the last 12 years has underscored relationship building and trust as a fundamental value in successful development. The importance of adult and youth parallel pathways to address the immediate needs of families, and create long term development throughout the population.
How can people in the U.S. get involved?
Viviendas León offers student volunteer and internship programs throughout the academic year for students as young as 7th grade, to internships for high school, college students, and professionals in the summer months.
About the Author
Evan Markiewicz is the Founder and Executive Director of Viviendas León. He is responsible for overseeing program development, communications, and financial management. Until 2003, Mr. Markiewicz worked under the auspices of the New Haven/León Sister City Project, an internationally recognized non-governmental organization, where he developed Viviendas León and other programs targeting the needs of rural Nicaraguan communities. Mr. Markiewicz graduated from the University of Southern California in Architecture and holds a Master of Architecture degree from Yale University.