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Nicaragua...

As the largest country in Central America with an area of 51,000 square miles (129,494 square kilometers), Nicaragua is about the size of New York State. The country is bounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, with Honduras bordering it at the north and Costa Rica at the south. Nicaragua has three major geographic regions: the Pacific lowlands in the west, the Caribbean lowlands in the east, and the central highlands located between these two.

The climate varies more from elevation than from the seasons. Rainfall fluctuates greatly in Nicaragua and is seasonal; the rainy period runs from May through October. The Caribbean lowlands are the wettest section of Central America, receiving between 98 and 256 inches (250 and 650 centimeters) of rain annually. The east receives heavy annual rainfall and can even see serious flooding during the rainy season, while the west is drier year-round.

When the Spaniards landed in western Nicaragua in the early 1500s, they encountered three main tribes each led by a chieftain, each with its own culture and language. Spanish is now the official language of Nicaragua and is spoken by more than 70 percent of the population. Most Spanish speakers live in the Pacific lowlands and central highlands. Grammar and usage follow Central American forms, which has some distinct differences from formal Spanish. The British presence in Nicaragua introduced many English words to the Spanish speakers, particularly in western Nicaragua. Likewise, American slang from the periods in which U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua has made its way into the vernacular of Spanish speaker.

Nicaragua's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 1992 was $1.6 billion (U.S.). The Chamorro administration agreed to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank standards aimed at weaning the country off its dependency on foreign aid. One main aim of this plan was to halt the rampant inflation of the Nicaraguan currency, the cordoba. The plan was designed to stabilize the local currency, encourage foreign investment, and increase exports.

The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew 4.5 percent in 1996 (its best performance since before the Sandinista regime). As a result, GDP reached $1.969 billion. However, in the aftermath of political unrest as well as El Niño (1997) and Hurricane Mitch (1998), the GDP in Nicaragua has plunged. Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere with a per capita GDP of $438, which is lower than where it stood before the Sandinista conquest in 1979. Its economy suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits. Until agricultural efforts improve, the economy will continue to suffer and Nicaragua will remain dependent on foreign assistance (22 percent of GDP in 1996).

Land is the traditional basis of wealth and status in Nicaragua. Traditionally, landowners have prospered with the export of coffee, cotton, beef, and sugar, and land was concentrated in the hands of a few. Less than one-fifth of the population could be described as middle class or higher. Most Nicaraguans who have work still toil as migrants, following crops and working only during the harvest period. When the Sandinistas gained power, they seized the property of the Somoza family and instituted the Agrarian Reform Law, transferring land to peasant families and squatters on lands.The telephone is another potent symbol of economic and social stratification, as evidenced by the number of telephones in the country and who has them. In 1993 there were approximately 60,000 telephones, only 1.5 per 100 inhabitants.

The telephone is another potent symbol of economic and social stratification, as evidenced by the number of telephones in the country and who has them. In 1993 there were approximately 60,000 telephones, only 1.5 per 100 inhabitants.

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