In early March, hundreds of students from La Universidad Nacional
Autónomo de Nicaragua (UNAN León) held a student strike. They stood
outside the city hall to protest raised bus pass prices and the
diminishing education budget, among other things. Although they locked
city officials in their offices, and classes were cancelled for the
day, there was no violence during the demonstration, as was common in
similar strikes in the 1970s.
In 1979, León was the scene of the student uprising that sparked the fall of the 45-year Somoza dictatorship. The controversial Sandinista government, in power from that year until 1990, was inspired by Augusto Cesar Sandino, who began a nationalist struggle against US military occupation and later against the oppressive Somoza regime in the 1930s. Sandino was assassinated in 1934, minutes after signing a “peace pact” with the dictator, but his ideals were resurrected by student activist and revolutionary leader Carlos Fonseca Amador in the mid-1960s when the Sandinista party was formed. The movement succeeded in an educational campaign that doubled government spending on education and nearly tripled university enrollment.
Today, the Nicaraguan university community remains strong and outspoken, and UniversitÁrea Protegida (UÁP) is empowering a new wave of social and environmental activism.
In coordination with UNAN León, we have selected 18 students to take part in UÁP’s first full-year program. Biology, forestry, and ecotourism students underwent extensive training and are now spending nine months living and working in rural communities within four of Nicaragua’s protected areas. The training program consists of site visits, group planning sessions, and two weeks of classroom study. The classroom training focuses on an in-depth environmental education program that students implement in rural schools, and features lectures by staffers from various natural reserves and an open forum on social issues. Students consider the social structure of their country and search for ways they can have a positive impact on its development.
UÁP students also work in partnership with local NGOs to manage the natural reserves and with university advisors to complete thesis projects. One of Nicaragua’s most renowned botanists, Ricardo Ruedas, is assisting two UÁP students with an in-depth study of the orchid and bromeliad populations in Tisey Estanzuela. In La Isla Juan Venado, biology students are conducting a study on the area’s crocodile population, and ecotourism students are elaborating an environmental education plan specific to the communities’ needs. The red macaw and its habitat are topics of student research in Volcan Cosiguina, while in Estero Padre Ramos, forestry students are doing an inventory on the status of the mangrove forest. The inventory will be used to create a sustainable use program within the communities around the estuary.
Members of El Club de Jovenes Ambientalistas in Leon (an environmental youth group) are also involved in the UÁP training program and are giving environmental awareness classes and organizing reforestation projects in four of León’s high schools. And, in coordination with the Austrian Sister City program, Wilberth Medrano, an ecotourism student working in La Reserva Natural Volcan Cosiguina, has been selected by UÁP staff to take part in weekly leadership seminars in the town of Chakraseca near León. After each seminar, he gives a talk to his UÁP counterparts on the themes covered.
In my Spanish-English dictionary, the word lucha is translated as “struggle.” It doesn’t take much time in Nicaragua to feel the significance of la lucha. You hear it in reference to the revolution; you hear it from taxi drivers talking about making ends meet; you hear it from biologists talking about conserving virgin forests and marine ecosystems; and you hear it chanted during student strikes. In the quest to promote positive change, and in the hope that Nicaragua’s future generations will have the means to preserve their country’s natural beauty, la lucha must continue at all levels. We hope that the opportunities UÁP provides the university community will be a step in the right direction.
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