Snack-It Pilot / volunteer post
(Guest blog post)
We arrived at Comamos Juntos’ new hostel and hub where we met the founders Katie and Camila. After a tour of the new space we were given an introduction of Comamos Juntos and the work they do. We learnt about the massive food waste problem in Managua from small market stalls to the big wholesales stores. Seeing that there was a missed opportunity Katie and a dedicated team of volunteers approached the vendors to see if they would be willing to donate the food they weren't selling. After getting positive responses they launched Comamos Juntos, where they used this ‘would-be wasted’ food to cook weekly meals in communities around Managua. Comamos Juntos started by working in just one community, ‘Si a la Vida’, a prevention centre for children at high social risk. Over the year and 10 months they have been in action, they have expanded their action to four communities affected by food insecurity. We came along and helped Comamos Juntos test a new pilot scheme called “Snack-It”, to provide the children in the community of Villa Guadalupe with healthy snacks.
Day one: Cooking and preparation
Our first task was to assess how much food we had and what we could do with it. In a previous collection earlier in the week Comamos Juntos had picked up over 200 bananas. Given the heat of Managua in the middle of summer, we thought it would be a great idea for the kids to have a nutritious and refreshing snack - frozen fruit ‘ice-creams’!. After some thought about flavours we decided to go with banana and cinnamon as the main flavours. Milk was used as the base ingredient also providing much needed calcium to the kids’ diets. We set about developing the 100 x banana mixture….[see our recipe post here!]
It was great to be part of the preparation process and brainstorming behind what we would later be cooking and actually handing out. The new Comamos Juntos hub has a great kitchen - this is a massive step forward for the organisation as it provides a much needed space to store and prepare meals. They were previously reliant on community centres around the city where there was limited storage and less equipment!
Day two: Community engagement
At around 10.00 am we met some of the local Comamos Juntos volunteers at the hub and were briefed about the community we were going to visit, Villa Guadalupe. The people of this community had previously been living on one of Managua’s biggest rubbish dumps called La Chureca, but a recent initiative from the government of Spain has rehoused them into breeze block houses next to the rubbish dump. Whilst the quality of life for many in the community has improved and they still have their jobs sorting rubbish, there are still very significant social problems in the community. Food security is a prevalent issue - many families are not able to access enough food or sufficient nutrients for their daily requirements.
When we arrived we were welcomed by the community’s pastor and his wife as well as 20+ excitable children! After some games with the kids we split into groups of two and set about going from door-to-door giving out our ice-creams to the children. We also had some initial Food Security surveys to fill out to get a better sense of the food security situation within this community. We found that in 4 out of 10 families, the children frequently don’t eat for an entire day due to economic restraints. 8 out of the 10 families were classified as “Very Low” on the Childrens’ Food Security scale (as set out by Nord & Hopwood, 2007b) - the lowest possible rating. Many families are ashamed by the inability to provide for their families, to the point where they don’t mention their struggle. We also used this face-to-face interaction to invite the families to join in with the weekly Wednesday cooking session. This is a great opportunity for parents and children to work with the volunteers to make healthy and filling meals. All of the food is brought from the Comamos Juntos weekly market collections, using food that would otherwise be needlessly wasted.
What we learnt from our time at Comamos Juntos
It was invaluable experience for all of us to the part of the process from deciding on the recipe to delivery and interaction on the ground with the community. It was fantastic seeing how effectively the money we donated to the snack in pilot programme was used and appreciated by all involved. As volunteers from the UK and Canada where we often take for granted our immediate and constant access to food, it was humbling to meet the communities such as those at Villa Guadalupe.
As part of the Comamos Juntos team we gained an insight into the problems facing many Nicaraguan families on a daily basis. Being able to help in such a direct way was incredibly rewarding. It’s amazing to see such a dedicated group of people working tirelessly to help tackle such an endemic issue. We only wish we could have stayed longer... [and make more ice creams]
Sophie, Claire and Rachel x