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Monday, May 25, 2015

Learning Spanish and serving the community

We have been involved in Spanish language instruction for some time. In fact, the Apoyo Spanish School is the oldest of the Nicaragua Spanish schools. That accumulation of experience-25 years this year-has given us a few lessons.

The first lesson we have learned about Spanish instruction is that Spanish is a dynamic language. It is not easy to learn a language in a classroom in some country where Spanish is not spoken by most people. One can learn more Spanish by getting away from the television, radio, and all the chatter of friends and neighbors. We are amazed and dismayed when folks ask us if their Spanish teacher will speak English. We hope not! Our teachers work in Spanish throughout the class period, and afterward, the students get to speak with folks in Spanish, too.

Apoyo Spanish School classes are surrounded by nature and green vegetation. Spanish students learn and give back through service-learning in our environmental volunteer program. Photo Jen Moran.
Most folks feel uncomfortable at first when confronted with a situation in which everything is conducted in Spanish. After all, it is much more comfortable to talk about Spanish than to talk in Spanish. But the latter is really the objective, and talking about Spanish won't ever get you there. Our classes at Apoyo Spanish School help the students learn better and faster by getting them into a total immersion setting.

Nicaragua Spanish School
Studying Spanish can be a bonding experience. Photo Jen Moran.
We have also learned that learning is best connected to service. The Apoyo Spanish School is a service-learning program. All students are given ample opportunities to give back to their community by participating in environmental activities. our students help with rescue animals, which may mean things as mundane as cleaning cages, changing water, or collecting seeds and fruits for the animals to eat from the wild forest. Our students also participate in reforestation activities. The Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve has several deforested areas, and we work with local landowners to return natural forest cover to those areas, benefitting the wildlife and helping to take care of our precious lake.
service learning
Learning Spanish is also about serving. Students at Apoyo Spanish School participate in activities such as growing trees for regenerating natural forest in deforested areas in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Jen Moran.
Students volunteer part of their time while studying at Apoyo Spanish School in some activities to make Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve a better place for everyone. Every person comes with some special skill or ability, and not everyone can do the same thing. But there is always something to do for everyone.
The tree nursery at Estación Biológica  in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve has flourished during the dry season, thanks to the participation of students of Apoyo Spanish School. Photo Jen Moran. 
The reforestation project at Estación Biológica, the site of Apoyo Spanish School, has been immensely successful, in fact it is among the most successful natural forest restoration projects in the region. We have successfully grown over 8000 trees which now are part of the forest canopy. This has required the planting of many trees, because some die from drought, trampling, or especially from fires. We put a lot of effort into every tree so the survival rate is as high as it can be. Our volunteers through the Eco-Warrior program and Apoyo Spanish School are vital to keeping Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve wild and beautiful. 

Apoyo Spanish School
A mahogany (Swietenia humilis) tree is ready to find a new home in a reforestation plot. Spanish students learn the language in interactions in volunteer activities as well as in the classroom. Photo Jen Moran. 
Another lesson that we have learned in twenty-five years of Spanish language instruction is that learning is a two-way process. Every person who comes to study Spanish with us also brings something for us to learn. The unique contributions of each person that pass our way all leave a mark on us and on the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. And, our Spanish students leave with substantially imp-roved Spanish skills and memories of service shared with this lovely country. We appreciate the contributions people make to Nicaragua through their service-learning activities.

Thanks to Apoyo Spanish School student and volunteer Jen Moran at Jen Moran Photography for these wonderful photos. Visit her website and tell her how much you like her photography!

Apoyo Spanish School
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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Yoga instructor and Thai massage training at SEVA Center

Anyone who has had a therapeutic massage in a developing country realizes that the high standards in certification can be very important. Not everyone who claims to be a massage therapist has had good training, and getting that good training is not at all easy, for two reasons. The first is that licensed trainers providing well-established training programs are hard to encounter, and the second is that therapeutic massage services are regulated in most states of the US, whereas in Third World countries, just about anyone can claim to be a massage therapist with little or no training, and little regard to quality of the training programs.

The same issues exist with yoga practitioners and instructors. There are lots of people out there who have taken some yoga classes, or even a few classes in yoga instruction, but until now, no program exists with certified instructors in yoga practices directed at the Nicaraguan audience.

The Seva Centers International  site in Leon is the first comprehensive center in Nicaragua where massage therapy, yoga and other holistic practices are offered to Nicaraguans by US-licensed instructors. We are now celebrating the Seva Centers International joining the GAIA program at FUNDECI. We are working together to bring more and better-trained yoga instructors and Thai massage therapists to Nicaragua. We are convinced of the benefits of yoga to the spirit, mind and body of the participants, and we extend to Seva Centers International in Leon our warmest welcome.

Would you like to become a licensed Ashtanga Yoga instructor? There is no better place than Leon, Nicaragua, to learn and participate with the local community. Interested people should contact Seva Centers for registration, yoga classes, and yoga instructor training.

Eight Limbed Practice of Yoga  (Ashtanga Yoga)

What is the universal understanding of the yoga tradition? 
  1. That there is a Power greater than ourselves, that desires joy, peace, and prosperity for us.  We were born with free will so that which is desired for us must be chosen by us.
  2. Suffering exists in this world.  Through suffering we can choose to know and understand what our purpose on this planet is and attempt to fulfill it for as long as we live, thus reducing our suffering.  Or not.  Duality exists.

Yamas (Spiritual Observances)  Moral principles to live by in order to develop the more profound qualities of our human condition. We are to willingly and joyfully place restraint upon ourselves in order to conduct ourselves .
Ahimsa—non-harm, violence and awareness cannot coexist; loving kindness and compassion toward self and others as you think, act, speak throughout the day.
Satya—Truth, being honest with self and others with our thoughts, words, actions throughout the day.
Asteya—non-stealing, non-gluttony; It refers to the stealing that grows from the fear of lack/ that we cannot create what we need.  “We steal because we misperceive the universe as lacking abundance” that there is not enough to go around or that we will not receive reciprocally what we give forth.
Brahmacharya—using our energy wisely, following in the path of a HP or acting with Spirit;  it implies renouncing one’s earthly desires to focus one’s attention on God/ Higher Power;  following our purpose (dharma) in life; maintaining focus (one way to maintain focus is breathing throughout yoga practice, allowing the breath to come from the (chi) the center of the life force.
Aparigraha—not coveting, it is the greed rooted in jealousy—the desire to be something we are not or to possess that which is not meant for us to have at that moment in time,  it is comparing ourselves to others; when ego gets in the way and makes us what we are not; non-attachment; limiting one’s possessions to necessary things only since unnecessary things “only distract our attention from the essential”.  When we move on from this plane of existence, what will it be holding you close to this plane that you fear letting go of?”

Niyamas (Self- Purification and study)
Saucha—(purity) practice of regular detoxification and purification of the body.  Neti use, purging (oral, bowels, sweating), washing body, mouth, etc. Purification includes eating food that is healthy and non-toxic to body.  It must be understood that food is the life source for our corporal selves and it should “be eaten with reverence, gratefulness, and the attitude of nourishing our physical bodies to serve” the HP.  “Our bodies are temples to the Lord”.

Santosha—(modesty) feeling content with what one has.  It is the practice of accepting what happens to us as meant to happen in order to offer us an opportunity for a life lesson.  It is not a predestined event but rather a time to seek God’s will in the event.  Simply put, it is a time to ask ourselves “what am I suppose to learn from this event?”  This practice includes study, physical efforts, attitude checks, perception checks.
Tapas—(burning) “it means to have a burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life”.  In yoga it means to heat up the garbage in our bodies and burn it (practice of ujiyaa breath).  It means to pay attention to what we eat, to body posture, attention to breathing patterns off the mat as well (when we walk, relate to others, when we feel anxious, angry, peaceful, etc.) Through regular meditation practice one burns up mental toxins and through practice one burns up physical toxins.
Svadyaya—(examination) to study oneself—all learning and reflection helps one learn about oneself.
Ishvarapranidhana—(lay all your actions at the feet of God) After we do our best, with sincere modesty we leave the rest to a Higher Power.  It is giving God the glory for everything that happens inour lives and the reason for the things to happen.  It is the emptying oneself of desires in order to fill oneself with the Source of all power.

(quotes from BKS Iyengar and DKS Desikachar)

Asana (Postures)Benefits of:
Sun Salutations—awakens and warms the entire body, begin connecting with the breath, begins the rhythm between strength and flexibility work.
Standing Poses—connect us to the ground, balance, promote emotional stability
Forward Bends—cooling effect, allow us to let go
Balance poses—between movement and stillness, to practice mindfulness, appreciation of one’s body;  promote equilibrium and stamina; weight bearing stimulates the bones in the legs, arms, and spine.
Backbends—opens our hearts to whatever the universe has for us to accept; stimulates the central nervous system opening up all the energy centers (chakras); tone the adrenal glands, liver, kidney, pancreas; antidepressive.
Seated Poses—elongate the spine alleviating pain in upper and lower body; strengthening the core in order to be able to sit for prolonged periods of time in meditation
Inversions—reversing our relationship to gravity energizes and stabilizes the whole body; oxygenates the brain to help stimulate and restore neuron activity; balances endocrine system.
Twists—stimulate and balance GI, reproductive, and eliminative systems; increase flexibility in hips, shoulders, spine.
Supine Poses—body moves freely and serenely through its full range of motion and savasana is the ultimate of the body being free to move between body, mind, spirit.

Pranayama (Breath Control)
Ujjaya breath—stimulates the energy channels, promotes mental clarity and focus, heats up the body.
            19 different kinds of breath control techniques for specific conditions

Pratyahara (Sense Control)  it is a state of mindfulness where you are aware of your surroundings yet sense that you are not part of them because your mental and spiritual state are suspended, serene, blissful.  It means that even as one participates in the world around them, there is a space between the world and one’s responses to that world.  Ultimately, it is the ability to have such mental clarity and magnamity that one can choose his/ her own responses to the world instead of reacting. It is how to choose to use one’s energy and not reacting to the variables that surround him/ her.

Dharana (Concentration)  the ability to focus on one thing.  This is most difficult because it is in the human mind to lack concentration and, therefore, to suffer greatly.   If one can accomplish focus or dharana for even a little bit, he/ she reduces his/ her suffering by much greater than that.  Austerities are practiced in order to discipline oneself into concentration.  These austerities are:  solitude, silence, fasting, sexual restraint, celibacy, and holding a posture.  Concentration is dramatically boosted by one’s faith and devotion toward the object of concentration.  In other words, you can concentrate all your energies on completing a Step and that focus will reward you with significant reduction of suffering.

Dhyana (Contemplation)  Meditation and enlightenment.   “Enlightenment is… Buddhists and yogis tend to agree that in a sense we area already enlightened;  we are already there.  Enlightenment is really just a deep, basic trust in yourself and your life.”    It is the stripping away the layers of decisions that have reflected our karma to a neutral state of being where peace and wholeness can be revealed.  It is truly understanding what your in-dwelling spirit is all about after peeling away the layers of our humanness.  These are:  (afflictions of the mind)
  • Avidya—ignorance (which is experiential not conceptual)
  • Asmita—ego
  • Raga—attraction or attachment to worldly things (tangible/ intangible) which creates in us a pattern of acquisition thus giving us the false security that our fragile existence is protected.
  • Dvesha—attachment to objects of pleasure, thus seeking this pleasure repeatedly even when it clouds the purpose (dharma) of our existence and hide our in-dwelling spirit.
  • Abhinivesha--  because of dvesha and raga a cycle of outflowing of our energy and attention through our senses has been created depleting us of energy which could be ours to experience, to live in abundance, non-attachment, pure enlightenment. Fear that our existence will cease with the death of our physical bodies.

Samadhi (Veridical Meditation/ Bliss) “the crown of all the aesthetic spiritual efforts and exercises of a yogi and yogini.  There are four stages to reach living in the grace of God:  argumentative; non-argumentative existence; reflective; super-reflective.  It means reaching Nirvana which translates to mean “complete burning away”—obliteration of one’s individual identity and mergence with God.

Ashtanga Yoga Instructor at Seva Center, Rebecca Hagman. Photo Rebecca Hagman.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tropical Kingbird III: Feeding the babies

As we earlier posted, a pair of Tropical Kingbirds (Tyrannus melancholicus) produced three eggs this past Mother's Day in a vigorous courtship, which has now become three rapidly-growing chicks. Both parents spend all the daylight hours defending them and providing food for them. Here, we present more photos of this growing family, with special thanks to Rebecca Brown for camera donation.
The Tropical Kingbird watches over an open area from a high perch, in plain view of the nest where three chicks are in constant desire of food. Photo Jeffrey McCrary. 
Within a week of hatching, incipient wing-feathers became visible among the hair-like plumage characteristic of most nestlings. The Tropical Kingbird chicks have grown rapidly, but sleeping and eating are their only activities.

baby birds
A week after hatching, these Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) chicks are beginning to show flight feathers. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
One parental bird remains with the nest at night, but both parents are seeking food for the chicks all day long. They mostly catch items on the wing, capturing all kinds of insects in the sky, grabbing arthropods from leaves or even plucking tiny fruits such as hot peppers. Although little idle time remains for the adults, they communicate constantly, bicker, and they even occasionally perform a "dance"-each flying in tandem about four meters high, from a perch, while singing.
tropical kingbird
Once the Tropical Kingbird chicks awaken, only one thing can be on their minds-food. The parents feed them small insects and fruits, and even larger insects such as butterflies and dragonflies. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Both parents are near the nest during all daylight hours and nothing happens there of which they are not immediately aware. They squabble with other birds, especially Social Flycatchers which have a nest only some twelve meters away. The Tropical Kingbirds are adept flyers and fearless, taking on any animal that enters its territory, even humans, who will feel their presence from behind if lingering nearby.
birdwatching nicaragua
The orange flash colors in the crest of this Tropical Kingbird are visible when the bird feels threatened, although the chicks are all oblivious to any danger nearby. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Far from being free of danger, these chicks at one week of life after hatching would represent a merry morsel to most other animals. The parents must continue their protection aggressively, given that the nest and chicks are readily visible and accessible from land and air.
baby birds
Upon waking, the chicks immediately open wide and beg, expecting a tasty insect or fruit. Whereas in the first couple of days, all food brought was regurgitated, the chicks now must ingest their food items without as much prior treatment. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
The Tropical Kingbird is not only valiant, it is also somewhat tolerant of humans, permitting some great opportunities for nature photography. While by no means the rarest or most spectacular bird in Nicaragua, it is nonetheless an interesting and somewhat willing subject, and an example of what a birdwatcher can expect beyond just seeing a lot of different birds. These birds are available to the observer in both forested and altered settings, and they can make a fine show.
Parental Tropical Kingbirds both deliver food in turn throughout the day. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

tyrannus melancholicus
A parental Tropical Kingbird observes in loving contemplation of the chicks. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
The chicks still have considerable growth ahead of them before fledging, and even then, dependence continues, as they learn to fly and feed themselves. This parental pair will continue to be busy for weeks to come. 
tyrannus melancholicus
Foods provided to the chicks include vegetable matter, as is shown in the bill of one of the parental units. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
We at FUNDECI/GAIA organize birdwatching tours in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve and elsewhere, and we would love to take you on a birdwatching excursion. Even common birds such as the Tropical Kingbird can make a marvelous camera model and give plenty to watch. This is only one of more than 220 bird species found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve and more than 700 species in Nicaragua. Please contact us if you would like to go birdwatching with us, or if you would like to participate in bird research or monitoring with us.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day present to a pair of Tropical Kingbirds

Although the selected day differs from country to country, May is the month in which our mothers are remembered. It is fitting that many birds in the tropics hatch in this month, too. The always-vigilant Tropical Kingbird has hatched three eggs successfully on the afternoon of US Mother's Day, 10 May 2015. All eggshells and debris have been removed from the nest, and the chicks are being fed regurgitated insects.

birdwatching Nicaragua
Three baby Tropical Kingbirds (Tyrannus melancholicus) in their first day since hatching. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
The pair of Tropical Kingbirds have vigilantly guarded their three eggs since 24 April, against doves, grackles, and even squirrels. Nest parasites such as cuckoos and Melodious Blackbirds are abundant in the area, but the vigilance of these feisty flycatchers is rewarded by not being stuck with a parasitic egg. Both parents are continuously present and attentive to their nest.

Feeding time! Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
One can not always be in the jungle, but this small miracle of life is a reminder that even urban birdwatching can also bring some special rewards.
Tropcial Kingbird
Tyrannus melancholicus caring for eggs. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
The female Tropical attentive mother, as the following video demonstrates:

And parents quarrel among all species, even on Mother's Day!

Please contact us and let us know what you think of our blog, or post a comment below! 

Tropical Kingbird
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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Celebración de la Victoria

En la guerra más terrible de toda la historia del ser humano, perecieron hasta 85 millones de vidas. Y la nación que sufrió más, podria ser la Unión Soviética. En tan sola la Batalla de Estalingrado, las vidas perdidas podrían haber llegado a dos millones. Los rusos nunca se olvidarán. 

La comunidad rusa en Nicaragua, incluyendo numerosos nicaragüenses que han convivido con los rusos en momentos importantes en sus vidas, celebró la victoria sobre las fuerzas alemanas este pasado 9 de mayo, el septuagésimo aniversario de la victoria, en un pequeño acto cultural. Rusos recordaron las pérdidas en sus propias familias, y se aprovecharon la oportunidad de expresar su solidaridad con Nicaragua y convivir un momento de alegría. 

El Programa Gaia de FUNDECI participó en la celebración, y a continuación hay fotos y videos de diferentes momentos en el evento. 

Foto Jeffrey McCrary.

Foto Jeffrey McCrary.

Foto Jeffrey McCrary.
Foto Jeffrey McCrary.

Foto Jeffrey McCrary.

Foto Jeffrey McCrary.

Foto Jeffrey McCrary.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Catarina, Nicaragua

Tourism is finally happening to Nicaragua. What seems to us here as a lot of foreigners can be seen in a few places, particularly Granada and San Juan del Sur, which both don't even feel like Nicaragua any longer to the rest of us. Foreigners are also exploring the more uncommon places, so that it is not uncommon to see visitors from afar in Bluefields or Matagalpa, and sometimes even in the rural areas, for the more adventurous type.

One of the most attractive municipalities in Nicaragua is Catarina, and tourists from near and far are making pilgrimages to its "mirador". One of a handful of towns called Pueblos Blancos, this small town is perched on the edge of the Apoyo volcanic crater, giving it a fabulous view of the lake. The overlook has numerous offerings of restaurants, ice cream, horse riding, and lots of park-style space with benches just to sit and admire the incomparable views in the fresh breeze.

On a typical Sunday, Nicaraguans pour into Catarina from Managua, seeking a respite from the city life in family style. Most Nicaraguans have never actually touched the water of Laguna de Apoyo, but they have probably sat on the crater's edge and watched vultures soar in the breeze, with the lake before them, Mombacho Volcano to their right, and Granada plainly visible on the opposite side of the crater.

Family visits to Catarina may even include pets. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Although Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo is not exactly a short walk from the urban center of Catarina, its municipal territory extends along the shore of the lake, to and beyond our place up to about a kilometer further to the east. The urban center of Catarina sits precisely on the edge of the Apoyo crater, which is also the limit to the conservation zone of the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. We are happy with being part of this lovely, dynamic city, where we can participate in programs to protect the environment and culture of the area and help our community to prosper. 

Volcano Mombacho lies immediately to the south of Laguna de Apoyo, part of the landscape of the town of Catarina. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Catarina offers more than just a gorgeous view of Laguna de Apoyo. Its history is rich, including being the residence of the first Liberal Party president of Nicaragua, Jose Santos Zelaya. A train carried him home to Catarina from Managua each weekend, passing along the base of what is now the Catarina overlook. In those days, the United States foreign policy often contradicted Liberal intentions, and Zelaya was eventually forced into exile by an invading US Marine force. Another historically important Liberal, Benjamin Zeledon, fought against the US Marines who were occupying Nicaragua, and was killed in battle in Catarina, where his remains now rest. The politics of Nicaragua are rich and very colorful, and a visit to Catarina should be accompanied by a review of the role of these heroic agents. 

Many plant nurseries are found along the roadsides of Catarina, using rustic bamboo and ceramic containers made by artisans from the area. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Nicaraguan mission architecture is epitomized in the churches of the Pueblos Blancos, including that of Catarina. No gold is found in these churches, but rather combinations of wood and adobe, with vaulted ceiling and natural colors. Many Nicaraguans take advantage of a weekend trip to Catarina to visit the many plant nurseries, which supply many gardens with ornamentals and even coffee, tomato and other production seedlings.

Gaia director Jeffrey McCrary making official donation of a motorcycle tire to support the Catarina Police. Photo Mar Espinoza Smith.

The Gaia Program at FUNDECI works closely with the government authorities in Catarina and other municipalities that encompass the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. The reach of the National Police for such a small town as Catarina must be wide, because much of the outlying areas of the town are completely rural. Extensive stands of forests in the area, filled with precious hardwoods, are the targets of wood smugglers. The Catarina Police take seriously their mandate of protecting the natural resource base, which requires mobility to enforce effectively. We recently donated from our funds a new tire for use on the only motorcycle assigned to the Catarina Police station. 

Gaia Program Director Jeffrey McCrary inspects timber and cut wood confiscated from illegal traffickers by the Catarina Police. Photo Mar Espinoza Smith.
Throughout Masaya Department, in which Catarina is located, numerous carpenters are found, many of whom work in remote locations. Illegal wood is trafficked through numerous informal carpentry shops, threatening the natural resource base of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve and other areas nearby. The police are constantly vigilant to inappropriate movements of wood in the area, and they often capture vehicles with loads of wood lacking proper registry. FUNDECI/GAIA supports their activity by providing logistical support, including fuel and recently, we donated a tire for their motorcycle. By collaborating with the Nacional Police in Catarina, we work to make Nicaragua a better place for all, including those who wish to visit the Catarina overlook and see wild nature, not deforested spots where trees were cut and its wood stolen.

Cut and round wood of various precious hardwood species was recently confiscated from wood traffickers in Catarina. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
You can help us work to keep Catarina and Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve beautiful and natural, with a small donation to FUNDECI/GAIA. We accept donations through PayPal and we can provide official receipts for your records, and documentation of the use of your funds for specific programs in conservation. Consider contributing and write us at Thank you!
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