KIRF Field Report: Women’s Sports & Health in Playa Gigante, Nicaragua

Beach in Playa Gigante, Nicaragua
Playa Gigante, Nicaragua

We returned to Playa Gigante, Nicaragua in December, this time with our kids, to help out two local non-profits that are doing a lot to keep this part of the world beautiful and the locals healthy and economically self-sufficient: Sweet Water Fund and Project WOO. We also came to enjoy the still pristine tropical beaches with world-class surf breaks and to see the native flora and fauna. The native fauna includes flocks, colorful squawking parrots, and at least one troop of wild mantled howler monkeys who live in the tree canopy above the town.

Women’s Sports

We ended up doing all those things! We started by helping the Sweet Water Fund’s project by supporting the local women’s softball team, Las Estrellas de Gigante. We purchased building materials needed for their field dugouts and drove them back to Playa Gigante. For me, going out and purchasing building supplies in Spanish (I’m not even close to fluent), without a car, in a city an hour away that I’ve never been to, and on New Years Eve was an interesting challenge. New Years is a big holiday in Nicaragua that is noteworthy for its exuberant revelry, effigies of “Año Viejo, and fireworks.  This “mission impossible” was made possible through the loan of Dale Dagger Surf Lodge’s ancient-but-indestructable-4×4 truck and its Spanish-speaking American expert/local surf tour guide/dirt road commando and Sweet Water Fund volunteer Shawn. He got us thru the crowded (with vendor’s, ox carts, goats, chickens, children, family motorbikes) streets of downtown Rivas to a friendly Spanish-speaking building materials shop called Ferromax. With his guidance, and our son’s help translating, we were able to get the building materials we needed for the softball field.

Kai, Shawn & volunteers loading up our donation of building materials in Rivas. A tiny horse at the face of the picture while the donations or towards the back.
Kai, Shawn & volunteers loading up our donation of building materials in Rivas

KIRF is helping out the local women’s softball team because being a part of a sports team can help women help each other through team spirit and solidarity, thus helping them get a better future for themselves and their families. Sports also has an incredible ability to bring people closer together and increase understanding among people from different backgrounds. As Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said,

“Sport is a universal language. At its best it can bring people together, no matter what their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status. And when young people participate in sports or have access to physical education, they can experience real exhilaration even as they learn the ideals of teamwork and tolerance.” (Annan 2005)

Playa Gigante is going through profound social and economic changes right now as it transitions from a small fishing village accessible only by a dirt road into an international surf and tourist destination. Its local families, who for generations have relied only on fishing, farming, and each other to live, will need all the help they can get to adapt to a new cash economy based on tourism.

New Softball field dugouts built with materials provided by KIRF in December 2012.
New Softball field dugouts built with materials provided by KIRF in December 2012.

According to recent studies competitive sports have the ability to increase group solidarity while at the same time, increase tolerance for diversity, and an atmosphere of trust among its players and fans (Barrio 2009; Jarvie 2007; Jonsson 2001).  As “hard cultural forms” competitive sports can also teach the value of teamwork, personal accountability, achievement, and leadership to players through its rules and particular sport culture (Appadurai 2010).  KIRF has a history of supporting sports programs and physical education since our first donation of soccer balls to devastated communities in coastal Thailand after the Andaman Tsunami and our support of free athletics programs for street children and the rural poor in Bihar, India since 2006.

Family Health

We also came to check out the piece of property that was donated by a local landowner for the town’s first Community Health Center. A 2011 census and needs assessment survey produced by Project WOO,  indicated that not only has the town’s population increased 13% since 2008 (to 481), but that tourism-related employment has jumped 400% during the same period. According to that same report, the top three community development initiatives desired by local residents are:

  1. Access to health care: The closest health center is over 15 kilometers away–too far away for many of the local residents who get around by walking or biking; there is no emergency medical care for local families and no pre- or postnatal care available to women in town.
  2. Education: The local residents desired better education options for their children as well as continuing education options for adults such as English, Arts, environmental sustainability, health, and family planning.
  3. Community center: A communal area for residents to meet, learn, celebrate traditional festivals, performances, and other events together.

Future site of the Gigante Community Health Center
Future site of the Gigante Community Health Center

We aim to assist the new Community Health Center by working in partnership with the people of Playa Gigante and other non-profit organizations. KIRF has a dual mission of disaster relief and of helping people help themselves thru educational programs, which foster economic, health and environmental sustainability. In Playa Gigante, locally needed educational programs include physical education through their local women’s softball team and health education at their new Community Health Center. Working with other non-profit organizations like the Rotary Club of Ventura, we feel that Playa Gigante has a chance to remain a beautiful and friendly place to visit as well as a great place to live for local “Nica” families. Part of our time in Playa Gigante was to work on behalf of the Rotary Club of Ventura to assess the location donated by a generous local landowner for the community well and for the future Gigante Community Health Center (GCHC).

Architectural drawings of the future Gigante Community Health Center
Architectural drawings of the future Gigante Community Health Center

We came to the remote fishing village of Playa Gigante, accessible only by two dirt roads that meander to the coast from the main highway through verdant hills covered in rainforest, dotted with occasional small single-family farms, and orchards wanting to experience for ourselves its natural beauty and to help out two local non-profit organizations. However, we left wanting to help the people keep their town a great place to live. We hope that the people of Playa Gigante can keep their little town by the sea free of the cycle of poverty and hopelessness that we saw plague some other communities in Nicaragua. In these places we saw street children begging, garbage in the streets, littering by the hillsides, fouled streams, and young boys passed out from drug use. We hope that in the years to come, Playa Gigante and the other picturesque towns along the Pacific coast, will remain a great place to live for it’s plentiful wildlife as well. Colorful parrots, howler monkeys, sea turtles, spider monkeys, translucent-winged butterflies, and all kinds of kinds of tropical sea life call this part of the world home, too.  It is my hope that with what we know now about environmental sustainability and social change, that we can keep little towns like Playa Gigante awesome.

Thank you,
Angela (co-founder of KIRF)

* Here are a few resources that I cited about how sports participation teaches values of team work and increases group solidarity, tolerance of diversity and peaceful adaptations to social change in communities:

  • Annan, Kofi (2005) “International Year of Sport and Physical Education”, United Nations, (February 1, 2013)
  • Appadurai, Arjun (2010) Modernity At Large, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 90.
  • Barrio, Maria (2009) “Herramientas Para Promover el Interculturalism en Contextos Postbelicos, en el Marco de la Cooperacion Para El Desarrollo. Un Proyecto Realizado en Guatemala (Centroamerica)” (English: “Tools for Promoting Interculturalism in post-conflict contexts, in the framework of development cooperation. A project in Guatemala (Central America)”)
  • Jarvie, Grant (2007) Sport, Social Change and the Public Intellectual,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport,  42(4): 411-424.
  • Jonsson, Hjoleifur (2001) “Serious Fun: Minority Cultural Dynamics and National Integration in Thailand,” American Ethnologist 28(1 ):1 51 -1 78;