Away From the Madding Crowds: Building capacity for sustainable tourism in Pearl Lagoon

09 April 2012

“Miss Fanny showed me things that I didn´t know: how to place your fork and knife, how to place your cups and saucers, your plates, and other things you need on the breakfast table like the butter dish and the mugs for water and juice.”

Mayolet McCoy referred like this, to some of what she learned in Miss Francesca Weather´s Bed and Breakfast Workshop, held last January during FADCANIC´s 2012 Cultural Revitalization Program in Pearl Lagoon.

The Cultural Revitalization Program is an initiative that seeks to rebuild community ties and values, by providing a space for sharing and learning. The Program is funded by the Norwegian Student´s and Academic´s International Assistance Fund (SAIH) since it was first launched in 2008.

This year´s edition delivered 21 courses with a total of 465 participants ranging in age from 8 to 60 and more. Mayolet chose the B&B workshop, she said, “Because I am looking toward my future. I can be an owner of my restaurant, or I can be a worker in someone else´s.”

Until recently, any prospect of a job in the hospitality sector would have meant leaving Pearl Lagoon, mainly “to go ship-out” which is how people in our region refer to employment on international cruise liners.

Setting up your own small business was not a notion many entertained either. But a growing number of national and international tourists are also making their way to the basin. So now even those in the community who are not contemplating much more than a frito or a cassava-cake stand, are looking for the skills that can allow them to better accommodate this more diverse clientele.

More so in the past five years since the Rama-Pearl Lagoon road was completed. The municipal seat and other surrounding communities gained access to 24-hour electricity and as of January 2012, municipal water supply is also available in Haulover, Pearl Lagoon, Awas and Raitipura.

These public investments in turn, are driving local private investments in the hospitality sector as community members see the potential for growth in an industry that is already the second largest income earner in the country.

In this context, the Cultural Revitalization Program is responding effectively with opportunities for business and workforce skills development that is especially aimed at giving a chance to the most disadvantaged in all four communities.

At one end of the service spectrum,  for example, the Program delivered a vocational training package including courses in ecotourism, plumbing, domestic electrical wiring, and solar panel installation and maintenance. Counting a total of 55 participants, each of these courses was specifically directed to boost employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth under age 24.


At another end of the spectrum, the Program taps into the knowledge and experience of well-established service providers to allow participants of all ages to realize as Miss Fanny Weathers said, “that it is not about what you have or do not have. Be it just a table in your kitchen the important thing is that is you know that cleanliness is next to godliness and that you never treat anyone differently than you yourself would like to be treated.”

This was only the second year her B&B workshop was offered, but already two of last year´s participants have opened their own guest houses in Awas and Haulover. “I hear they are doing very well,” said Miss Fanny, “they are an example that you can take this course and do something with it.”

A third participant, Warner Cayasso, 35, upgraded his place where he´s hosted the B&B course both last year and this. His is a modest three-bedroom guest house and eatery which started, he said, “with three tables, fried plantain and barbecued chicken.”

And, one might add, with the flavors he acquired in Miss Ingrid´s and Mr George´s Cooking Course. Miss Ingrid Cuthbert and Mr George “Doggie” Hebbert are local innkeepers who pioneered catering-services in the community. They grow their own vegetables and spices in their yard when the weather allows, and Miss Ingrid is especially known for her ability to give a local twist to comfort food from around the world.

When we stopped by for this report, her class was busy making fish balls and spreads. Said Miss Ingrid “when we think sandwiches in Pearl Lagoon, we usually only think about ´mortadela´ and yellow cheese, but I like to go into our seafood which is what we most have around here.”

The couple´s course has been on the menu of the Cultural Revitalization Program since the start and other students of theirs have also gone on to set up their own businesses.

Miss Mirna McCoy, for example, now serves local and global crowd pleasers like nacatamales, baked beans and chow-mein, in the charm of her front porch located uptown.

In middle town, Miss Clarissa Bernard built a little café in her front yard, where you can have fish sandwich spread on home-made coconut bread.


It is this type of local community-based initiative that FADCANIC ― ever mindful of not underestimating the damage indiscriminate tourism can have on cultures, landscapes, and wildlife― is most keen on encouraging.

In this regard, participants in the Environmental Sciences Course are students and teachers who are especially concerned with issues of pollution, waste, and climate change.

This course was designed and introduced three years ago by environmentalist Jacques Du Pasquier, a volunteer with Eirene Swiss. It is led now by local community organizers Kathy Williams and Oneyda Cuthbert who work out of the Foundation´s seat in Haulover, promoting best practices in watershed management and sustainable agro-forestry.

We met their class on a field trip in Manhattan, which is an ancestral community of Black farmers located a few miles south of Pearl Lagoon. They were there, analyzing soil types and building a family eco-stove.

Twelve year old Mayra Ordoñez gave us a step by step description of how they´d built the stove using sand, lime (calcium oxide), cement, rods, mud, zinc molds to shape the burners and tin pipes for the chimney.

“We built it in one hour and I feel like it is better than the fire-hearth because the smoke goes out through the pipes and the heat doesn´t reach you,” said the seventh-grader.

Teacher Shirley Alex Simmons, also a course participant, pointed out that indeed, “if we see the traditional stove we use to cook on, it used to affect the woman parts because all the heat used to come on to them. It used to affect their eyes too.”

But now, she added “we come with a stove that keeps the heat, so you are also helping on with the environment. You cut lesser trees, you use less wood and you cook a little faster.”

The following day, the Environmental Sciences class was off to the Mískito community of Kahkabila (a few miles north across the lagoon), to learn with local leaders about the efforts over there to contain the smuggling of lumber and protect the indigenous lands.

For Shirley Watson, facilitator of the Ecotourism Course, building eco-stoves and engaging in indigenous conservation efforts are activities that many a tourist today are very willing to pursue. “That is what we are focusing on, giving these training so that the children know how to handle the resources, knowing that we can also develop the community based on ecotourism,” she said.

Watson´s workshop was part of the Education for Success Vocational package and it was offered to boys and girls who are interested in working as tourist guides.

Marina Ingram from Raitipura was one who signed up. “I see a lot of tourists visit our communities. Maybe with the time I can help to show them around.”

Marina said this with that extreme level of shyness that may be as much a part of her own personality as it can be a result of coming from an indigenous community whose youth don´t get all that many chances to be up and about, even in the neighborhood.

Now, however, she too would be trekking around the bush and the savannah, checking in at the inns and eateries, and interviewing folks, to discover what might appeal to tourists who want to get away from the madding crowds.

These pictures by Seattle-based graphic designer Sedora DeBondt give an idea of what catches the eye of one who looks with sensitive eyes, at our landscapes, our culture and most especially, at our people. Like many world travelers today, Sedora looks to give back to local communities. She´s planning for example, to make a photo book to help raise funds for a community school located in La Concepción, near Managua. She was also on the East Coast of Nicaragua last year, and plans to make it back here again because it was "a really special place."  Here are her photos:

Pearl Lagoon Town, Pearl Lagoon Basin. ©Sedora DeBondt
Haulover, Pearl Lagoon Basin. ©Sedora DeBondt
Raitipura, Pearl Lagoon Basin. ©Sedora DeBondt
Awas, Pearl Lagoon Basin. ©Sedora DeBondt
Wawashang Reserve, Pearl Lagoon Basin. ©Sedora DeBondt
Pearl Cays, Pearl Lagoon. ©Sedora DeBondt

Do you have a practical skill to share? Participate in the 2013 Cultural Revitalization Program in Pearl Lagoon. For more information, please contact FADCANIC´s Education Program Coordinator Hazel Wilson Nash -