On Thursday, April 26, Dr. Paulette Goudge talked to a group of students at Williams’s Center for Environmental Studies about her eco-hotel in Nicaragua.
Goudge began her talk by describing Nicaragua and her work there. Nicaragua is the poorest of the central American countries, and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. However, with only approximately five million inhabitants, the country has a very low rate of drug crimes and gang violence, especially when compared with other poor Central American countries.
Goudge first decided to visit Nicaragua in the 1980s during the contra war. She then decided to spend three years there, learning Spanish and finally adopting a two-year-old war orphan who had developed severe learning disabilities from the trauma she had experienced. Goudge and her daughter moved back to the U.K. for a while, but, seven years ago, Goudge decided that her daughter would feel more comfortable in her home environment than in the U.K.; they have lived in Nicaragua ever since.
When the two women reached Nicaragua, they decided to use the money they had made by selling their house in the U.K. to set up an eco-hotel near Managua, called “La Mariposa.” This hotel invites Westerners to stay for weeks at a time in order to learn Spanish, discover more about Nicaraguan culture, and explore local natural beauty in an eco-friendly manner. Remarkably, Goudge keeps none of the profits from the hotel to herself; she instead dedicates their profits to providing work for villagers and funding local community service projects.”You have to convince local people that you’re not stashing money away,” she said. “You don’t want to look like you’re in a separate universe.”
The eco-hotel, which is in the process of becoming an NGO, strives to be carbon-neutral. The newly built study center is made entirely from thatch, local volcanic rock, and used tires; the hotel derives its hot water from solar panels, and three-quarters of the vegetables and fruits that they serve the tourists are grown in their own organic garden. “You can’t just tell other people to be eco-friendly. You have to set a model,” she said.
She also emphasized the importance of working within the Nicaraguan community to help it transcend its poverty. The hotel, employing sixty-five people, is the biggest non-public employer in the area, and Goudge believes it is essential to create sustainable, dignified employment for local workers rather than simply donating money to the local government. For example, she refuses to put local her washerwomen out of work by installing washing machines in the hotel.
In addition, the hotel undertakes many community service projects. Goudge has created an organic community garden for the locals, and in recent years, the garden has produced a surplus, which the villagers have been able to sell in Managua. She has also begun local clean water and nutrition projects, as well as running a pre-school and a sports program to help keep young people out of gang violence.
To find out more about La Mariposa, visit http://www.mariposaspanishschool.com/.