Friday, August 14, 2009

Transportation and Economic Development Project



Background - The single reason that we chose to focus on an initiative to bring public transportation to Gigante is exactly what sets us apart from other development organizations: it is the will of the local people. On July 17th 2007, in a town hall meeting the people voted by an overwhelming margin in favor of the public transportation initiative. From that moment on Project WOO marshaled resources, engaged local leaders, and worked tirelessly to bring public transportation to Gigante.


As we moved forward on the transportation proposal it became clear that one key impetus behind the villager’s desire for transportation was easy access to education. According to the 2008 Gigante Census that was carried out by Project WOO staff, the village has a total population of 386 residents, thirty five of which are active high school students. Because Gigante is so small and remote, it does not have a high school and as such the students are forced to travel to the larger nearby towns of Tola or Rivas to attend class. This means a round trip, daily, dirt-road commute of almost twenty miles to Tola or just over thirty miles to Rivas, rain or shine. Because there was no reliable public transportation in and out of Gigante, all of these students were forced to walk up to three miles out to the main road where they would wait for an overcrowded, expensive, and unsafe bus to pass. The Gigante students therefore arrived to school late, tired and dirty (if they even made it). This was hardly the way to start the school day; in fact, it put these students at an educational disadvantage.



One of the regional buses passing through a neighboring village. Before Project WOO organized a locally run transportation business, the Gigante students were forced to walk over three miles on the hot, dusty road in the summer or on the rainy, muddy road in the winter. Only students with enough money could get a ride, but they were forced to sit on top of the overcrowded and unsafe bus. Who would have thought that surfers could play such a critical role in helping locals improve public services?


From the time that the Gigante community members elected the transportation initiative as our priority project, the WOO staff in Nicaragua began working with local citizens to implement a series of empowering group trainings focusing in three areas: 1) Life Skills, 2) Project Design and Management, and 3) Business and Financial Management. These workshops were designed and implemented by the WOO staff with the goal of providing an open forum for interested villagers to learn how to plan and execute a community development project and how to launch and manage a business.


WOO Director of Operations Norma Prendiz (pictured here in 2008 when she was our newly hired project manager) imparting an important business development training to Gigante community members.


Peace Corps Volunteer and WOO business intern Cara Mitchell leading the group through important team building exercises in 2008.



In February 2009, after months of research about what kind of vehicle would be the best fit for Gigante, Project WOO purchased a 1999 Mercedes Benz 8 ton truck in fair condition that had previously been used to transport coffee in the mountainous Matagalpa region of northern Nicaragua. It was in need of some repairs and upgrades, so we decided to put our money to good use and make the vehicle into a fully operational (and comfortable!) community transportation outfit. Over the course of two months, we completely transformed the old coffee truck into an almost new community bus! Overall it was an amazing process, and the fruits of our labor really shows!

The WOO Bus on February 6th, 2009, the day we purchased it in Managua. Here it is pictured in it's original form as a truck that hauled coffee in the northern mountain town of Matagalpa.

The WOO Bus, transformed! Here it is picking up students and villagers on the morning of April 28th, 2009. We officially launched our transportation service on April 20th, 2009.

Here is a picture of what the inside of the truck used to look like before we had it upgraded.

This is the happy picture of the WOO Bus being used by students and villagers alike. Every day people ride the bus into Tola to go to school, get medical attention at the clinic, and purchase goods to stock their small businessnes and restaurants.

Current Situation - This project in its current form is the concrete realization of what can happen when passion combines with action to forge dreams that stretch across cultures in the name of equality, opportunity, and progressive development. Wave of Optimism Transportation, LLC. is the result of over two years of careful preparation that has combined local participation, proper allocation of resources, and pointed technical training.

When Project WOO founders Nick Mucha and Adam Monaghan made their first trip to this remote surfing destination in December 2004 they had no idea that five years later they and their friendly, hardworking Nicaraguan counterparts would be responsible for offering the first daily public transportation service to and from Gigante.

As a result of their hard work (and the invaluable financial support of our compassionate donors) the local residents now have reliable access to education, commerce and health care.



WOO Transportation Coordinator (and bus driver!) Marlon Martinez and WOO Director of Operations Norma Prendiz proudly show off the shiny new ride!

The WOO Bus currently makes three trips a day. Transportation Coordinator and bus driver Marlon Martinez is a responsible, dedicated man who knows that making sure the kids get to and from school every day is our number one priority. Marlon also liases with the parents and community members to field any constructive criticism or handle any problems that might arise.

WOO Director of Operations Norma Prendiz runs the business side of things. She was responsible for the business registration process with the local authorities. She manages the business' finances with complete transparency. In addition to these responsibilities she is the overall project manager for everything that Project WOO does in Nicaragua. Norma is a true all-star and deserves to be applauded for her work!


While we are only in our first year providing transportation to the villagers of Gigante, we are looking to improve and expand this service if we can generate the financial support to do so. We are currently working with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure to see how we can expand our coverage beyond Gigante.

Now that we know that process, the players, and the end result, we see it as a viable possibility to offer bus service to all of the school children in Tola. In order to do so, we need to work with local leaders on the ground in Nicaragua to develop the project, design a budget, and implement our strategy. We can do it, but we need the support of everyone out there to contribute to help make our dream become a reality!


Project WOO Program Director Adam Monaghan with the students on the first day of school in February. We rented this truck from Don Lorenzo until our bus was ready to launch full service for the entire village.

Gigante 8th grader Rene is all smiles as he boards the bus knowing that he doesn't have to walk 3 miles in the mud to get to school anymore!

Some of our donors are pictured here as they send the students off on their first day of school in February. We are truly grateful for their support and want to say THANK YOU!! on behalf of the Project WOO staff and the people of Gigante.

Some of the Gigante girls proudly pose in front of their school bus. They are happy to arrive in style every day!

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