Rosa Amelia Valle Vargas, mayor of El Sauce, Nicaragua, spoke to Geneseo students on Oct. 1 about the challenges of leading a rural community that faces severe economic conditions.
Vargas, who spoke in Spanish and was translated for students by Rosemary McEwen, Spanish professor and chair of the foreign languages and literatures department, said that approximately 10,000 residents populate her town. She said that the community is largely agriculture, and exports crops such as beans, corn, sesame seeds and honey.
Vargas also gave a brief political history on Nicaragua before starting her speech, focusing heavily on the Sandinista involvement in the country in the late 1970s and '80s and speaking about how socialist values aim to help the country's economy today.
One of the major challenges facing the residents of El Sauce today is a high illiteracy rate. In addition, the global recession has weakened El Sauce's already suffering economy. The current unemployment rate in Vargas' community is between 30 and 50 percent, despite the Nicaraguan government's contribution of 9 percent of its budget to help develop municipalities like El Sauce.
Geneseo currently operates a program that allows students to live, visit and work with the residents of El Sauce to improve the community. One of the initiatives of this program is building brick homes for El Sauce residents, as most families live in houses made of clay that are not as resistant to inclement weather.
Students have also helped improve El Sauce's growing tourism industry, which, among other attractions, has a church that is over 100 years old.
Vargas said that one major way that residents earn income is through the crafting of baskets in the style of El Cerro, Nicaragua, which involves the weaving and coiling of pine needles.
Residents of El Sauce send the baskets to Geneseo's Jones School of Business, which works to secure markets in which they can be sold.
One of the goals of the event was to show students how different life in El Sauce is from life in Geneseo. "I think it's a great opportunity for students to learn how people from other countries perceive their historical relationship with our country," McEwen said. "It's important for students to see how other cultures perceive us, even if they don't necessarily agree with it."
The mayor said she was very appreciative of the efforts made by Geneseo to help her town, and how she was hopeful that students will continue to volunteer their time to help El Sauce.
For more information on Geneseo's service program in El Sauce, as well as the new Humanities II program which is hosted there, visit studyabroad.geneseo.edu.