By Jack Sperco, HOI Intern
Ethnic Groups: mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 69%, white 17%, black 9%, Amerindian 5%
Languages: Spanish (official) 97.5%, Miskito 1.7%, other 0.8%
Religions: Roman Catholic 58.5%, Protestant 23.2% (Evangelical 21.6%, Moravian 1.6%), Jehovah’s Witnesses 0.9%, other 1.7%, none 15.7%
The nation of Nicaragua has the unfortunate distinction of being the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere following Haiti. Unemployment is very high, and a significant number of people live on less than $2 U.S. a day. Homes are often small and inadequate, lacking sanitation. Around 45% of the population live in rural areas and make up over 60% of those in poverty.
A majority of the poor population in rural Nicaragua relies heavily on agriculture. Agriculture is a staple of the economy, but year-to-year yields prove to be unstable. The main crops are rice, coffee, bananas, plantains and the yucca root. The land in rural areas has historically been very fertile, but the arable land is quickly diminishing as a result of constant overuse. Recent droughts in parts of Nicaragua have also caused drops in production. Since the late 1980s industries have diminished significantly, and agriculture has played an even more important role in the Nicaraguan economy.
Another threat to both the population and production is natural disaster, as Nicaragua is susceptible to earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and flooding. One of the most devastating natural disasters in Nicaragua’s history came from a category 5 hurricane in 1998. Hurricane Mitch displaced over 2 million people, killed over 3,000 and caused $1 billion U.S. in damage. While hurricanes, earthquakes and flooding are an annual threat, there are over 19 active volcanoes within the country that pose an unrelenting hazard.
Despite the hardships faced by residents of Nicaragua, visitors to the country quickly learn that Nicaraguans are a strong and resilient people, showing perseverance through great adversity. The people of Nicaragua have a tremendous amount of national pride, as well as great respect for their country’s heroes who fought for independence and refused colonial influence. The most celebrated event in Nicaragua today is the annual commemoration of Nicaragua’s independence. The celebration lasts the entire month of September and is filled with music, dancing and food.
With many ingredients grown locally, there are plentiful amounts of unique, local dishes from all different regions of the country. A typical Nicaraguan plate consists of corn, rice and beans. Beans are consumed daily as a main source of protein. Meat is not affordable for the majority of the population and is usually eaten to celebrate special occasions.
Citizens of Nicaragua are known for their high value of family. As a result of the Roman Catholic influence, families are frequently large. Households rarely consist of a nuclear family alone; rather, they include multiple generations with aunts, uncles and grandparents as well.
Nicaragua is rich in musical and religious traditions, many of which derive from the strong Spanish influence beginning in the sixteenth century. However, indigenous traditions continue to have a presence in Nicaraguan culture. Nicaraguan music is a combination of both European and indigenous influences. The country has no official religion, but many are nominally Roman Catholic, with the numbers of evangelicals and Mormons on the rise.
Nicaraguan literature has made strong contributions to the Spanish-speaking world through poetry, particularly that of the poet Rubén Darío. Nicaragua’s rich folklore includes El Güegüense, which combines music, dance and theater and has been recognized as one of Latin America’s most distinctive colonial-era works.
Nicaragua’s rich culture and opportunity for growth makes it an attractive option for those seeking to volunteer abroad. There volunteers are able to partner with locals in construction projects that greatly improve the quality of life, while also enjoying all that Nicaragua has to offer tourists, including the ancient city of Granada, visits to dormant volcanoes, and more. Click here to learn more about experiencing Nicaragua with HOI.
Jack Sperco is a marketing and communications intern at HOI. He is currently a junior at Texas Christian University and has a passion for photography and sports. You can find him on Google+ and LinkedIn.