About us

Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Americas, after Haiti, with an average per person income of less than $3,200 per year. It is also poor in natural resources and the target of frequent hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. After the Somoza family dictatorship of the first half of the 20th century, and the Sandinista Revolution of 1979, Nicaragua became a democracy in 1984. 

In 1987, during the Contra war, a small group of citizens of Richland Center, WI,  contacted the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, DC with a view to establishing a constructive and positive relationship with the people of Nicaragua through a sister city arrangement. The resulting relationship with Santa Teresa, named the Richland Center - Santa Teresa Sister City Project, SCP for short, focused on friendship, information about Central America, and aid.

In 1997, SCP received a letter from the Santa Teresa mayor requesting SCP’s help in protecting sea turtles and aiding the people of the remote, “poorest-of-the-poor” villages of the Chacocente Wildlife Refuge on the Pacific coast. Chacocente’s olive ridley sea turtle arribada (mass-nesting) beach is of global importance, one of eight remaining in the world. The SCP responded and has since focused its efforts in and around Chacocente. 

The project took a major leap forward in 2000 when Peter Smith, a Hillsboro,WI, Amish farmer, volunteered to live in Chacocente for two and a half years and initiate our projects.  This gave SCP a clear, grassroots view of both the environmental and human needs. There are five villages within the refuge and a further 17 in the surrounding “buffer zone”. Peter found a subsistence situation where most cash income was derived from turtle eggs and cattle. The cattle, along with “slash and burn” corn and bean production, were severely damaging the Refuge's 10,000-acre remnant of tropical dry forest. The remoteness of these communities, no electricity and only seasonal and difficult vehicular access, had caused them to be neglected by the regional government.

The combination of Peter’s time there, subsequent experience and a substantial increase in the SCP fund-raising effort has resulted in the development of a model for reducing the inequality of opportunity for these people and, at the same time, lessening their negative impact on a rare ecosystem.

The model, which has been implemented in five communities totaling about 1,000 people, includes:

  • Establishment of a democratic, representative structure for each village.
  • Development of a “menu” of projects from which each village may choose priorities for SCP funding and technical support. These include
  1. Health. Training village “health promoters,” routine physician visits, cleaner water supply (wells and filters), latrines, food production.
  2. Education.  School construction, monitoring teacher quality, enhanced lunch program and provision of school supplies for students and teachers, environmental education, school gardens, new secondary school scholarship program.
  3. Sustainable income generation. Ecological agriculture program for improved crop production techniques, sewing project, honey production.

SCP will only fund technical help and materials for construction projects. In order to ensure community participation and sustainability and to give dignity to the effort, labor must be donated by community members.

As far as possible, the project must be sustainable so that SCP resources can be switched to new communities after a period of time.

Environmental impact must be considered in all decisions.

 SCP also works to promote the protection of Chacocente's sea turtles.

  • Support given for a hatchery for the critically endangered leatherback turtle.
  • SCP initiated the drive which made sea turtle egg-taking illegal in Nicaragua.
  • Supplies for community workers at the sea turtle arribada beach.

The Project has seen at first hand the potential for misuse of donated funds-- wasteful administration expenses, bribery and corruption- that often accompanies aid to less-developed countries. To minimize the chances of this, SCP:

  • Operates in the US without any paid staff, just volunteers.
  • Retains a Nicaraguan facilitator, Alma Susana Chávez, a Santa Teresa college graduate, who both provides technical help and supervises the project, reporting monthly to the U.S. board. Transport is a motorcycle.
  • Operates a financial management system that means that any expenditure must first be included in an annual budget and plan, and the funds only released on the signature of the Santa Teresa mayor’s office, the SCP facilitator and a village representative.

SCP is financed 80% by private donations from individuals throughout the USA. The total received rose from $10,000 in 2001 to over $40,000 in 2013.

SCP is a 501c3 organization and donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowable by current law.  For further information, go to our website at www.santa-teresa.org or email us at santa-teresa@wccn.org

Our mailing address is P.O. Box 483, Richland Center, WI 53581