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The Powerful People of Platanal

“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion about the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” – Benjamin Franklin

I used to feel bad for people in underdeveloped nations, who had none of the bare essentials like running water, electricity, transportation or the ability to communicate with telephones. However, the people and families I’ve met are filled with joy, contentment, a sense of community and simplicity. As I sit in Starbucks, back here in Morristown, NJ, I wonder who has it right – us or them!

Over 30 of us recently returned home from our trip to Nicaragua and as I sit here thinking about the experience, a floodgate of amazing memories rush through my head. Back in 2010 we introduced the “7 Continents in 7 Years” idea, with a goal to leave each place we visited better than we found it. To date, we have visited Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, Fiji and now Nicaragua. Each trip was so different and unique. I will do my best to recap our experience in Nicaragua, but like everything in life, nothing quite compares to being there!

I’ll never forget logging in to a webinar, months before our journey, after Viridian came back from the planning trip. At first, they gave us generic demographic information about the area we were headed to, and then they started showing us the conditions of the huts we would be working on, places we were going to sleep (with no electricity or running water), as well as an in-depth overview of our projects – solar installations and building boxes with inverters and batteries.

Then they shared some of the realities of traveling to a rural farming community, including the presence of scorpions and other deadly insects. This trip was going to be the most intense thus far and everyone seemed extremely nervous, especially the ladies! Several of us came away asking ourselves, “What were we getting ourselves in to?” The initial fear subsided when departure day finally arrived and we all gathered at the airport, ready to embark upon a life-changing experience!

We got to our destination and everyone had a good night’s sleep. The next morning we woke up very early and packed into jeeps driven by our local guides. We drove miles up this steep, rocky terrain with all sorts of twists and turns, and when we got to the top, I thought we reached our work site. Wishful thinking! We then packed our day bags and began hiking through the gorgeous Nicaraguan mountains and arrived in Platanal, a remote village outside of Boaco, where we were going to spend the next three days installing solar panels, bringing light into homes. And so the journey began.

There are so many experiences I could share, but here are just a few:

Skin In The Game! Each family that we helped contributed several months’ worth of their income to buy these solar panels. GRID Alternatives, did a fantastic job working with the community and families prior to our arrival to develop a culture of ownership and commitment. The fact that these families sacrificed three months’ worth of income blew my mind. These families had skin in the game, which is the only path to creating true sustainable change!

Power Changes Everything: I will never forget the look on the children’s faces when they saw light for the very first time. The dad was holding his son, pointing to the light, with a tear streaming down his cheek. Their lives were about to change forever. Later that night, we visited one of the homes to see what was different for them. We spoke with the mother and father, and asked them “What will be different now and what will change?” Their answer was “Everything!” Such a simple thing that we did changed everything for them.

Transportation, Communication and Electrification: I remember talking to Cami Boehme, and she was explaining the major items needed in order for a civilization to advance. She mentioned that, because of technological advancements, some of these rural areas actually have access to communication, through old recycled cellphones, prior to transportation and electrification! That would beg the question: “How do they charge their phones?” Great question. They walk to the nearest area that has power and charge their phone and then walk back. Can you imagine? At least now, with their own solar system, they not only have light inside their home, but also have electrical outlets to charge things.

4 Pillars of Sustainability on Display: Products and Practices, Local Change, Global Vision and Education. I love this concept and it is so core to who we are as a group of change agents at Viridian. Our experience in Nicaragua covered all four pillars in a very powerful way. We installed one of our products. Our team of Associates came back with a new world perspective, thus changing them from the inside out, helping to create Local Change in their communities. By helping the families in Platanal, we are fulfilling our Global Vision. Lastly, Education. Not only did the people in Platanal learn a lot, but we also received an incredible cultural and product Education as well.

Many Hands Make Light Work: Growing up in a large family, we often heard this phrase. It was amazing how hard everyone worked and how much we got done in such a short period of time. GRID Alternatives, was super impressed by what we accomplished.

Attitude of Gratitude: The people of Platanal were not only financially invested in the process, but they were very warm and welcoming and demonstrated the highest sense of gratitude for our efforts. For me, reflecting back on this experience has given me an even deeper sense of appreciation and gratitude for all the things I have in my life today. These experiences have molded me into the person I am today, and I feel blessed to be part of such a great group!

Obviously, I could write on and on about the experience and memories, but in summary, I feel like the people of Platanal changed me. While we go on these excursions to help the less fortunate, it is actually us who learn the most valuable lessons. We should take a page out of their book with respect to simplicity, a sense of contentment and a stronger focus on family and community.

My name is Michael FitzPatrick and I am Generation V.

In March 2015, Viridian traveled to the breathtakingly beautiful and still mostly undeveloped “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” To complete our most ambitious project to date, we hiked to the small agricultural community of Portrero Platanal, an off-the-grid village that’s inaccessible by car. With the help of the nonprofit organization GRID Alternatives, we were able to install clean, reliable solar systems on the homes of 40 families, bringing the opportunity for a better life to an entire community.