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A Ripe Tomato: The Perfect Holiday Present!

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When Geronimo Basilio borrowed $100 from Santa Rosa Unida, the local NGO with a micro-credit loan fund in his northern Nicaraguan village, he did so as a first time independent farmer. While he grew up helping his family in the fields, this was his very first venture as an adult and it came on the heels of a village and region-wide crop failure due to a series of storms and floods just after planting season, when crops are most vulnerable.

Santa Rosa is not a traditional village by any means. During Ronald Reagan's "Contra War" on the Sandinista Government of Nicaragua in the early to late eighties, the White House and CIA-led guerrilla army launched terror raids all along Nicaragua's borders from neighboring Honduras. President Reagan largely got away with this undeclared war by claiming that Sandinista tanks (maybe 20 or so and all decades old) were just "a day's drive from Harlingan, Texas." To protect its border residents from attacks and landmine injuries, groups of several hundred people were given bare land, negligible access to water and minimal building materials and told to set up their own settlements until the war was over. By the end of the war--brought about in large part by the US Congress' Iran-Contra investigation and the American public's indignation, few of the landmines were cleared making returning to native villages all-but-impossible.

Santa Rosa became a bare subsistence-level encampment with little of what we think of as civil society institutions...and in an active earthquake and hurricane area at that. It was some months after 1998's Hurricane Mitch devastated most of Nicaragua and affected over 20% of its population, that Los Angeles-based NGO Operation USA found Santa Rosa. What they found was a devastated encampment of 69 partially destroyed houses, a bean and corn crop which was failing, the bare minimum water supply with no irrigation system, no health care or education in the village, no electricity, no phones, no vehicles other than a few horses.

Now in its 11th year "post-Mitch", the New Santa Rosa has decent housing, both hydropower and traditional electrical hook-ups, a few dozen cell phones, a library with computers, all its kids in school, the women nearly all employed in their own micro businesses, the men growing a vast array of cash and consumable crops in miles of irrigated fields, a recognition of the village's own NGO by the National Assembly.

Operation USA did this with the careful investment of between $450,000-$500,000 over 11 years, most of which was in the early years as houses wee replaced or upgraded for its 600 people.

And Geronimo? Just 3 months after the earlier village-wide crop failure and in a newly irrigated patch of land a mile and one-half away from the village center, he is bringing in his very first crop of huge red tomatoes which he can sell at a premium while the rest of his onion, yucca, watermelon, pepper and coffee crops are still growing. He pays back his loan to the village NGOs lending pool while also putting money into a separate savings account. The website www.opusa.org gets you more on this remarkable renaissance of a poor village. That this occurred in Latin America's poorest country means it can occur anywhere in the world where there is a bit of capital and an iron will to succeed.