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Maypole Trip: Experience Caribbean Culture and Support blueEnergy's Work!

An invitation from blueEnergy co-founder and Executive Director, Mathias Craig, to come participate in the biggest festival on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast and support blueEnergy's work in the region!  

I want to invite you to join us in supporting blueEnergy's work in Nicaragua while exploring the unique and colorful culture of the Caribbean Coast on display at the Maypole festival.

Often called “deh carnival” by the locals, the Maypole festival in May is a hybrid festival that traces its roots back to both the English May Day rites and the indigenous worship of Mayaya, the goddess of fertility. This clash of rituals has given birth to the sexiest celebration outside of Rio - see a few highlights here:

Our team on the ground will plan an engaging itinerary that will give you a chance to learn more about blueEnergy, contribute to some of our ongoing projects and experience the amazing local culture.

We have created a Facebook event for this unique trip opportunity, with more information on the Maypole festival, dates and associated costs.  If you do not use Facebook and would like more information, please contact me at

I hope you can join us!

Warmest wishes,

MIT works with blueEnergy to develop biofuel solution for local school

By Angela Hojnacki -- After two weeks of MIT students researching and planning several waste management strategies for the municipality of Bluefields, a subset known as the “Biodigestors” team, stayed an extra week to implement a small-scale biodigestor in partnership with blueEnergy and Colon, a local high school. This demonstration project was a nice contrast to the heavy planning work we had done the following week, and it would be a way for the community to see the concepts of biodigestion first-hand, after hearing our recommendations for the slaughterhouse the week before.

The design.

A biodigester is a simple contraption that produces methane gas from organic wastes (in most cases, manure). The idea is that the gas from this biodigester will be used to cook in the school's kitchen where they are currently using three large sacks of charcoal every day. 

As ideal as it sounded, the prospect of building a working biodigester in a community that had only seen similar projects fail seemed ridiculous, especially at 9pm, during our last night in Bluefields. Our team, plus Casey and Kenia from blueEnergy, found ourselves in the dark, outside the local high school, drenched in water and cow manure, struggling to finish the biodigester we had started to build only five days earlier. With all of us at the end of our ropes, we contemplated how it was possible to ensure the sustainability of the project.

We began this “mini” project on Saturday, after seeing the rest of the DLab Waste team head back to Boston. Armed with whatever shovels and gardening tools we could find, we began to dig the trench With the help of George Bloomburg, an English teacher at the high school, and Vicente, the security guard, we had managed to remove two trees, clear the grass, measure out the trench, and break the ground by the end of the first day. After a few days of hard work in the sun, we realized how much work we still had to do (and how much more there was to learn about digging in Bluefields’ very clayey soil).

Smoothing the walls of the trench

The biodigester we built was a ten-meter long bag biodigester, which consists of two layers of a polyethelene plastic. The system consists of the bag (which is filled with water to seal the waste inlet and outlet), a gas outlet, a pressure release valve, a reservoir bag, and a typical propane stove that is adapted to use biogas. After finishing the trench, we laid the bag inside and began assembling the plumbing that will transfer the gas to the kitchen. Following the instructions used to build biodigesters by other DLab courses, we attempted to inflate the bag with car exhaust to expel any oxygen. To then seal the bag, we filled it with water; however, our only water source was a nearby well, and our daylight was fading quickly. Passing buckets of water in an assembly line, this is where we found ourselves the last night of the project.

After discussions that lasted most of the night, Alex and I decided to stay an extra day, and with that time, we were able to leave the biodigester and Bluefields knowing that it was in good hands with blueEnergy. Alex and I added the rest of the water needed to seal the biodigester, finished assembling the stove - with the help of Casey and the shop workers - and cleaned up the kitchen area at the school. Since our departure, we have kept in contact with blueEnergy, and our bag of poop is doing splendidly so far. While many biodigesters like these fail, we can only hope that our partnerships, regular communication and maintenance will ensure the success of this project, and hopefully the biogas production and utility will continue to convince others that this technology works.

Biodigester producing gas


The Sunbank

By Angela Cacciola -- For James Richards the transition from blueEnergy human resources volunteer to entrepreneur “was not a difficult one. I had the idea of going into business long before I ever came to blueEnergy, but blueEnergy gave me the experience, the alternative energy, and the comfort level for what I wanted to do.” Since he is not an engineer by trade, at blueEnergy James tried to get into the workshop and go out on installations as much as possible, “to get my feet wet in the renewable sector.”

One year after returning to the United States and making a trip to China to learn more and determine how to get the solar water heater systems made, James launched The Sunbank from his home in West Virginia in June and July 2011. A rooftop unit, The Sunbank System, “uses evacuated tube solar collectors to absorb between 92-96% of the solar radiation that strikes them.” These solar collectors heat the water in a super-insulated tank, where the hot water is stored until it is used.

One of James’ fondest memories at blueEnergy was building the solar water heater which launched the platform for The Sunbank. “Taking the technology from idea stage to hot showers was rewarding… especially in Bluefields,” which lacks a consistent municipal water system.
Fellow blueEnergy volunteer, Esteban Van Dam, who since working with blueEnergy has started his own NGO in Argentina, was one of the many engineers and individuals good with tools who liked to tinker with ideas. Together, while contemplating solar hot water business idea, the two decided to build a prototype solar water heater for those volunteers craving the luxury of a hot shower.

James and his fellow volunteers, “put together a design and after debating it for a week,” and built a thermosiphon water heater just over the front porch and plumbed it to the shower. In fact, they also built a baby pool, or “sauna,” in the yard behind the house. The heater was “really effective and put out so much hot water that it melted a piece of plastic.”

Solar water heater built by James at blueEnergy.

At blueEnergy, James also enjoyed the “community feeling that blueEnergy had,” which he got from interacting with the house kitchen mammas and also from “going up to the main house every night and cooking dinner together for whoever was there” he said. “There was such a diverse crew from all over the world …everybody kind of melds together and it’s a good bunch of people and no exception when I was there.”

Similar to many volunteers, James loved the daily interaction with the blueEnergy house kitchen mammas. When one mamma’s son had an illness, “We were really worried he was going to die because the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.” After James did a little research on the internet, and was able to figure out what the sickness was, he printed it out in Spanish and English. “We took it to the doctor and he was like, ‘yeah, this is correct,’ and after that her son was able to get treatment.”

Right now, James has been working with mostly local businesses, but the company is capable of shipping the product anywhere in the country. In China, solar water heating is very established. In the United States, it is still a very new idea. In 2012, James hopes to focus on education, marketing and picking up sales, “to have an increased impact” and eventually, “become a national brand."

James (R) and his sister in Corn Island, Nicaragua


Intern Austen Brings the Gift of Light to Rocky Point!

As an intern at blueEnergy, Austen Sybert, a junior at John Hopkins University, USA, helped design, build, and install a solar panel lighting system for a home in Rocky Point, Nicaragua. During his two week trip, Austen also had the opportunity to visit three more communities in the Southern Atlantic Region of Nicaragua: Kahkabila, Pearl Lagoon, and Wawashang, to better understand both the joys and complications of development work in marginalized areas.


By Austen Sybert - Paint was still drying, the solar lighting system was neatly packed and all the tools and spare parts double checked – the design and build phase of my project was coming to a close. The next morning I would load the installation materials on two taxis, a bus, a boat and a horse (not too remote by Nicaraguan standards), to reach the site of my solar install in Rocky Point. The solar array provided 60 watts, an amount sufficient to light two CFL bulbs, convert DC current to a versatile AC outlet and empower a household with the basic service of electricity. The family now had the opportunity to improve their own lives.
Chris Sparadeo and Austen Sybert holding the solar panels in a taxi

The final phase of my project, educating the household about their new solar system, proved to be the most difficult but rewarding phase. The household had a teenage girl, Kyoni, enrolled in a technical course on how to install solar systems. Naturally, she was engaged in acute oversight during the installation. Due to her keen interest I explained the steps and components to her as the installation progressed. When it came time to illuminate the dim home by connecting the battery to the system, I requested Kyoni make the connection and be responsible for lighting her family’s home. She cautiously agreed, connecting the red positive wire to the negative battery terminal and the black negative wire to the positive battery terminal which blew the current inverter. No light. This lapse in my supervision was far from a catastrophe to the installation process. I reminded her of the current charge of the wires and handed her the spare inverter to connect, which lit her home. 
Kyoni connects the charge controller

Several days later I had the opportunity to tour the P.L.A.C.E. school (Pearl Lagoon Academy of Excellence) with the blueEnergy board of directors. In one of the classes we visited, I spotted the girl who lived in Rocky Point and illuminated her home with the solar system I had the opportunity to design, build, and install. This class happened to be the Kyoni's technical course on how to install solar systems. I walked over to her, reminded her of my name and asked, “Do you feel like you know more about solar systems then your classmates?” She nodded, easily making this stop at her school the most rewarding point of my trip. To share a laugh before my tour continued I asked, “What’s the charge on black electrical wire and what’s the charge on red electrical wire?” Of course, she nailed the answers.


“Luz de Futuro” (“Light of the Future”) – Women Working for a Better Bluefields

By Angela Cacciola - “I’d like to formally introduce Margarita – President, Luz de Futuro,” proudly announces Ivette Luna, Policy Development and Political Organizer for Neighbor to Neighbor in Massachusetts, USA. Ivette accompanied a group of MIT students during their two-week trip in January to work on waste management with blueEnergy and the Bluefields municipality. Margarita strides to the front of the crowded auditorium at INATEC school in Bluefields, Nicaragua. Her body language acknowledges no personal insecurities or any potential difference in status between herself, a waste picker at the Bluefields dump, and the students from MIT, blueEnergy international volunteers and local staff, or various workers from the Bluefields municipality and other NGOs.

Margarita (R) tells the story of her mother,
"Luz," for whom the new cooperative is named.  

Margarita begins strongly, and after introducing the rest of the women who comprise the new organization’s board, she explains the significance of Luz. “The name ‘light’ comes from a colleague of ours who worked many years as a waste picker. She liked to work very much, and she got ahead. This woman, she was my mother. She encouraged me to become a waste picker. Now, I pick up everything I can to resell it. Thanks to this work, I have been able to get ahead too. I’ve been able to have my own house and my children… they study at school. One of my boys is in his first year, and the other is in his second year of high school.” She grins and takes her seat.

Ivette continues, “After observing how hard these women work each day, their vision ‘women working for a better future’ couldn’t be more perfect.” She highlights some of the other values of the organization, which include self-reliance, shared work and profits, better working conditions for working mothers (which they all are), and work training. Her presentation concludes with a synopsis of the students’ hopes for the municipality to enter in a contract with Luz de Futuro for the next five years. Through such an agreement, the municipality would provide the space and equipment (conveyor belt, compactor), materials (recyclables collected from homes), and delivery of recyclables to recycling center where Luz de Futuro would be housed. 
Families working together

For two weeks in January, the MIT students got to know Margarita and 26 other women who work at the garbage dump in Bluefields. Their work was kicked off by a meeting set up by blueEnergy with Gerardo Bravo, director of the Department of Environment for the municipality of Bluefields. Gerardo stressed the passion of the women waste pickers, who had already started to organize themselves, and who needed to continue doing so for job security. “One morning, there were at least fifteen women waiting for me when I arrived at work, all dressed very well. I thought that maybe I had forgotten about a meeting I had scheduled, and was embarrassed by my own casual clothes. But in fact, there was no meeting scheduled in my day. These women came to me because they wanted to make sure that with the development of the new dump in Bluefields, they would still have access to the garbage they earn a living on.” 

After meeting with the women many times at the dumpsite and bringing them to the blueEnergy house where they worked from, the MIT students harnessed their passion to help them formally establish “Luz de Futuro” at the municipal government offices in Bluefields. As an official cooperative, the women now have much greater bargaining power in the public arena. In terms of economic development, they are the first step in the three municipality recycling route MIT professor, Libby McDonald, is working to create with UNDP, blueEnergy, and her students. Recognizing the combined efforts of the MIT students and the local women, Gerardo Bravo stated at the end of the presentation, “It is impossible to just work [in Bluefields] on one problem in isolation. We also have to think about working together. … Today we’re seeing coordination so that our efforts can bear fruitful to this idea of a solid waste management system. I’d like to thank you all in the name of our mayor. I see you as a predominant force in this community that ensures we are going to get closer and closer to our goals.” 
Waste pickers at the Bluefields dump
For a closer look at the extraordinary conditions the women of Luz de Future currently work under, see the short video, Snapshot of Life in a Nicaraguan Dump Site, by Libby McDonald and Daniel Alegría. Or, for more information on the work being done by Professor Libby McDonald and her students in Nicaragua, visit the blog they are continuing to update Waste Management Strategies in Coastal Nicaragua.
Women of "Luz de Futuro" sitting in front of blueEnergy
cofounders and directors, Mathias and Guillaume Craig.


The Alternative Spring Break Alternative!

blueEnergy Nicaragua’s Spring Break Internship Program 

is a unique one-week opportunity for individuals who want to learn hands-on about community development, experience new cultures, work hard and have fun doing it! Interns will have the opportunity to learn about and participate in solar panel installations, water filter construction and community development initiatives that directly impact the lives of those less fortunate. Have the experience of a lifetime during your Spring Break while participating in blueEnergy’s renewable energy, water, and community development work on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua!

Internship opportunities

Rural Solar Panel Installations: blueEnergy’s energy team is committed to bringing clean light and the opportunities that come with it to the people of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. From construction in the workshop to installation in the community, interns will be involved in providing single-home lighting systems to beneficiaries and their families. 

Water Filter Installations: blueEnergy’s water team works to provide access to clean drinking water to beneficiaries in Bluefields, Nicaragua. This is a region that lacks municipal water and sewage services. From training to building to installing, interns will be involved in the process of ensuring access to clean water to those who need it most!


· A close-up look at international community development

· Hands-on experience in renewable energy implementation

· Hands-on experience in clean water initiatives

· Language immersion

· Exposure to the rich culture of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.

blueEnergy’s Spring Break Internship Program is a real-world experience that aims to empower young people to take a leadership role in their home communities and in international development. It will set them apart from their peers and provide necessary skills to help accomplish their academic and career goals. Interns will gain leadership skills, learn to work in culturally diverse groups and expand their knowledge of project development.

More Info

The Spring Break Internship Program runs for one week, with flexible start and end dates. Fees cover room, board, internet, laundry, emergency medical insurance and project-based travel and a one-of-a-kind experience.

Visit our website at and click on Get Involved
Questions?  Contact Emily Castello at