Alumnus Jon Thompson (M.S.W. ’02), director of corporate social responsibility for Guacalito de la Isla, Nicaragua’s largest resort, oversees the company’s community investments in education, environment, health and culture. In his “spare” time, he runs an alphabet soup of nonprofits he has established that include a water filter project, community recycling program, youth sportsplex, organic coffee farm, sustainable tourism program, sustainable building projects and English classes for locals.
“I’m overworked, but I love every second of it,” he says.
Thompson established Comunidad Connect in San Juan del Sur in 2006 as an umbrella organization for his programs Campo Verde, Parque Deportivo and Turismo Sostenible, which generate all revenue necessary to ensuring its financial sustainability.
Nico Agua, the organization’s flagship environmental initiative, flows out of Campo Verde, its original environmental awareness, outreach and recycling program.
“The vast majority of water in Nicaragua is contaminated,” says Thompson. “Most Nicaraguans get their water from shallow wells that offer little filtration, and they are often built close to latrines. Agro chemicals, fertilizers and insecticides seep into the water table, getting into the water.” As a result, people suffer, from chronic cases of diarrhea, kidney infections and dehydration.
Nico Agua offers families who complete 16 hours of community service credits towards a Filtron, a low-tech water filter proven to nearly eliminate cases of diarrhea in the rural areas where it has been used, and conducts three monthly visits and an annual follow-up visit. Families are trained on how to use the filter and improve hygiene.
“About 600 families now benefit from clean water every day,” Thompson says. “It’s not rocket science. It’s just water filters.”
The company is tracking health indicators with the intent to replicate and expand, he says. “If we can keep things simple and show impact, I don’t see why we can’t put water filters in every household in Nicaragua. Nico Agua will change the paradigm in Nicaragua, Central America and beyond.”
Other core programs include Parque Deportivo, a sports park used for promoting for youth development, sports, community events and English language courses, and Turismo Sostenible, a sustainable tourism program that partners with universities.
“Hundreds of young tourists have volunteered their time, gaining life-changing experiences,” says Thompson. At Finca Java, a 250-acre organic coffee farm and eco-lodge in the northern mountains of Nicaragua, the tourists learn about organic agriculture, the community, surrounding farms, water filters and intervention projects.
“They work alongside their Nicaraguan hosts building bus stops and trash cans, painting murals and planting school gardens, learning Spanish and Nicaraguan culture, and teaching everything from English to soccer,” says Thompson.
“Our students learn lessons that veer from the traditional model of supply and demand, loss and profit, to look at social impact and how business affects community, becoming an incubator of innovation,” he says. “The Nicaraguan experience changes students a lot more than it changes the communities where they work.”
Thompson is now working on a new program, Farmers to 40, will soon offer quality Nicaraguan coffee to Atlanta consumers while returning 40 percent of the retail price back to the farmers.
“We find work we enjoy so much that it ceases to become work,” he says. “It becomes a way of life.”
Learn more about Comunidad Connect at www.comunidadconnect.org.