From left, Ian Diamondstone’s neighbor Francesca, Maritza’s granddaughter, Diamondstone, Maritza, and Rigoberto in front of the gate to his home in Nicaragua.
Courtesy photo
From left, Ian Diamondstone’s neighbor Francesca, Maritza’s granddaughter, Diamondstone, Maritza, and Rigoberto in front of the gate to his home in Nicaragua.

Bringing holiday cheer to Nicaragua

Local man starts fund to help his neighbors in a small farming village have a Christmas dinner

Brattleboro native Ian Diamondstone has done a lot of traveling through his work buying certified organic specialty spices in Central America, but he's found a second home.

"You know how it is," he says, smiling. "You travel to a country where you […] feel at home, you want to spend more time there, and over time you find yourself returning. Along the way, you make friends and then it feels even more like home."

About six years ago, in Chichigalpa, a village of 73 subsistence farmers in Nicaragua, Diamondstone put down some roots - literally. He bought land and used local labor to build a house where he can stay during his frequent visits there.

Diamondstone has also had an additional project going over the last nine years or so: He donates to his neighbors so they can afford the ingredients for their special Christmas meal.

"This is an area that is deeply and devoutly Catholic," he says. "When Christmastime comes, each family hopes to have a Christmas dinner, as it is the most important holiday to celebrate."

Like families in Vermont, Diamondstone points out, these families "hope to have a ham or a turkey with vegetables, potatoes, corn, or tortillas to celebrate the holiday."

"In Nicaragua, the meal costs $10 to feed a family of about five people, but most don't have the money for the meal," he adds. For these farmers, "$10 is a huge sum."

Subsistence farming

In Chichigalpa, "everybody there is poor, but everybody there is very real and exceptionally kind," he says.

"I got there and I thought, 'How amazing there is still a place where people are living off the land. They don't pass judgment - 'we're all poor, and we're all in this together.'"

He points out that "families here don't make much money, and in some cases, a parent has gone out of the community or even the country, to earn money."

"For example, Donja Christina is a local woman who tends her daughters' and sons-in-laws' cows. She looks after them and earns a tiny bit of money here and there if something gets sold," Diamondstone says.

After the war in Nicaragua ended in 1990, the government gave families between 20 and 30 acres deep in the country so long as they agreed they would farm and live there.

As their children grew, each was given a chunk of the family's land. Now, a generation or so later, little huts and shacks dot the landscape in the village.

"Most of the houses are built with wide boards or sheets of metal and dirt floors, though a few have poured concrete," Diamondstone says. "They all have outdoor kitchens which might have a roof over it and be attached to the home so that one can cook in the rain on a fire stove or open fire. Inside there is usually one bed where people sleep on a straw mat, or on the ground or on a hard plank board."

Wash is done on a washboard, and laundry is hung outside to dry - often, as a couple of chickens or ducklings or a piglet are running around.

What little money folks have from growing a few vegetables or making some tortillas recirculates through the village. That money is used in payment for someone else to buy some milk or a chicken.

"This is what subsistence farmers do," Diamondstone said. "They get by with little money, and what little they have, they might use to get their child a notebook and pencil so that they can go to elementary school, or purchase a foam mattress, or pay for a cell phone, after they pay for their food."

Putting down new roots

Several years ago, Diamondstone heard about an elderly couple in the village who owned 20 acres and a house that was falling over. They wished to sell.

"The couple wanted to get an apartment in town, where life wouldn't be so difficult for them. They could walk easily to market and get what they needed right around them. They had established citrus, banana, and lime trees, but otherwise, they had no income," remembers Diamondstone, who asked if he could purchase their property, as he travels every few weeks to the area.

He began sending money a little at a time until he owned the property.

"Their home was a small, falling-down shack, so I had that removed, and I hired the people in the village to build me a small, square brick home on a stone platform."

Feeling it would be important to invest in the village, Diamondstone had the bricks made locally and all the work done by the villagers.

"One must be flexible when living in a poor village," he said. "The building was done by local people, who didn't always know what they were doing. I had to do the roof three times. The foundation wasn't level, so that was redone as well."

But the small house is now complete, with a wraparound porch so that the San Cristóbal volcano - the most active one in Central America and the Pacific Ocean - can be seen while sitting on the porch.

A little caretaker's cottage was also built, and Diamondstone hired his neighbors to add to the already-established citrus, banana, and lime trees. They have planted coffee, cashew fruit trees, avocados, and much more.

"Because I've hired my neighbors and they greatly appreciate the work, they will come by with bags of baby trees, and now there are hundreds of them on the property," he says. "These are kind, thankful people who want to help me because I helped them. It's a wonderful community, and together, we are reforesting the land."

Diamondstone initially went to the village he now calls home because of his work looking to find a market for ramón seed ["A tall order," News, Nov. 8], which now grows on his property. He found that farming operations of the tiny community had been certified organic, but its residents didn't have a market for its product.

"I met these people nine years ago. We got there, and I didn't know what to expect. We met with the board of directors and 320 women in the area for a little project to generate just a little bit of income."

So much has happened since then.

Through his work, he met a 65-year-old woman, Maritza, who was a Sandinista fighter, a revolutionary woman during the Nicaraguan War during the 1960s and 1970s. She is also an attorney who works in the courts, mostly for free, helping women get child support and alimony from nonpaying husbands to support their children.

Maritza is also an agronomist who is trying to save the forests in Nicaragua and works with Diamondstone "to get an income to these poor people so that they have a small, dependable source of income," he says.

"Also on our team is a man named Rigoberto, who is also a protector of the forest," he adds. "He donates his time and works to keep a truck running so that we have transportation as we travel from village to village. He was also a Sandinista rebel during the war."

Another man, Carolos, has also joined the team.

"The four of us work together for the good of the villages," Diamondstone continues. "We are a group of four on the ramón seed team trying to generate income for these families in 30 to 40 communities spread across the jungled forests of rural Nicaragua."

A Christmas meal

Years ago, Maritza asked Diamondstone if he could help 10 families buy Christmas dinner.

"I thought to myself, 'The $100 she needed to help these families will likely feed as many as 150 people,'" he says.

That sounded "so easy to do," says Diamondstone, who agreed to the request.

Maritza distributed the money just before Christmas, and each family signed a receipt showing that they received the cash to fund the dinner. Families mostly purchased the food from the other subsistence farmers in the village, which was great for the local economy. The families were beyond grateful.

The following year, Maritza asked Diamondstone to fund Christmas dinner again.

"I asked her, 'How many families need the money? How many families are there?' She told me that there were 73 families and listed them by name." He gave her $300 and asked her to pick 30 families who would receive Christmas dinner.

"When I think of all the money that people spend here during the holiday season, it seemed a miracle that 30 families, or about 150 people, could enjoy Christmas dinner for $300. It was a pleasure to fund the project once again."

That got Diamondstone thinking and, a few years later, he had saved enough money to give Maritza $730 to fund Christmas dinner for all 73 families.

"She sent me pictures of each family holding their receipt for the dinner money, and families are obviously thrilled to be able to have their once-a-year special dinner," he says.

He hasn't gone out of his way to make it known who's funding Christmas dinner, and he expects nothing in return.

Maritza sometimes introduces him as the person who bought their Christmas meal, and he gets to experience his neighbors' genuine appreciation.

"Their face will light up, and they will say 'Thank you, thank you, it is so special,'" he says. "It is a pleasure to be able to give to the community, just as they give to me."

This year, he needs to raise just about $1,000 for 100 families, and he decided to try some fundraising to ensure that Christmas dinner remains a tradition for years to come.

Diamondstone has set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to raise $5,000 to guarantee Christmas dinner for his neighbors for the next five years.

If he can raise more money, he says, he will invest carefully in the hopes that the fund will become self-supporting.

"I've had friends who have heard what I am doing and have given me a little money here and there as part of their own family giving project, and I am grateful for their help," Diamondstone says.

"A lot of the people we are feeding are elderly. Their children have left to look for work in other countries. These elderly people are sitting in their shacks and don't have any income at all," he notes.

For them, he says, $10 "is a huge amount of money."

"Ideally, if we could get 100 families Christmas dinner every year, that would be amazing," Diamondstone says.

To sponsor a Christmas dinner, visit Diamondstone's GoFundMe page at or send checks directly to him at 10 Pierce Rd., Putney, VT 05346. He plans to hand-deliver this money to each family.

This News item by Fran Lynggaard Hansen was written for The Commons.

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