We believe that rural poverty can be eliminated by understanding and addressing its root causes -- socio-emotional, environmental and practical -- and creating a culture of transformation within the communities where it exists.
For more than twenty years, we have worked with rural communities in Nicaragua and Central America to achieve measurable, sustainable improvements in their standards of living. By bringing together international groups of students and educators to participate in this work first-hand, we strive to educate the next generation of global citizens committed to social justice.
We invest in communities intensively, for the long term. Our unique, four-year development program systematically addresses the emotional, technical, educational, environmental and economic needs of a population to break the cycle of rural poverty.
Following our series of incremental, integrated training programs over 4 years, 20% of families in each community achieve a sustaining level of training, food production, water security, sanitation and income. This critical mass cultivates the personal agency to sustain progress, while our micro-enterprise development expands economic opportunities.
Nicaragua and Guatemala are among the three poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. In Nicaragua, 43% of the people live in rural areas, while 68% of rural people struggle to survive on little more than US $1 per day. Most rural poor people live in Central America’s Dry Corridor where land has been overexploited by industrial farming, families live on marginal land, and water is becoming less secure. Still, 80% of the rural poor depend on agriculture for their livelihood, causing a severe strain on the environment and in a region that is becoming less hospitable to farming.
ViviendasLeon employs a human-centered and asset-based approach to sustainable development, focusing on personal agency, capacity building and resource protection.
We work with communities to identify their human and natural assets, while protecting the resources that exist in a community through education in environmental stewardship and management. We provide counseling and training to address fundamental issues of self-esteem, gender equality, self-governance and public health.
Our vision is to create a flexible model of development that is replicable in other communities and populations. By developing personal agency and capacity among populations that have historically been disadvantaged, we hope to reduce violence and inequality, to promote leadership and self-governance, to protect and restore environmental resources and develop economic security through local and diversified development.
Employ an asset-based view: ViviendasLeón invests in people and their potential. Our process identifies community priorities and needs, incorporating existing assets and capacities.
Empower people to help themselves: ViviendasLeón engages people challenged by the experience of living in generational poverty so they can change their own lives.
Invest over time: ViviendasLeón recognizes the investment in time and persistence required of human-centered development. Sustainable impact requires a process of reinforcing success and adjusting for mistakes to reach self-sufficiency.
Development is community-driven: ViviendasLeón engages a population to articulate their needs and participate in the solutions to address them.
Trust is foundational: ViviendasLeón works with a population for years to develop trusting relationships that make it possible to overcome the challenges of change.
We are a global society: ViviendasLeón recognizes that we live in a world where populations cannot thrive in isolation, and that we are all connected in the global economy. Relationships across cultures create a climate of understanding, responsibility, support and peaceful coexistence.
Viviendas Leon maintains offices in San Francisco, CA and Leon, Nicaragua. Our established, local teams provide ongoing support to participants in our rural development programs, while international student and family groups provide periodic infusions of manpower and energy.
Since 2001, ViviendasLeón has been working in the indigenous region of León known as Sutiaba, with long-standing commitments to the communities of Goyena and Troilo. Our human centered approach has resulted in the construction of 40 family farms, serving the basic food needs of more than 1,000 people and more than doubling the income of farming families.
More recently we have begun to tackle the challenge of reduced rainfall and groundwater due to climate change in the region by deepening wells and greatly increasing water supplies. Families report improved health from cleaner water and significant increases in fruit, vegetable and now citrus production on their farms.
In 2019, we expanded our program to Guatemala through a new partnership with two established and like-minded organizations in the Lake Atitlán region, Mil Milagros and Vivamos Mejor. Their deep roots in the region will allow us to work in rural communities on the basis of deep and trusting relationships, and provide the same intensive development programs we have become known for in Nicaragua.
ViviendasLeón was co-founded by Evan Markiewicz and Indiana Garcia -- two people from wildly different backgrounds with a shared vision to create solutions to poverty that were self-sustaining for Nicaraguans.
Evan, an architect and California native, traveled to Nicaragua with a Sister City Program that linked New Haven, CT with León. While leveraging his architecture background to help with rural building projects, Evan become convinced that solving the problem of poverty required a variety of solutions implemented concurrently, that would address the emotional, practical and economic challenges facing rural communities.
Indiana was born in León, Nicaragua. Due to a lack of economic opportunity, she emigrated with her family to the United States when she was 8. The adjustment was difficult and they craved to be ‘home’. After college, Indiana returned to Nicaragua to work as a guide and translator for visiting delegations. She longed to elevate Nicaraguan communities so that emigration was not the only means of opportunity and survival.
Evan and Indiana discovered their shared vision while working together in the early 2000’s and co-founded ViviendasLeón in 2003.