BREAKING (GOOD) NEWS, 21 September 2022: The Newton/San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua) Sister City Project has just been awarded a generous grant from the Thoracic Foundation to support our EcoStove Project for two years. The Boston-based Thoracic Foundation supports efforts to combat respiratory illness. Newton’s EcoStove is made with unbaked earthenware bricks and has a chimney to vent smoke out of the house (and out of people’s lungs). Stoves are fabricated by participating families under supervision of Newton’s Stove Coordinator. Domestic air pollution (from cooking smoke) will cause more premature deaths on the planet this year than AIDS and Malaria combined (World Health Organization).

We will have a table at the Green Expo in Newton Centre on October 16, 2022 to explain how we moved away from an older model of our EcoStove, one based on heavy use of cement and iron rebar, to a new approach using Compressed Earth Blocks made of clay-rich soil, rejecting the use of cement entirely, and using only a minimum of rebar to make an embedded support for the heavy pots of rice and beans. One reason for this change is that we know now what we didn’t in previous years: “If Cement were a country, it would the the world’s Third Largest Emitter of Greenhouse Gases, after China and the US.” As much as 8% of all Greenhouse Gases come from the huge amounts of fossil fuels used to bake limestone to make Portland Cement.

Here is a recent video that shows how these earthenware stoves are built:

Posted by: gullette | April 3, 2022


The countries that are least responsible for climate-changing emissions are often those that suffer the most when climate catastrophes strike. Nicaragua is a case in point. As part of an effort to make all our activities in the San Juan del Sur as “Green” and Climate Friendly as possible (ZERO cement in EcoStoves, COMPRESSED EARTH BLOCKS instead of kilned bricks, BAMBOO instead of iron rods as a structural building material, etc.) we are pleased to support a REFORESTATION project conceived by Board member Eric Olson: THE NEWTON SISTER CITY FOREST which pays local men and women to plant appropriate species of trees in otherwise neglected locations. As you know, trees sequester atmospheric carbon and produce oxygen (useful for critters with lungs).

Eric Olson has been on the Board of the Sister City since 2019.  He completed his PhD in tropical ecology in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province, just over the border from the San Juan del Sur area.  Eric and his family lived in Newton for over 20 years, while he taught courses in environmental science at Brandeis.  On two different years he and fellow Board member Ms Aandy Dannenberg took Newton high school students on trips to the San Juan del Sur area, focusing on tropical biology and agriculture.  Eric retired from teaching in 2020 and that same year launched the Newton Sister City Forest Project, using native tree species to reforest abandoned pastures in the township of Ostional, about 25 km south of San Juan del Sur.  A team of Ostional-area women do the planting in lanes machete-cut through pasture brush by a team of Ostional caballeros. See the Tree Planting Team below. 10% of the funds raised to support reforestation is funneled to the FREE HIGH SCHOOL FOR ADULTS. You can give to this valuable effort on our CONTRIBUTE page; just be sure to earmark it for REFORESTATION.

Step-by-step process of fabricating one of our EcoStoves.


Listen to what famed chef José Andrés has to say on this issue:

By José Andrés

Today, nearly half the world’s population still depends on open fires and solid fuels to cook their meals. Millions of people—mostly women, who do the cooking, and their children—die every year because of the smoke and pollution from these fires. Their children, usually daughters, may spend hours each day gathering wood, keeping them out of school and putting them into dangerous situations as they go out alone and unprotected. Cutting trees for fuel leads to deforestation, causing landslides and erosion of fertile land that can run off into the ocean, damaging coral reefs and marine ecosystems. It is a negative feedback loop with huge consequences, and it costs the global economy trillions of dollars annually.

The solution to this global crisis is simple but amazing: clean cooking. If we are able to introduce cleaner, modern cooking energy, and cookstoves for families and communities around the world, we can reverse this negative cycle with a positive one: mothers can cook safely for their families; more daughters can earn an education; forests, soils and reefs can be restored; and the climate can start to heal. Clean cooking is truly the best investment we can make for a healthier humanity and a healthier planet.

Andrés is a chef and the founder of World Central Kitchen


The twin hurricanes, ETA and IOTA back to back, have the San Juan del Sur region reeling. No deaths in our region (so far) but our friends on the ground are involved in simultaneous Hurricane relief and anti-COVID measures. Nearby Tola was hit by flooding harder than San Juan del Sur proper, but they are neighbors, so it’s all hands on the muddy deck! Our employee Jordan Marín, who along with his wife and two kids was almost killed when a drunk driver hit their motorcycle, has been distributing PPE in the form of masks, alcohol gel, soap, and good advice.

When the land dries out (which in ordinary times it would be doing in mid-November) Jordan will begin an ambitious EcoStove project in several communities along the old “hypotenuse” road to Rivas called La Chocolata (named after the train whose old rail-bed is the road today). Our new stove model, invented by our friend Carlos Vidal Tenorio, uses only a little cement and iron rebar, depending mainly on a mix of sifted clay-rich earth and sifted dried-out horse manure as a “binder” to make our Compressed Earth Blocks, of which the stove itself is constructed. Photos can be found at

To help us expand the use of these stoves (with chimneys, to get toxic smoke out of house and lungs) please go to the Contribute page of this website (or just click “Donate Now” to the right of the stove).

Despite political turmoil and COVID-19 (NO cases anywhere in Nicaragua as of March 16) our work has been going forward. In terms of Appropriate Technology, our focus has turned solely to the EcoStove project (efficient smoke-free cooking). In January and February families in the village of Cebadilla worked with us to build and install 16 of these stoves, the bodies of which are made entirely of clay-rich earth mixed with dried horse manure. (There’s a little imbedded rebar frame to support the two “burners” and the chimney uses a little cement and sheet metal.) The mothers (and grandmothers) who have started to use these stoves are delighted to be able to cook without breathing smoke all day. They also had a lovely time working with their neighbors to make the components for the stoves. See photos of the Cebadilla project at

To continue this fine project we need your support.  Go to the Contribute page (see above) to make an easy tax-deductible online contribution.

We’ve also begun a series of garden projects using drip irrigation, one at the Free High School for Adults, and another planned for the new Gaspar García Laviana Hospital not far from the Mayor’s office. The focus of this second garden with be on medicinal plants.

The Free High School itself is going gangbusters, with plenty of students coming to the beautiful new campus, and plans afoot to buy a second yellow school bus to bring them from rural communities to the new campus. Photos of the opening day ceremonies at

If you like, you can earmark your online contribution to the Free High School.

Please stand by us as we continue our work in the San Juan del Sur region.

Posted by: gullette | April 12, 2010

Viva San Juan del Sur!

AUGUST 2018: Despite the turmoil in Nicaragua, the Sister City Project continues its work with people who need it most. The all-clay EcoStoves ( and the BioSand Water Filters continue to be fabricated by participating families, under the watchful eyes of Antonia Mendoza. And the Free High School for Adults keeps functioning, even at a time when many schools and universities in the country are closed. We keep faith with the people of Nicaragua.

Click here  under OUR STORY to see a list of our MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS in San Juan del Sur in the past 30 years. And click here to see the FALL 2018 NEWSLETTER.





Boxed Invitation

This is Yeseling Ariana Solis, 23 years old, in the restaurant where she cooks.


Yeseling Ariana is married and lives outside of town. She had a baby boy following a high-risk pregnancy during her fourth year of high school, but there was no one at home to take care of him. Yeseling, determined to finish school come hell or high water, got through her senior year in 2014 by walking into town with her baby, Yerik, early every Saturday morning and caring for him throughout the day in the classrooms. “If I had to take him out, I did. He wasn’t the only disturbance. Other students make noise too and talk to each other.”

Yeseling had been a victim of domestic violence as a child. Her parents separated when she was six-years old and her grandmother raised her in a house where there was never enough money. After she got her sixth-grade diploma at thirteen, she went to work washing clothes in the houses of strangers. When she was 17 she met the man who she would later marry, and he supported her in that he was willing to buy her notebooks and clothes so she could go back to school on Saturdays. On weekdays she was a street vendor, selling pretzels, powdered cornmeal, and pinol (a rural drink) that she made herself. After Yerik was born, she continued to do this while pushing him around in a carriage.

Two months after graduation, Yeseling started working six days a week cooking at a fast-food place in San Juan del Sur and was finally able to give up street vending. She aspires to run such a business someday, and her new boss encourages her and plans to give her more responsibility. She would also like to study drawing. In the meantime, Yeseling is repairing her small family home in Rivas by taking out micro-loans from the government. “Although drowning in difficulties,” a Free High School administrator said, “she sees our center as a life raft because it permitted her to receive an education and graduate.”

Without the Free High School, Yeseling might still be washing clothes or selling snacks on the streets. Now she is educated, has a decent job, and is progressing down a rewarding career path. Most importantly, she is empowered. This is the kind of difference in people’s lives that we’ll be making by supporting the school. Thanks for being part of that difference.

And read about us in MassRealty:,-part-1-featuring-san-juan-del-sur-city-project.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua has enjoyed a “Sister City” relationship with Newton, MA since 1988. For over a quarter century, the Newton/San Juan del Sur Sister City Project has pursued its mission of improving health and education in tandem with grassroots organizations and dedicated individuals there. We have financed the building or renovation of over twenty schools, improved the health of communities surrounding San Juan bay by bringing simple, eco-friendly technologies to the families of San Juan, and offered literacy programs and adult education programs to hundreds of people who are excluded from the regular school system. These efforts are changing the health, economy, and culture of the region.

In 2013 the Free High School graduated another 74 students, for a total of 616 since 2002. In 2014 we admitted over 800 students, via the rural high schools, the in-town or “Saturday School,” and the Technical Institute. For the first time, the City Council and the Ministry of Education are offering partial subsidies for these programs.

Two recent projects are the installation of BioSand Filters for purifying contaminated well water, and EcoStoves, for cooking with wood without filling the home (and folks’ lungs) with smoke. The photos in the slideshow below showcase communities where one or both of these initiatives were underway in 2010/2011.

UPDATE: SPRING 2014:  A new approach to Filters and Stoves. We’ve decided on a new strategy to bring BioSand Filters and EcoStoves to folks out in the campo (rural areas). Instead of making the filters and stoves in town and then delivering them, we tried moving all the fabrication of these wonderful appliances out to one rural village, Bernardino Ochoa, inviting folks from three communities–Bernardino Ochoa, Papaturro, and Coyolito–to come and build their own stoves and filters. So many people wanted to work that we had to assign different work days to different people. By mid-February we had built 60 filters and 60 stoves and had begun to install them. You can see people involved in the different tasks (making iron grids for the stove boxes, producing compressed earth blocks to put between the two layers, putting cement into molds that hold large plastic bottles wrapped in chicken wire to make the “legs” that hold up the stove, sifting sand for the filters, assembling the filters, and so on) at

We finished the three-village project so quickly (three weeks total) that we moved production of stoves out to the village of Las Brisas, south of town, where a youth group from the Woodstock, VT Rotary will help build 24 stoves they have chosen to finance. Photos at


See our Spring 2013 Newsletter!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


SPRING 2013: Our March 22nd “12 by 12” art show and silent auction brought together many Sister City Project supporters, local artists, past travelers to SJDS, educators and friends, and raised much-needed funds for the Free High School for adults.

SUMMER 2012: We’ve completed our second “Green Preschool,” this time in the village of San Antonio de Baston. See a slideshow about the building project including the school plus the “Comedor” or lunch room, constructed using locally-sourced, sustainable materials.

Dozens of new pupitres ready for use

January 2011: The rural students of the Free High School and their teachers usually meet in elementary schools in the villages where we offer classes. This means that the chairs with arms (pupitres) are sized for children between the ages of six and thirteen, and too small for many of our adult students. Many chairs are old and falling apart. We needed new pupitres of the right size. Newton Highlands Congregational Church came through for us, purchasing over eighty in 2010.

Thanks to Rodney Barker, Lynn Scheller, Carol Carroll, and other members of the Mission Ministry: Marianne Talis, Heidi Frimanis, Carol Jensen, Marian Reynolds, and Lynne Sullivan.

The chairs are made in San Juan del Sur of certified wood that has been cut down according to ecological standards set by the Nicaraguan environmental agency. They were made in the workshop of Jose Ruiz, out of two hardwoods, laurel and roble.