Cooperative practices for local sustainable development: Casa Congo project in El Astillero, Nicaragua

Cooperative practices for local sustainable development: Casa Congo project in El Astillero, Nicaragua

Credits: Tim Nathan


Casa Congo is a movement for sustainable development in Astillero, Nicaragua, aimed at empowering the local community through creatively engaging and socially cohesive conservation practices. The main purpose is to build a more sustainable future for Astillero, facilitating and fostering sustainable construction and environmental education, surf lessons and creative workshops.

The Casa Congo model rests on three pillars:

  • Community;
  • Conservation;
  • Creativity.

These three areas are considered the most lasting and effective way to bring about sustainable development, able to give benefits for all components of Astillero; educating and inspiring the local community could represent the great worth of their natural environment, a resource that when properly cared for will in turn create lasting opportunities for regenerative growth.

The main intention is to give adequate tools for the community, in order to take regenerative development into their own hands, even by facilitating the creation of a sustainable community. Through a regenerative and open dialogue with the community, the team aims at producing collaborative programs able to satisfy local needs.

The Casa Congo Cycle: inphograph from


The mission of the movement is described as follow:

The dream of Casa Congo is to help build capacity for sustainable development in the community of El Astillero, Nicaragua. The people behind the project believe in fighting for future generation’s right to a clean, happy and productive environment which allows the elements of nature to coexist with mankind. This will be achieved through a dialogue from within “el pueblo”. Their goal is to empower the local community with a sense of stewardship to create long term well being and social balance. Casa Congo seek to become a centre for knowledge sharing through environmental engagement and citizen science.

The will of the volunteers is to create a space that is nurtured by local values. They want to foster an environment of open discussion and inclusion that will promote individual growth and ultimately lead to the creation of a resilient community. A community that has an active hand in shaping its own visions and dreams for the future of El Astillero. Casa Congo will be a place that integrates conservation practice, creativity and community engagement.”


To achieve this, Casa Congo’s team has shaped four programs:

  • The first program was entrusted to Sol Lewites, one of the three founder members of the project, who is an engineering graduate. The program is concerned with sustainable construction. The aim is to specialize in building with bamboo, a material easily available in those areas that is well suited for both carpentry and building projects designed by the team. For example As it is better clarified in the description of the project “Bamboo bike building is a sustainable social enterprise that can create business opportunities in El Astillero. The program trains locals about the sustainable properties of bamboo, giving them not only a durable form of transport but also the opportunity to be able to make an sell these bikes for a profit. These bikes are suitable for rough roads and utilise native bamboo that doesn’t cost a lot of money or put a strain on the natural environment.”


  • The second program concerns the ecological sphere and is under the supervision of Luca Marsaglia, another founder member, who started an environmental education course at the local high school in order to teach students the basic principles of conservation. He helped himself with the valuable contribution of Manuel Cortez, a prominent member of the community of El Astillero, who has great knowledge of the subject and now has been appointed as the official organization’s referent in this field. The ecological action of Casa Congo is not just limited to school desks. In fact, Luca Marsaglia and the volunteers who approached the project support the work of the Ministry of the Environment in the protected area of ​​Chacocente, which is a tropical dry forest of five thousand acres that stretch to the beach. Inside this huge environment,t the forces in play before their arrival were only four Nicaraguans rangers salaried by the state. The contribution of Casa Congo to the monitoring of turtles, that nest massively in those areas, and in the processes of forestation and regeneration has been and will continue to be crucial.


  • The third program deals with ocean advocacy and has both sports and requalification aspects. The God of surf at El Astillero rolls waves that can reach four or five meters high and it is clear therefore why some locals have begun worshiping him. Thanks to the help of the small Astillero Surf Club, Casa Congo has started to lay the foundations of its surfing asset. The mission is to give the opportunity to become one with the ocean to people who could not afford it before the arrival of Casa Congo. Last summer, over forty surfboards were shipped from Canada, thanks to the efforts of Adam Tory, the head of the program. Free surf lessons and equipment available: now people in El Astillero are allowed to dream big. Who knows, one of the children who is now having fun dancing on the foams near the shore, tomorrow could be crowned world champion. The program and the equipment will be managed by the local surf club which has contacts with the professional surfing network in Nicaragua. Casa Congo want to provide ocean safety education and give the local community the resources to be able to run their own business whilst learning the fun and physically beneficial sport of surfing., When the ocean does not provide any wave, the sports side makes room for requalification. The locals and the activists of Casa Congo spread out all over the village to clean up. El Astillero is a beautiful place yet the urban and rural areas are contaminated by rubbish. Forests, beaches, roads and rivers are polluted, due to the lack of a sustainable garbage collection systems and appropriate community awareness. This project is a founding pillar of our conservation mission and will be focused on providing garbage collection tools (i.e. custom designed bamboo bins) and activities with the community to promote a clean environment”.


  • The fourth program concerns with art as a vehicle for awareness raising on environmental issues. The project took advantage of Lily Keenan’s direction. She is an Australian artist who took care of children’s painting courses as well as embellishing the center of the town of El Astillero with beautiful murals. Casa Congo is an adventure brought forward in the interest of people and creatures populating those sun-kissed lands. And it has only just started.

Credits: Tim Nathan

Their numerous projects address the main areas of action in different ways, but with the long term goal of empowering the community to achieve a lasting prosperity and harmony with the environment.

Check Casa Congo’s official website and their Facebook Page to know more about their projects

Casa Congo è un’organizzazione sorta con lo scopo di promuovere la conservazione del ricco ecosistema che circonda El Astillero, un villaggio situato in Nicaragua sulla costa che si affaccia verso l’Oceano Pacifico.