Introducing Alejandro: The Protector

Walking through Don Alejandro Mairena’s home is like walking through a sanctuary; photos of native wildlife line the adobe walls and the smell of homemade tortillas wafts through the damp humidity of the tropical municipality of San Rafael del Norte, Nicaragua. Mairena is a nature-lover, farmer, and the protector of the Cascadas Verdes — a cascading waterfall perched at the top of his family’s sprawling homestead.

Cascadas Verdes serves as a major water source for the communities in the department of Jinotega: it is part of the Rio Negro micro-watershed and the Rio Coco watershed, one of the largest and most important natural resources in Nicaragua. Water For People — Nicaragua Accountant and Sanitation as a Business Program Manager, Mauricio Villagra, says decreased water production in the watershed would have a serious impact on Jinotega.

And for the La Unión community that uses the water from Cascades Verdes as its only source for drinking water, conservation is a top priority.

Mairena has spent the last 30 years living and working on the land surrounding Cascadas Verdes, all the while protecting its delicate ecosystem. And even though the area is designated as a natural reserve, the Nicaraguan government hasn’t invested in its day-to-day upkeep or conservation — so Mairena made it his job.

“I don’t succumb to people offering money for logging,” he explains. “And I protect the animals that keep the forest going.”

He knows his efforts directly impact his community, and any communities in the Rio Coco watershed that depend on this water for survival.

With Mairena as our guide, we explore his sacred spot, as he points out exotic vegetation, sifts through dried coffee beans, and explains the importance of watershed protection.

In a place seemingly so alone, yet so depended on, it is easy to see how every moment of every day revolves around water.