The Founders of Project WOO met as Peace Corps volunteers in Honduras, Central America in 2004. Nick Mucha and Adam Monaghan both lived and…
The Founders of Project WOO met as Peace Corps volunteers in Honduras, Central America in 2004. Nick Mucha and Adam Monaghan both lived and worked in Honduras for over two years, where they dedicated their time to a variety of local development projects including: eco-tourism, potable water systems, strategic planning, HIV/AIDS education, empowering women’s groups, grant proposal design, and environmental education campaigns.
During their service they took multiple bus trips to southern Nicaragua to surf and visit friends who owned a surf camp. While enjoying the bountiful goodness of southern Nicaragua, they both noticed the obvious impact that surf tours, surf camps and surf culture are having on small, isolated coastal communities. Largely undisturbed by foreigners in the past, these towns are now frequently visited and inhabited by surfers from around the world.
Despite the presence of Western surfers in these impoverished regions there was no coordinated effort by surfers to give back to the local communities. Nick and Adam were shocked that surfers were not more interested in helping the local communities address their many needs. They felt that surfers should take advantage of their unique opportunity as cultural ambassadors and as such use their resources and energy to support the very communities that embrace the visiting surfersTrue believers that surf travel should benefit the areas it visits, Nick and Adam decided that they possessed the passion, understanding and skills necessary to change this situation.
Drawing upon their rich experience as community organizers in the Peace Corps, the pair resolved to bring their vision to these towns that were being exposed to surfing and surf culture. Nick and Adam set out to show the world how surfers can be catalysts for positive, lasting change in these remote regions.
In 2006 the duo officially set out to make their vision a reality when they created Project Wave of Optimism – the first organization of its kind. Today Project WOO is an incorporated 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in California with a field office in Nicaragua.
Mission & Vision
Project Wave of Optimism firmly believes that international surf travel has a profound impact upon the local populations of Latin American surf …
Mission & Vision
To facilitate community-driven development in Latin American surf travel destinations
Project Wave of Optimism firmly believes that international surf travel has a profound impact upon the local populations of Latin American surf destinations. However, few coordinated efforts have attempted to use this opportunity to support locally-lead development initiatives. In light of this, Project WOO commits to work in the area of critical overlap between surf tourism presence and host community efforts to improve their quality of life.
Through our on-site, hands-on approach, we strive to:
- Build positive relationships within the community
- Establish ourselves as a proactive ally of the local people
- Encourage local empowerment, raise awareness of local issues, and support local management of resources
- Promote local participation and leadership in the identification, planning and execution of community development projects
- Provide technical guidance and material support for local development initiatives
Why We Are Different
Project WOO believes that the only way to achieve sustainable community development is through a combination of local participation, our partner…
Why We Are Different
Painting a fence along side of the local kids can be a self-fulfilling experience, but as seasoned community development workers we know it is not a particularly sustainable model. Our community relationships are our greatest asset, and serve as the foundation of our Volunteer Program. The magic happens within these relationships, when both students’ and families’ eyes are peeled wide open due to the immersion of two very different cultures. This experience is replicated throughout our program. Of course, volunteers may find themselves working alongside of local folks in Gigante on various community identified projects, but Project WOO’s Voluntourism Program is geared specifically toward providing unique and impactful opportunities for both volunteer and community members through thoughtful and deliberate cultural immersion activities.
Project WOO volunteers will participate in an authentic homestay opportunity, which often proves to be the most valuable and impactful piece of our Volunteer Program. Additionally, we offer long term service learning opportunities through a variety of fieldwork placements, allowing students to work and learn alongside experts in the community for an extended amount of time. Understanding that ‘service’ projects are to benefit both the volunteer and the community, WOO utilizes such projects as stepping-stones to increase cross-cultural awareness. Our programs focus on the invaluable return of the lessons learned from the relationships built, not the number of fences painted.
Our volunteers have one-on-one support from our in-country Volunteer Program Coordinator and Program Director, both of who reside in Gigante full time.
Through this experiential and educational opportunity, both the local community and the volunteers benefit. The students will develop a better understanding and appreciation of the world around them and their impact as volunteers in a developing country. Additionally and equally important, the local community interacts intimately with the face of development.
Project Wave of Optimism believes that process is as important as purpose. Good intentions lack good results in the absence coherent planning…
Project Wave of Optimism believes that process is as important as purpose. Good intentions lack good results in the absence coherent planning. As such, we have developed a process that has three equally important outcomes:
- Design and execute projects that meet the needs of the community
- Include local people intimately by giving them ownership of the process and providing them with skills to tackle the needs within their community
- Foster active participation and therefore engender individual and collective empowerment
The following is a detailed breakdown of the process that we are implementing with our partner communities in order to achieve proven results:
1. Community Entry
- Become positive role models and active participants in our partner communities
- Build positive relationships with community members across all sectors of society
- Coordinate with local and regional authorities to secure local approval of Project WOO’s presence within our partner community
- Conduct general meetings to officially introduce Project WOO to our partner community
2. Community Diagnostics & Needs Assessment
- Foster critical thinking skills among community members
- Conduct a series of formal “Community Diagnostic” workshops that introduce practical analysis tools, which allow the community to understand and investigate:
- The dynamics of family, education, economy, politics, religion, associations and health care existing within the community;
- Internal strengths and weaknesses as they relate to external opportunities and threats
- Conduct individual home visits with community members to:
- Discuss issues raised in formal diagnostic workshops
- Inspire and support individuals as they create and develop ideas for programs, activities, and projects that address the needs of the community
3. Project Selection
- Conduct “Project Proposal” meeting wherein community members formally, publicly propose their own ideas for programs, activities or projects to address the community’s needs
- Conduct informal small group meetings and individual home visits to discuss, analyze, and prioritize the proposed project ideas
- Conduct “Project Selection” meeting wherein community members systematically and democratically elect the most important projects through an open town vote
- The outcome of this process is a list of community generated project ideas, including the project idea that received the most votes, which will become the focus of Project WOO’s efforts in the months to come
4. Skills Transfer & Local Empowerment
- Allow any interested community member the opportunity to participate with Project WOO as members of the local Project Planning Committee
- Conduct both formal and informal life skills trainings, including: leadership, communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, vision for the future, etc.
- Conduct both formal and informal project design skills trainings, including: action planning, budgeting, feasibility studies, project proposal writing, coordinating with local authorities, grant solicitation, etc.
5. Project Design & Implementation*
- Lead the Project Planning Committee through the process of designing and implementing the community selected project
- Provide the Project Planning Committee the opportunity to apply skills learned in previous skills trainings (outlined above)
- Support the Project Planning Committee with both human and material resources needed to carry out the selected project
6. Regroup & Reorganize٭
- Provide continuing support to the first WOO sponsored project, because all projects are ongoing in some form or another and require monitoring and evaluation
- Learn from mistakes and build on successes to revise the Project WOO strategic model
* This is the real process of creating a tangible result based on the preparation and planning carried out in the previous four phases. For example, if the community decides to carry out a recycling program, we coordinate with local waste management authorities to gain their support; we create the budget for the short, medium, and long term project costs; we actively seek funding; we conduct the door-to-door recycling education campaign; we build the recycling facilities; we hire and train workers to manage the facility, etc.
WOO in the News
From Surfline to ESPN, Project WOO’s efforts to marry surf tourism with sustainable community development has garnered attention in the press…
WOO in the News
Love for Surfing Leads to Care for Community in Gigante
The Nicaragua Dispatch
June 3, 2013
February 22, 2013
Project WOO: Constructing A Community Health Center in Rural, Coastal Nicaragua
June 9, 2013
Surfers help Nicaraguan community realize dream for health center
June 13, 2013
Surfing For Change: Travel Guide To Nicaragua (Full Movie 2013)
Feb 1, 2013
Project WOO: A Mini-Documentary
January 30, 2012
Project WOO and Reef Redemption
October 24, 2011
Gretchen Wegrich, Stoked & Broke: Surfing For Change heads to Nicaragua, catches a wave of optimism
Santa Cruz Sentinel
February 9, 2013
Project Wave of Optimism’s Progress in Nicaragua
March 24, 2011
Project WOO is grateful to have worked collaboratively with the local villagers of Playa Gigante for over six years on a wide range of volunteer programs.
Project WOO Volunteer Program
Project WOO is grateful to have worked collaboratively with the local villagers of Playa Gigante for over six years on a wide range of community identified projects and volunteer programs. Tourism has been slowly but steadily growing here, and Project WOO is working hard to bridge the gap between the community and its steady stream of international travelers. Project WOO believes that we have a responsibility to give back to the rural coastal communities that we explore.
Be a WOOster—Volunteer Opportunities for Individuals
If you are an individual and would like to volunteer for Project WOO, we offer long-term internships for folks willing to come for 2-6 months or more. We ask that they be conversational in Spanish and have a willingness to work hard and engage with the community of Gigante on a deeper level. Learn more about the internship possibilities here.
Volunteer Opportunities for Groups
If you are an organization that would like to bring a group to Gigante (high school, gap year, medical/dental, yoga, university, etc…), we offer a short term 1-2 week immersion/brigade program. See Overview:
- Homestay Brief- a WOO facilitated discussion, highlighting the responsibilities and expectations of volunteers living with a local family. WOO will present and review Volunteer Manual designed specifically to support volunteers and local families while in a homestay. Volunteers will be asked to choose several activities to facilitate with their homestay families and present to their group at the end of their trip.
- Homestay Placement- Volunteers will be personally escorted by WOO staff to their individual homes where they will stay with a local Gigante family for the duration of their time. Volunteers will have daily one-on-one support and check-ins while in their homestays.
- Community Tour- Volunteers will have the unique opportunity to meet local leaders and visit WOO projects, maybe even do a scavenger hunt, creating a broader understanding of the local culture and challenges.
- Group Initiative- WOO compiles and presents to the group all activities, projects and excursions available for the group’s stay, including daily Spanish Language classes with the local Spanish School. Organizations can work directly with our WOO Volunteer Program Director to create their own schedule for the week that highlights both their interests and the community aspect of Gigante. WOO is on hand to facilitate the process and help coordinate any details and address any questions or concerns.
- WOO Round Table Discussions- WOO will present students with thought provoking questions to share in a discussion with WOO staff and group members relating to the value and purpose of International Volunteering.
- Group Surf Lesson- Volunteers will receive one-on-one instruction from qualified WOO staff to learn the basics of surfing. (Boogie boards available)
- Volunteer Projects- WOO will work with volunteers to match their skill set with ongoing community generated projects.
Other program highlights
- Gigante Fishing Excursion- Volunteers accompany the local fishermen on the water to better understand the livelihood of Gigante.
- Hike the Giant’s Foot- 2-3 hour hike up one of several of Gigante’s surrounding mountains.
- Homestay Potluck Dinner- Volunteers will participate in the preparation of traditional Nica dishes and come together with the rest of their group and their homestay families for a closing potluck dinner.
- Bread Baking- Volunteers will participate in baking bread or traditional Nica sweets with one of our local moms.
- Nicaraguan Revolutionary War History- Students can meet veterans from the Civil War and have an opportunity to hear their stories and ask questions.
- Community Softball Game- Volunteers and various members of the local community will come together for an informal and fun softball game.
Recent Volunteer Program Update
Project WOO is off to a great start in 2015. With the construction of an additional school building in 2014, the teachers are starting the school year with renewed enthusiasm and excitement for now they each have their own classroom. Many thanks to Surf For Life, Students from Shoulder to Shoulder, REEF Redemption, for their financial and physical contributions. Also, we’d like to thank our long-time donors Betty and Lynn Mangum, Arbol de Vida, and the Ezulwini Foundation. Without their support, it would not have been possible.
We are so gratefully continuing our 2nd year with Lara Buros, our full time English teacher who continues to work with our volunteer team to provide an interactive and fun English program to the teachers, the students and the greater community of Gigante on a weekly basis. Interested in donating to the English Program to help us provide adequate materials? Check out our wish list.
Lara also directed WOO summer camp 2015. She put together an amazing program for the local children and teens with the help of our stellar WOOster volunteer team- Liz Kennedy, Finn Bradenday, Isabella Frederick, Braden Dempster, and Abby Donnelly. Huge thanks to this enthusiastic team of volunteers and a very special thanks to Jackson Avila and Jackson’s Ice Cream for providing the funding that allowed us to deliver such a solid program. Interested in donating to next year’s summer camp? Donate here (general donation link).
Our current WOO team will be focusing on the further development of English classes and enhancing our WOO Volunteer Immersion Program. Additionally, they are focusing their efforts on working in collaboration with local youth to build a sustainable, ongoing Youth Club that will provide a healthy outlet for youth to come together and participate in surf lessons as well as continued English classes, arts and crafts, cooking and a variety of other activities. Additionally, the WOO team will be directly involved in the coordination and facilitation of several WOO Immersion trips with groups from Old Dominion University, Athenian High School from Los Angeles, CA , and Carpe Diem Gap Year Program from Portland Oregon.
“Playa Gigante is a fascinating place, given the contrast between the local native Nicaraguan way of life, and the way of life brought to the town through tourism and surf culture. Project WOO is doing a good job of bridging that gap.”- University of Oregon volunteer, December 2014“Project WOO has been doing such a good job, and I experienced first hand the triumph that comes from the clinic and other projects. Plus they gave us a lesson on surfing! It was an experience for the books!”
– volunteer, August 2014
“Project WOO is truly supporting the community of Playa Gigante and has a great relationship with its people. You can tell how much the locals appreciate WOO’s work because they will tell you to your face.”
– Graham, Carpe Diem volunteer, November 2014
“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience with Project WOO in Gigante. I got to know the local culture on so many different, deep levels that I felt I had been here for longer than I actually had. My homestay made me instantly feel like a part of their family and made sure I was always comfortable and filled with food! I’ll miss them and Playa Gigante so much, and I hope more than anything that I can one day come back.”
-volunteer, August 2014
“The focus on family and community relations is fantastic. I felt right at home in my homestay, more so than anywhere else. And the activities during the day were fantastic. This was an awesome experience.”
Carpe Diem volunteer, November 2014