International waters

Paul Panda Farnana Prize goes to collaboration with Nicaraguan researchers

2 min
Text Arkasha Keysers
Image UAntwerpen

How do you protect scientific research and the needs of rural communities in turbulent political times? Because of great efforts in this area, the collaboration between UAntwerp and the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in Nicaragua has been awarded the Paul Panda Farnana Prize for global engagement.


‘At the end of the eighties, the Nicaraguan revolution came to an end. Policy in the country changed and funding streams to the countryside were cut off,’ says researcher Alejandro Hernández*. ‘Together with the local communities, the UCA took stock of the developments in rural areas, and tried to meet their needs.’


The University Foundation for Development Coordination (USOS) supported the work financially. Several PhD students who have since become professors at our university travelled to Nicaragua to conduct research. They ended up with Nitlapan, the UCA’s academic research and development institution. At the time, Nitlapan set up microfinancing programmes within the rural communities. These resembled banks and were managed by the communities themselves.


The average Nicaraguan

USOS had also begun to sponsor immersion trips. ‘UAntwerp students spent a few weeks in Nicaragua to experience how the average Nicaraguan lived. Slowly but surely, researchers also started to come to Antwerp from Nicaragua, which resulted in a joint research group that involves quite some people nowadays,’ says Hernández.


However, in 2018 protests broke out against the Nicaraguan government, which were bloodily suppressed and amidst which the UCA was closed. ‘Which means the work in Nicaragua itself is currently not possible anymore.’

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In spite of all of the political developments, UAntwerp decided to continue the collaboration

Alejandro Hernández

In spite of this, the Institute of Development Policy (IOB) of UAntwerp decided to keep collaborating. The researchers involved are now focusing on finding broad international partnerships that will allow them to continue their valuable work in the near future.


A few words from the jury: The UCA-Nitlapan partnership fully deserves the Paul Panda Farnana Prize, not only because it is an embodiment of the Global Engagement values of our university, but also as an encouragement for all the people involved, and a signal of hope for the future.


* In the interest of his personal safety, the name Hernández is an alias.

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