Welcome to the Jungle


By Lorna Pierno

When I travel back to Nicaragua, the phrase “Welcome to the Jungle” means more than the iconic Guns & Roses song.

Here, “Welcome to the Jungle” means waking up to the sounds of roosters crowing, birds chirping, and the leaves on the palm trees swaying to alert us of a pending storm. It means returning to the jungle of my childhood and the vivid memories that live here, like when I laid the first brick of what would later become the family farmhouse I sit in now, looking out at the trees that my brother and I climbed when we were kids.

“Welcome to the Jungle” means I’m home at Finca Zaragoza, a luscious coffee farm located on over 500 acres of nature in the mountains of Nicaragua’s La Dalia region.
Lorna's Laptop

In the blink of an eye, over 30 years have passed since I climbed those trees. While much of the coffee farm remains the same, there is one big, new addition that fills me with hope for the future of the country. Across the way, in what used to be an open cement field where we dried coffee beans and I learned how to ride a bike, there is now a schoolhouse.

In 2012, my father, Omar Perez Leclair, built the schoolhouse for the kids of the farm workers who harvest coffee here. Prior to the schoolhouse, parents struggled to keep their kids in school. Unable to afford cars, the only way for kids to get to school was “on foot,” and since the nearest schools were five to ten miles away, the kids’ shoes would quickly wear out. Without money to spend on new shoes, parents would sometimes just take their kids out of school. By building a school on the farm, we hoped to save not only kids’ shoes, but their dreams.

Francis, a 7-year-old girl, who enjoys playing hide-n-seek with her friends, told me she wants to become a doctor so she can take care of anyone who gets sick.

Francis’s family has worked in Finca Zaragoza for many, many years. My mother taught her grandfather, Don Julio, now retired, to read and write. He will never forget it and tells me this same story every time he sees me. For me, the joy he got from learning to read and write reinforces the importance of investing in Nicaragua’s future by making sure that essential resources (such as accredited teachers, desks, notebooks, pencils, a chalkboard, etc.) are in place to educate the kids.  Francis

Despite the efforts of people like my father, many kids here will not make it past the 6th grade. Their parents will force them to start working in the city, the streets, or in other farms so that they can help contribute towards food and clothing to support the rest of the family – including younger brothers/sisters and grandparents. Without school, many won’t have a shot at fulfilling their dreams.

I need only look at my own path to see how important school was in building the life I lead in Los Angeles. In 1983, my family and I fled to the United States. I was in 2nd grade, enrolled in “El Americano” School and learning how to speak English, when fighting between the Sandinistas and the US-supported Contras grew severe, causing Nicaragua’s economic and civil rights conditions to worsen. My family and I settled in the San Fernando Valley in California, and I enrolled in the 3rd grade with American kids. I quickly learned how to read and write in English, and by the end of the school year, I was helping my American classmates with their homework. I admit, I was kind of a nerd, but I just LOVED going to school and I never missed a day – I looked forward to winning “perfect attendance” awards at the end of the year. When I got chicken pox in 4th grade, I was crushed that I had to miss a full week.

I went on to attend Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills, CA, and then CSUN (California State University Northridge), where I graduated with a bachelor’s in Business Administration. After graduating, I ventured into the world of marketing at several fast-paced telecommunications companies.

Today, I am thankful for all the events that have led me to this point, and feel that the school is an expression of our gratitude and hope for the parents and children in Finca Zaragoza. Yet for as many as we’ve helped, there are millions more across Nicaragua who are forgotten. Spreading quality education to a whole country of children is a huge task, one requiring big ideas, hard work, and the coordinated efforts of dedicated people. It’s more than my family and I can do alone.

Then, one day, on Facebook, I saw a video about the Finding Corte Magore Project.  But, it was this personal video from Tonia, about Finding Corte Magore, that got my attention the most because it tells the story on how her personal journey to Corte Magore began and how that relates to my own experiences, growing-up Nicaraguan.

I’d known Tonia Allen Gould, the project’s founder/CEO, for several years after we’d worked together in Los Angeles and became friends on social media. I learned that Tonia had published a children’s book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, and now was turning the book’s fictional island of Corte Magore into a real island in Nicaragua to help kids stay in school. I knew I wanted to learn more, be a part of it, and help Nicaraguan students fulfill their dreams by helping Tonia fulfill hers. When Tonia approached me about visiting kids in Nicaragua, I welcomed her with open arms.

One conversation led to another and six weeks after our initial conversation, we were at the schoolhouse in Finca Zaragoza watching the kids’ faces glow as most of them received coloring paper and crayons for the very first time. They also received an English lesson from Tonia for the very first time as she taught them to say “Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore.”

Ultimately, I understood that The Finding Corte Magore Project’s mission was to bring awareness to education in a country that desperately needs it.  This trip to the schoolhouse was a starting point for a grand initiative, a vision and a project that started out as a dream in the pages of a children’s book but was going to leap off the pages into reality.

So with great hope and excitement, I invite Tonia, the island, and the Finding Corte Magore Project to Nicaragua by saying: Welcome to the Jungle.

About the Finding Corte Magore Project: Our goal is to crowdfund a “social good” island in Nicaragua to raise awareness to the children who may drop out of school before reaching the sixth grade. In an effort to promote dreaming amongst children at home and abroad, our goal is to rebrand the 29-acre island of Hog Cay, to Corte Magore, after the fictional island in the children’s picture book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, authored by Tonia Allen Gould. The main character in this story had to overcome a lot of challenges to accomplish his goal of building a life for himself.  We believe, with a little help from students and teachers in the US, crowdfunders, and the Finding Corte Magore Project, that the children in Nicaragua too can create a better life for themselves as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Off My One-Acre Island

How one author’s children’s picture book unfolded out for her in real life eventually making a fictional place real for social good.


On Corte magoreFifteen months ago, I had an “AHA” moment that, at first, involved marketing my book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, an epic children’s tale about a land and sea fiddler crab who wandered onto a beautiful island called Corte Magore. Sam wanted to stay and live there forever, but had to first overcome obstacles like building himself a home before the tides came in to sweep him back out to sea. He also had to work around naysayers and the big, bad beast, the Great Tidal Wave.  Sam was a dreamer and a hard worker. He made mistakes but each time he failed, learned to pull himself up again and again by his bootstraps.

If you know me well, you’ll know there are some parallels between Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore and my own life. Like Sam, I’m tenacious and a hard worker. Also like Sam, I too was once searching for a home. At the age of fifteen, I was placed in foster care. Mine was a dysfunctional family living well below the poverty line and things were often difficult for me growing up. The naysayer in my life was the system – the statistics that said I wasn’t supposed to break the cycle. Many children don’t, but I fortunately did. I’m resourceful, entrepreneurial, and when I’ve failed, I learned early on to pick myself up gracefully and work to get myself right back on track – just like Sam. I broke the mold and I know, in my heart of hearts, that it’s my duty to share with others that they can do it too. Despite their circumstances.

I tried to ingrain many pearls of wisdom throughout Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore. If only I had a book, growing up, that told me it was okay to be searching for something, that acknowledged that my dreams had validity, that being punctual and minding the time and deadlines were important, and that though there would be bullies and naysayers in my life trying to squelch my dreams, it was up to me to tackle them anyway. Somehow, early on, I learned I’d have to do most everything for myself and on my own and that being independent can be incredibly empowering, even for a child faced with life’s difficulties.

My story was one I HAD to tell. But just telling it wasn’t enough. I had to figure out a way to market my book in a big way to children so they could make my story and Sam’s story, about overcoming obstacles and persevering, their own.

One morning, right before I woke up – a time when being “almost” lucid often brings clarity to my problems – the way to market my book in a big way came to me in an “AHA” moment. “AHA, I’ve got it,” I thought as I sat straight-up in bed. “If you can name a star in the sky, then why can’t I find some postage-stamped-sized island, somewhere in the world, and name it Corte Magore?”

That crazy, absurd, half-cocked idea put me on a personal journey that has changed the course of my life – rallied even my own family, one that’s forced me to get off my own personal, one-acre suburban “island” in Southern California, a life I eventually built for myself, step out of my cush comfort zone – and onto a real life, 29-acre, living/breathing, bio-diverse island along the devastatingly poor, Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. That “AHA” moment, caused my passion (writing books for children) to be met with its purpose – having an island work to somehow keep an impoverished nation of child drop-outs in school. One adventure lead me to the next, just like in my story. And that “AHA” moment has snowballed into a new tale that now involves an ambassador, universities, conservation, eco-tourism, environmental learning, ocean science, crowdfunding, grant-writing, television/film, real estate development, and much, much more. In the course of a year, I’ve traveled to Nicaragua three times and have fallen in love with its people and possibilities, but most importantly, I’ve fallen in love with the journey to “Finding Corte Magore”.

Over the next few days and weeks, my team on the Finding Corte Magore project and I will attempt to break down this amazing adventure for you. Look for videos, pictures, and blog posts as we unfold the story from varying perspectives.

I promise that when it’s all over, you will be inspired to get up, dust off some of those old dreams of your own, dare to get off your own islands and realize that nothing at all is impossible.

See you on Corte Magore!

Tonia Allen Gould

http://www.findingcortemagore.com

I Grew-Up Dirt Poor in Indiana, but, Still I had Hope


But, Still, I Had Hope… 

Someone asked me last night – challenged me really, over dinner while talking about the Finding Corte Magore project. “Why not do all this in the U.S.? Why Nicaragua?” My answer? “I grew-up dirt poor, living below the poverty line. But, books, education, teachers, welfare and our American laws saved me. I had hope. And, everyone deserves hope.   

The poorest children in the U.S. have so much more hope than most of the kids in Nicaragua, one of the poorest places on the planet. Kids in Nicaragua are forced to eventually choose work over school, if they ever enrolled in the first place.  My goal is to teach kids in the U.S. that no matter how bad they have it – someone, somewhere, has things worse. And, in Nicaragua, my goal there is to let kids know that it’s okay to have hope and dream for a better life.” – Tonia

Please join this important discussion regarding the Finding Corte Magore project on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FindingCorteMagore/posts/840844052658052

For the Guy in the Front Row


The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), the largest media and marketing organization serving the promotional products industry, invited me to speak at their shows last year on “Building Killer Campaigns.” Sometime soon; I’ll write about the preparation involved in public speaking and about my journey to my first hour-long speaking engagement. (Leading up to this point, I had only served on industry panels with a moderator and at least two other speakers). But, I don’t want to write about that long, winding road that leads to public speaking just yet. Today, I’m more compelled to write about something amazing that happened while I was speaking at ASI Show San Diego.

Somewhere during the middle of my presentation; I made eye contact with a person in the audience for a bit too long and lost my stride. I stumbled for just a few seconds trying to find the right words and my presentation went in a new direction, one that surprised me and my colleagues who were sitting in the audience, both of whom knew how the presentation was “supposed” to go. Since I was fairly rehearsed, I could tell by their bewildered faces that they knew I was walking into unknown terrain, but I could also see their relief when my new material managed to stay true to my slides.

Quickly, I caught my stride once again, and everything started to fall right back into place. However, not long after the misstep, one of my colleagues motions her watch and indicates that we have twenty minutes left, but I misunderstood and thought she meant that I had only been speaking for twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes? Only? In my head, I rationalized that I was talking way too fast. Tactically, I was now dealing both with the new direction I was taking in my presentation and trying to figure out how to slow the whole thing way down. If you’ve ever spoken in front of an audience before, you know that’s an awful lot of brain exercise in one standing; it’s like the equivalent of being the conductor and the one man band, at the same time.

So, I needed to kill some time, or so I thought I did. There was really only one thing to do and that was to engage my audience more. That meant that I would need to stop talking for a spell and get my audience to do some of the talking. I had just been talking to them about brainstorming ideas for a movie title which I used as a sample campaign. We had covered the synopsis, the movie trailer, the project scope, the creative assets and elements, and brainstorming ideas. I was just getting ready to share with

them ideas that came out of our own in-house brainstorming session at TAG! But, in effort to ease the pace; I decided to ask the audience for their ideas for the movie campaign. So, I began conducting a real-life brainstorming session with them. I reminded the audience that no idea was a bad one while brainstorming, and that brainstorming is all about free-wheeling group discussion. I encouraged them to throw ideas out there to see where they land and that some of the best ideas spawn from someone else’s. Hands suddenly flew-up everywhere and my presentation, the culmination of two month’s work and preparation, took life.

Inadvertently, the discussion became highly interactive. The impromptu brainstorming session drove my earlier talking points home. Still, I got them to think harder. Rather than saying NO to any of their ideas, I probed, “Is that idea useful? Is it functional or feasible? Does it fit the client’s needs and wants? Does it meet the project scope? Was it around budget? It was beautiful, the hands kept flying up and one idea after the other took flight, each one spurring a new idea from the next participant. And, then I asked, ”

Can it be decorated or imprinted to convey the message?” That’s when it happened; that’s when the guy in the front row asked the question, “What’s an imprint?” For the audience, it was an immediate buzz kill, because to our industry; the imprint to the promotional product is like the paint to the painter or the hair to the stylist. This guy in the front row was a real newbie with probably no more than five minutes in the industry under his belt. I answered his question as informatively and delicately as I could and moved through to the end of my presentation. Like all presenters that day; I ran ten minutes late, but the whole experience was exhilarating. What I learned that day was that great things can happen from making mistakes. But the real lesson was the one I still had to teach. That came afterwards when a group of people approached me, and told me that they learned a lot from my session. One woman began to apologize profusely for the guy in the first row and for his total lack of knowledge about our business. She said, “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.” I looked at her and smiled and said, “I appreciate your concern. I’ve been in the industry for a long time. I’m ready to share my skills and knowledge. I’m here speaking today because of the guy in the front row. He’s the one I’m trying to reach.”

TAG! is a consumer promotions and marketing agency specializing in the effective use of promotional products in the marketing mix. We assist buyers who are looking for products to generate traffic, leads or sales while delivering measurable ROI.