This is Henry, reporting from Masaya, Nicaragua, a city about 40 minutes outside of Managua, the capital. Masaya is where I have been living and working for the past 10 days. The city has the same population as South Bend, our dear home, but looks quite different in many ways.
First, you should know, that Nicaragua is not India. Interestingly, in terms of raw numbers, they are ranked nearly the same in poverty (wikipedia). But the problems that plague the two nations aren't identical. In my short time here I have gotten a small taste of what impediments must be surmounted and what intervention can be done successfully. For those of you who know me well, it is impossible for me to ignore the macro dynamics and big picture for this situation.
I'm working for a Nicaraguan NGO named Alternativa, which deals with small businesses and microfinance. We try to assist people who need working capital or business training to get off the ground. It has oddly been helpful having experience with College Democrats and the Obama Campaign, because we are constantly dealing with organizing trade cooperatives (shoemakers, craftsmen, various artisans) and trying to help people reach their common goal. Enthusiasm and energy are also requisites in development work.
Nevertheless, the question of what is working in development constantly presses our minds. I cannot help but think back to discussions in my Central American Development course, with Prof. (& fmr. VP of Honduras) Luis Cosenza. The difficulty with development is often about sustainability.
- Is it right to industrialize and inject capital into a society just so the PPP/capita rises?
- What about the environmental damage that is caused when every country in the world tries to imitate the industrial revolution?
- What about the vicious consumption of resources that could leave future generations without necessities?
- What about the rat race that pushes the poorest countries even further down and creates animosity and rivalry amongst poorer nations?
- Is the work we are doing contributing to a lasting improvement that will outlive our presence/money?
As development workers, we ask these types of questions daily with every move we make. It is not enough to help lift specific individuals from poverty if the consequences are worse for the entire human race. However, there is hope.
Education and health are two fields that have been making incontrovertible, meaningful progress in the developing world. Another angle, dealing with skills training and microfinance, is beginning to pick up steam. In an era that is searching for answers to development outside of (or in addition to) the traditional IMF/Washington Consensus model, it is the NGO community that is innovating and discovering solutions.
I'll be sure to keep you all updated as I go along.
Henry "Enrique" Vasquez
PS- Anyone who would like to chat in Spanish come August, I'll be ready...