Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm trying to figure out how to get some Central American villagers to poop where I say they should poop. Being an American, I know what's best for them; why won't they acknowledge my authoritah?!?!?

5 years ago I spent $5000 to build 50 latrines in a rural village. Now, the villagers have put padlocks on them and rent them out as self storage units. They are making money off of my latrines and are still pooping in the bush! I can't understand why they won't do their business where I desire. No amount of explaining modern sanitation technology seems to convince them to poop where I want them too. If fact, they are becoming belligerent about it, telling me to go away and stop messing with their 500 year old community....

I'm sure you would be grateful if a bunch of foreigners came into your yard, built a small stinky building, and told you that from now on you had to go to the bathroom there. Do any of you have any suggestions on how I might convince these silly villagers to do the same?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Well, after 2 and 1/2 years of no posts I am back. After the change of the Nicaraguan government in January of 2007, when Daniel Ortega began a new 5 year term as President of the country, I decided to stay "callado" - to keep my mouth shut.

I had many connections in the former government who had assisted me with various projects in the country, from schools to community gardens to water wells, and I just wanted to learn who I would be dealing with before going out on a limb and accidentally saying something inflamatory.

Our school is still in business, and we continue to offer educational opportunities, formal and vocational, to impoverished children and young adults in the community of Pantanal, just south of the city of Granada.

I'll be writing much more over the coming weeks, and I look forward to your comments. The one thing I can say right now is that should you decide to go to some third world country and help the people there, do it one child at a time, become a personal friend and mentor to them, visit them regularly, and stay committed to them into adulthood. If you can't be there personally, you are just throwing money down the drain.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

So yesterday one of my Nicaraguan employees wrote me to say that her mother had severe diabetes, and she needed a loan of $500 to get her mother the treatement she needed. I asked everyone in my office up here in the U.S. if anyone wanted to contribute to prolonging the life of this woman - no takers.

I made the loan myself, of course. And sent it along with the following note:

Después de pensar mucho te voy a prestar el dinero; pero no puedo seguir prestándote dinero para el caso de tu mama en el futuro. La verdad es que, en mi opinión, tu madre tiene una enfermedad que no se cure. Ya sabes mis sentimientos sobre la filosofía de la vida. Nosotros tenemos un poco de tiempo para vivir en este mundo lindo; y cuando se termine ese tiempo, todos continúan viviendo en el cielo, pero también aquí en la tierra a través de los trabajos de nuestros hijos o de los trabajos de ellos que habíamos dado consejo en como seguir adelante, mejorando el mundo poco a poco.

Este es el único préstamo que te puedo dar para este propósito. La verdad es que no tengo programado ese gasto, y por eso al fin este va a eliminar una oportunidad para un niño desconocido. Pero así es la vida.

Siento mucho por ti y por tu mama.


Mañana te enviare el dinero.

Update 1-13-07

Translation - Please keep in mind that it is a little hard to convey the actual feelings expressed in one language in another:


After much thought I have decided to lend you the money; but I cannot continue lending you money for the case of your mother in the future. The truth is that, in my opinion, you mother has a disease which cannot be cured. You already know my feelings about the philosophy of life. We all have a small amount of time to live here in this beautiful world, and when that time ends, we may continue living in heaven. But we also continue living here on earth through the works of our children, and through the works of those whom we have given counsel as to how to keep moving forward, making the world a better place little by little.

This is the only loan I am going to give you for this purpose. The truth is that I don't have this expense budgeted, and for that reason it is going to take away an opportunity from some unknown child. But that's life.

I feel very sorry for you and your mother [having to go through this].


Tomorrow I will send you the money.

--end translation--

Am I a sucker?

Monday, January 01, 2007


Well we had a great holiday season, and I hope all of you did too. Reality starts at midnight PST.

Our little foundation (I'm not going to disclose the name yet) apparently has gotten big enough to have to comply with all sorts of regulations I was completely unaware of - until yesterday when I received an urgent call from our accountant. I'm going to be spending all day tomorrow working on a "Business Plan" for describing our activities in Nicaragua, as well as job descriptions for the several Nicaraguans who assist us with them.

5 years ago, I never thought that my efforts to help one little illiterate, green eyed, eleven year old girl go to school; and to buy a few books for an elementary school I visited in the process, would lead to such a tangle. But it has.

My new years resolution is make no more mistakes and do everything perfectly from now on.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Thank you!

Thanks to all of you for your interest in what I have to say; although it puts a little more pressure on me by making me feel that I have to live up to expectations.

Lcrozier: I love you sweetie. Be careful flying that thing. Its kinda complicated and it goes real fast. But don't worry too much, if it gets away from you I'll be sitting right there to take over.

Helen: Special thanks to you for putting the link to me on your site.

Cham: I know many others have had this same experience. Most 1st Worlders, especially in the U.S., have the arrogant belief that we know best about how people in other countries should live their lives. Most of the “impoverished” I know are shocked to find that don’t spend every spare minute at a community event, a religious festival, or with our extended families. I have been asked more times than I can count how we can possibly live that way. We focus on the material; they focus on the community, the family, and the spiritual. How would we feel if they came up here and attempted to convince us to abandon materailism for the lifestyle that they enjoy?

Drj: Thank you. I’ll do my best.

Tom: I’ve never been to Rio. But I know many who have, including one guy who had to make a deal with the drug lord running the neighborhood to let him come in and set up a school. I’m not sure whether the school is in a
Favela or an inner-city barrio (my understanding is that there is a distinct difference between the two) but I am going to call him to ask. You can actually go to Rio and take a Favela Tour. They are becoming popular and most of the reviews are quite positive.

Dadvocate: Yes, we have to be very careful of what we do. Your comment makes me think of our nation's handling of the Iraq War, upon which I intend to comment in the near future.

Hlk: I have visited
Junkscience.com, and recommend that anyone who wants really be informed on both sides of the subject of Global Warming do so regulary. JunkScience will keep you up to date on the latest research using scientific method, unavoidable contact with the traditional media will keep you informed on the political hysterics.

Captdmo: In my youth, I was quite a Star Trek fan, especially of the first TV series. Strangely, the first thing I looked up when I began to feel that I causing too many unintended effects, was the actual wording of the
Prime Directive.

Purple Avenger: You will find that a lot of people here in the U.S. will take issue with the fact that your Haitian friends told you “the people who live outside the cities in Haiti can and do live quite handily on $0.00/day”, on the basis that your friends are not doubt rich, and have an agenda of keeping the poor – well – poor. To a degree, the critics are probably right. But that doesn’t change the fact that they do live on less than $0 per day and are probably more satisfied with their lives than a lot of us. Most poor societies have broad wealth and income disparities; but whether that's really such a bad thing, I’m not so sure.

Armchair Advocate: You are right on all points, one of them so controversial I hardly dare address it, but I will: I have personally saved many kids from starvation and disease, at least temporarily, to the point of driving them to the hospital and paying the bill. I’ve decided not to do it any more because when I look at the family, usually 10 or more, I think that all I am doing is allowing that kid to grow up and start the next generation of little starving Marias. I do make exceptions for a couple of families, because I’ve gotten one or two of their kids almost through school, so the family gets a free ride until the promising kid graduates.

I think Katrina Corruption and Tsunami Corruption speak for themselves. NEVER send money unless you know the actual human being who will manage it. The best person to manage it is yourself. Even if you use up 80% of what you intend to spend just to get there, the intended recipients will receive way more than if you just send it to some aid organizaton. Plus there is a certain joy to be found in giving it yourself.

Sadly, my personal experience verifies your last point. I've not had any kids killed, but I've had some of them beat up, and virtually all of them who have excelled and are the most promising have been shut out of their groups of friends. They usually find new ones, but the new ones are not within their own communities. It's very painful for them.

Thanks again to all and keep enjoying the Holidays!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Why I am Doing This

Some years ago, I decided to go with a group from Rotary International to Nicaragua in order to see what I might be able to do to help with the poverty there. I did this because having grown up in Peru, I had been exposed to poverty at an early age, and decided at that time that if I ever had the resources to help alleviate it, I would try. I chose Nicaragua over other possibilities for my first attempt because 1) I speak Spanish; 2) it is a relatively short trip from anywhere in the U.S., and; 3) It is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere.

It didn't take long before I found numerous ways to help, and for several years I was very proud of my accomplishments. Today, I am proud of less of them, and I am overwhelmed by the unintended consequences of all of them.

What I didn't understand starting out is that what we up here in our luxury homes call "
poverty" when we see it in the third world, is a way of life wrapped up in a culture with roots going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. To attack the "poverty", you first have to convince people living in it that they are suffering. They don't see themselves through first world eyes. They see themselves as simply living the lives God gave them, in the same way that their ancestors did. For the most part they are as happy or happier than most of the people I know here in the U.S.

If suicide rates are any indication of people's comfort and satisfaction with life, take a look at
this table, which although I'm sure has flaws, indicates to me that, in general, the richer a country is (except apparently in the former Soviet states), the more of its citizens choose to take their own lives. In addition to suicide rates, check out the life expectancies for various countries around the world. Many "poor" countries, except for those suffering outright famine and/or civil war (the two usually seem to go together), or the AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, are only 5 or 6 years shy of the good old U.S.ofA. How can Nicaragua have 80% of its 5.5 million people living below the the official World Bank poverty line of $2 per day, and still have a national life expectancy of almost 68 years? While that number is 10 years less than the U.S., I find it surprisingly high; and it is skewed way downward by a high infant mortality rate (28.11 per thousand live births in Nicaragua, versus 6.43 for the U.S.)

In my experience, the answer is that within their own country, they don't need $2 per day to survive, as long as they make it past the first year. I have helped a lot of infants do that (survive) with $5 worth of antibiotics, generally talking the mother into having her tubes tied (another $150) at the same time. Is that right? I don't think the Pope would think so.

I know lots of people in Nicaragua who live on less than $0 per day and most of them are doing just fine. They raise corn, chickens, & goats; they collect rainwater when it rains; they catch fish in the lake. On Sunday afternoons they all gather under a tree, drink Guaro (the local hooch made out of sugarcane) watch their kids and grand kids play, and in general have a rockin' good time.

The unfortunate quandry I have found myself in is that most of the people I have tried to help are no longer satisfied with this lifestyle, and although some will eventually move beyond it, many will not; and will live out their lives less satisfied than they might have otherwise been.

Who am I to do that to them?