From assistencialism to development

Opcion para headerThis is a translated version of my first Spanish blog published today @

To see the original and the photos, click here

“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

IMG_0461These are the words of Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, who participated in Vatican Two and was one of the most revolutionary bishops of Brazil during the 20th century.

This phrase has quite an impact on me, and moves me internally, because it has a lot to do with the situations and issues facing NGOs in many poor countries. The values of charity, justice and a preferential option for the poor are generally what guides NGOs in places like Nicaragua.

However, let me give a bit of context to what I’m saying.

Just a few days ago, I arrived in Nicaragua for the first time. I am Australian. I grew up in Canberra, and I have worked as a journalist and a teacher in various cities throughout Australia.

For the last four years, I have worked for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and let me say that the life of the Church in Nicaragua and Australia is, well, a little different. The priorities are quite distinct.

I will be here for a month doing volunteer work in Ciudad Sandino.

The truth is, I can’t do much in a month, so, I will instead be volunteering in something which I already have experience, and that is the area of communication.

In particular, I will spend most of the month travelling around the barrios of Ciudad Sandino, meeting people and documenting their lives. Here in this blog are some images of my first days in Nicaragua, that perhaps can communicate a little of the reality of life here in this “Pinolera” land.

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Asistencialismo y capacitación

My first blog in Spanish! Now to translate it back. Mi primer blog en espanol. Ahora, a traducir!

El Blog de Redes de Solidaridad


Beth Doherty es una periodista australiana que va a ayudarnos durante una temporada con su trabajo en Redes. Lleva muy poquitos días en Nicaragua pero ya quiere compartir aquí, en nuestro espacio del blog, unas primeras impresiones.

¡¡Bienvenida a Redes de Solidaridad, Beth!!
“Cuando doy comida a los pobres, me llaman “santo”, pero cuando pregunto por qué no tienen que comer, me llaman comunista”.
Son las palabras del Arzobispo Brasileño Helder Cámara, quien participó en el Concilio Vaticano II, y que fue uno de los sacerdotes más conocidos y revolucionarios de Brasil durante el siglo XX.
Esta frase me impacta y mueve interiormente, porque tiene mucho que ver con las situaciones y cuestiones de muchas ONGs en países pobres.
Los valores de la caridad, justicia, y la opción preferencial por los pobres es, en general, algo que guía a los ONGs en lugares como Nicaragua.

Entonces, déjenme dar un poco…

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Colourful language and #firstworldproblems

Casas de Carton

Casas de Carton

*Note: This blog contains some colourful language. My apologies to all the nuns, priests, bishops and polite people who read it.

Spanish is one of those languages that can get you into trouble, especially when you travel to different Spanish-speaking lands. The word for t-shirt in Paraguay can be easily confused with the word for prostitute in Nicaragua. The word “to take” means something….um…. a little different in almost all of Latin America than it does in Spain. It’s always a funny moment when religious try to explain to me the different nuances and I enjoy it immensely, just as they enjoying laughing at me.

Wearing my t-shirt (Thanks Cathedral Youth Group :)

Wearing my t-shirt (Thanks Cathedral Youth Group 🙂

As I went around the barrio today with one of the health promotors Marcel, I had the honour  of someone thinking I was Spanish (from Spain!!!) Good sign.

It means that my Spanish is improving to a level that people don’t realise I am a native English speaker….or it could have just been that I stayed reasonably quiet while the guys spoke?? Probably the latter I imagine!

Que rica la tortilla!!! what a delicious tortilla!!

Que rica la tortilla!!! what a delicious tortilla!!

The cold showers continue, but the water comes out of a tiny metal tube with about a two centimetre radius, so it felt quite luxurious today after a “caminata” in the barrio.

I wrote my first blog in Spanish yesterday, which needed a bit of correction obviously by one of my new friends Josue who works as a community development promotor in Nueva Vida.

The blog was about the transition that “Redes de Solidaridad” is making from assistencialism to a model of development. It talks of charity versus development and the strengths and challenges of this. I was imbibing a bit of the spirit of Dom Helder Camara to come up with what to say about this. It will be published this coming week and I’ll try and translate it here.

Footwear in the barrio

Footwear in the barrio

Had the opportunity to Skype with my cat today (well, also Mum and Dad, but hey! Priorities!). She was a little grumpy because it was 11am and, like her mum, she isn’t one to get up early 😉

The funniest thing I’m finding is what translates over here and what doesn’t. The kids are quite surprised and excited to receive koalas and kangaroos, although they have no idea what they are.

My feet after day two was much worse. Covered shoes may be a little more practical ;)

My feet after day one….day two was much worse. Covered shoes may be a little more practical 😉

Indeed, a lot of people look at me blankly when I say I’m from Australia, but one thing they do have here from Australia is Hillsong music! There is a plaza right next to the sisters’ house, and last night, they were having a loud worship session with Spanish versions of the songs. The music is quite good actually and I will admit to having downloaded a lot of the songs myself, so I recognise them.

My favourite photo so far from the Fe y Alegria school. Looks like a blessing to me

My favourite photo so far from the Fe y Alegria school. Looks like a blessing to me

It did however make for a kind of funny prayer session with the sisters as we listened to a more contemplative, simple guitar song with loud drums and praise and worship in the background, but it is all part of the experience.

I admire the energy and enthusiasm for evangelisation. They’ve been singing for hours. Haven’t been to mass yet in Nicaragua (Fair go! It’s Friday and I arrived Tuesday).

Something tells me that the Catholic mass will be a little different to the praise and worship in the barrio.

Water, the most precious resource

Water, the most precious resource

All of that said, evangelicalism is something of a controversy in the barrios of Latin America. The growth is unprecedented and they say it’s political. I’m interested to learn more about this debate, but for the moment, I hope to just be open to it all.

Perhaps Bishop Michael Putney’s new book on his Ecumenical journey could be translated into Spanish and used here for reflection?

It makes me laugh at myself to realise the things I thought I would need here and either brought with me to clutter up my luggage or forgot and left at home. In many ways, life here “exige” (forces) a shedding of layers.

I love frothy milk and left my milk frother at the ACBC secretariat. #firstworldproblems. Hope the gang there enjoy it (Aoife!! Make yourself a latte and bring back fair trade to the office por favor!!)

Comidas tipicas. National food: Beans and rice, fried banana, and a little cheese on the side.

Comidas tipicas. National food: Beans and rice, fried banana, and a little cheese on the side.Here, the milk is powdered, so not much point frothing it, I think that would just be weird, and a cup of whatever type of coffee at 5:30am feels like a blessing.

My favourite jumper hasn’t been worn since getting off the plane in LA, so it’s going home to lighten my load.

Exercise and going for runs (okay, walks) is a bit of a challenge. First of all, the humidity is so intense that I’d return looking like a drowned rat…..and secondly, it’s too dangerous.

So, I will probably arrive in Paraguay as a “gordita” or “enorme” as the women like to remind me. “Ay Beth!! Estas muy gorda ahora.” (Beth, you are very fat now.). Not sure if that translates favourably in any language, but hey, it is what it is.

School project

School project

My exercise in these days has consisted of walking around the barrio in thongs and returning covered in mud and dust.

I’m advised that in Ciudad Sandino and especially in Nueva Vida to walk anywhere alone brings a certain suspicion and increases the possibility of being robbed, especially when you are a “blanquita” like me. (oh to be tanned!!!)

So, we always go in pairs like Vincentians or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I’ve turned a peculiar shade of pink, which as most of you know is my favourite colour, but I kinda resemble Bridget Jones in the part of the movie where she puts on her makeup without a mirror.

This is Check out the site if you can! This is where I am working for the next month.

This is Check out the site if you can! This is where I am working for the next month.

Another #firstworldproblem is the recording of podcasts here. Noise starts at 5am and continues well into the night. Earplugs were an excellent investment. The fan needs to be turned off so that there is no background noise, and even three minutes without it leaves me sweltering.

So the podcasts will be done in the silence of the evening and if there is a rooster in the background, I think it just adds to the authenticity, right?


The Joy of Bucket Showers

A typical Nicaraguan painting displayed in the sisters house

A typical Nicaraguan painting displayed in the sisters house

It’s been about four years since I had a bucket shower, but I haven’t forgotten how it works.

After an hour’s walk around Ciudad Sandino, one of Managua’s poorest areas, I was ready to rid myself of grime and sweat.

A few litres was all that was needed, and the cold water was refreshing and welcome. The temperature here is a cool 37 degrees with what feels like 100 percent humidity. Don’t think I’ll be needing a jumper for about the next six months.

Shower time!!

Shower time!!

Not too much to report yet, just some pictures of the beautiful community where I am living for the next month. So grateful to the sisters who came an hour out of the way to pick me up from the airport.

I start work tomorrow or the next day; giving english classes, working one day in the Fe y Alegria School, teaching video editing and photography, and finally, my great passion, some music teaching.

A woman of prayer in the chapel

A woman of prayer in the chapel

Haven’t visited the Church yet, but we passed the parish pastoral centre, and walked through the community where the people live.

Something tells me that the people of this country (which is basically 100 percent Catholic) are not too worried about gold vestments and ornate chapels, but rather about the humility of Christ. I think Pope Francis would like it here, but then, I haven’t met any of the clergy yet.

This country bears some similarities to Paraguay. Hunger, poverty and inequality are part of the lifestyle here.

Yet, to get a little personal, as I showered, I reflected on just how hungry I was for some of this simplicity. I enjoyed my cold bucket shower because it reminded me that really, that’s all I need: To get rid of my #firstworldproblems and really understand what are the important things of life. For that, I am grateful.

I’m also grateful for this new song I have discovered by Sarah Hart who I interview the other day.

I must have had it on repeat throughout most of my plane journey the other day, and it helped me to pray. (Incidentally, it also gently rocked me to sleep and I would prefer that any day to turbulence.)

Hope you enjoy some of these pics from my journey! 🙂



No time for Mickey Mouse


Painted Virgin at Dolores Mission Catholic Church, Boyle Heights

Painted Virgin at Dolores Mission Catholic Church, Boyle Heights

When you tell people that you will be stopping over in Los Angeles as you travel south, the assumption is that you will go to Disneyland.

Well, I didn’t go even though I was just metres away from it for four days.

Instead, my dream was to visit the Jesuit parish of Dolores Mission in East LA, the foundation place for Fr Greg Boyle’s ministry “Homeboy Industries”.

Homeboy is the largest gang intervention program in the United States, and by extension the world, and works with gang members who have decided they want to get out of their situation and find a better life.

Candle at Dolores Mission

Candle at Dolores Mission

My colleagues were less than keen to drive into the most dangerous area of town, so it took some convincing that they needed to see a “Jesuit Ministry” and that it counted very much as work. But, after some tasty tacos at Homegirl Café, one of the many arms of Fr Boyle’s ministry, I convinced them that the Church was just around the corner, and we should check it out.

Fr Greg Boyle has been doing this work with gang members for over thirty years. A gifted storyteller, his book “Tattoos on the Heart” has you laughing and crying throughout.

Cross at the entrance to Dolores Mission

As part of the LA Religious Education Congress, I attended a session where Fr Boyle shared stories of his work with the marginalised. Then, he said the youth mass. His opening line after the sign of the cross was a quip in his unique humour: “So, welcome to this youth mass. I see that there is a fair bit of grey hair out there, so I’m guessing they weren’t checking IDs at the door….hey, I got in!!”

The homily was a chance to preach on the Gospel of love and acceptance. His stories are moving, and there were plenty of tears spilling over in that room. Accompanied by the powerful music of Jesse Manibusan, it was a glimpse of the holy.

Tomorrow, I head to Nicaragua.

The LA Congress has been a beautiful preparation, a good transitional time.

I had the chance to speak Spanish and attend bilingual sessions.

One of many cute things available at the Congress

One of many cute things available at the Congress

I wandered around collecting resources to use with the children in the barrios of Managua and Asuncion.

I met one of my favourite Christian music artists Sarah Hart and interviewed her.

I met my favourite Jesuit writer Fr Jim Martin SJ and had lovely dinners with good friends from Australia and new friends in the States.

Ili and the Company of Mary Sisters, Santa Ana

Ili and the Company of Mary Sisters, Santa Ana

And, as only the Holy Spirit can facilitate, I ended up in Santa Ana at dinner with the Company of Mary Our Lady Sisters where I met my dear friend Iliana Cohan, one of the Paraguayan sisters I’ve known for three years. It’s these sisters I will work with for the next year, and I am so touched by their generosity.

A few shout outs to some amazing people that I met just in these days: Fr Jim McDermott SJ having known me for 24 hours gifted me with a beautiful book by Kerry Weber called “Mercy on the Streets: How to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned while keeping your day job”. I was so grateful to Fr Jim who thought of me, and for this beautiful detail of gifting me the book. I visited the America Magazine stall the next day and interviewed her also. I found Kerry to be an amazing woman in the heart of Dorothy Day, and incidentally, the same age as me!

Destino_webThe final session of the Congress I attended was Sr Xiskya (  who gave a Spanish presentation on photography for evangelisation. I learned so much in that hour and a half and will go to Nicaragua armed with ideas and inspiration.

I’m missing my cat Ezekiel terribly, and the family too.

There have been some teary moments and the loneliness will no doubt set in today.

My friends from JesCom left last night on parallel flights back to Melbourne, so I am on my own now.

Rest is on the agenda today. Maybe a little shopping….

And after all that? I’m a bit star struck. Having met and chatted with people I have admired for years, the absence of Mickey Mouse doesn’t even feature in my reflective dialogue 🙂




City of the Angels

IMG_9980I had hoped to hold it together at the airport, and I very nearly did. But as I went to board the plane from Sydney to Los Angeles, the anxiety began to set in.


A few beautiful companions came to farewell me, and I’d love to give a special shout out to Duc Mac, Aoife Connors, Susanah Bishop, Juana Crespi FMVD, Kylie Cullen FMVD, and Sr Marg Beirne RSC who came with me to the airport, sat and drank coffee and speculated on the future Archbishop of Sydney. At that point, the person who was looking most nervous was my dear friend Aoife who has replaced me at work for the year, and will be in charge of media for that episcopal announcement.

However, as 1pm ticked over, it became evident that it was time to go. For a long time.

“You look a bit pale”, observed Juana as I finished filling in my customs declaration.

St Ignatius in the TapestryThe colour had obviously drained from my face and gave away that I was starting to panic. In just a few moments, I needed to go to the gate where I would be, on my own.

After all of the beautiful farewells and the intensity that this brings, I had almost been seeking some solitude, but when it arrived, I was a bit of a mess.

Yet, our beautiful God works in mysterious ways….(or maybe it was the white wine….or maybe it was God working through the fruit of the vine?)… because the plane ride was a bit of a dream for me. With almost no turbulence and a spare seat beside me, it was about as good as it gets.

IMG_9952I was warmly welcomed in LA by my buddy and co-worker Mick, and I keep discovering all of these blasts from the past who are here in LA for this RE Congress. So, Mum, it’s going well. Tell Grandma not to worry:)

In my typical nerdy Catholicism, and let’s be honest, my friend Mick’s equally nerdy Catholicism (he’s the one who suggested it) our first “tourist” visit was to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

There is something so beautifully prayerful about that place, that I think people of all faiths would feel a sense of peace there.








#Visa: Check. Five days to go!

75977_10153050554604460_60290074_n This morning, I picked up my visa from the Paraguayan embassy in Manuka. Since my last trip, it has changed from a consulate to an embassy. Maybe more Australians are travelling to “La Isla Rodeada de Tierra” (The Island Surrounded by Land).

So, for those of you who don’t know, I will spend the next year or so in Paraguay. I arrive on Good Friday, 18 April at 4:30am in Asuncion’s Silvio Pettirossi Airport and will work in Banado Norte and Barrio San Miguel doing some volunteering for the year. On my way, I will go to the LA RE Congress in Anaheim, California from 14-16 March. Following this, I will spend a month in Nicaragua working with “Redes de Solidaridad” and staying with the “Compania de Maria” sisters there. If I could just get over my stupid fear of flying, I think I’d be okay. I find I am, in general, happier in a simpler setting. Less pressured somehow. Then again, there are also the fears of illness which can creep up at any time. Water is never just water in these countries. Each time I have been in Paraguay, I’ve managed to drink or eat something dodgy. As longtime missionary in Cambodia Sr Denise Coughlan RSM once said to me….“Vomiting is just part of the orientation here”.

Anyway, enough!!

So, the visa is the final step.

1796632_10153050554859460_2081446723_nMy friends had a beautiful farewell for me on the weekend, and I’m including here some pictures of the gifts they gave me. They were so touching, even the numerous bottles of wine (what are they implying?? surely that’s not meant to be carry-on? better finish it before I go…..)

Jokes aside though, the anxiety is setting in. As my grandma would say, “This morning I built the Sydney Harbour Bridge in my head, and I’m tearing it down and rebuilding it again and again.”

When I travel, I imagine the worst. It takes me a while to settle. I always find it a kind of awkward joke on God’s part that the girl (me) who was afraid to go on school camps and stay away for sleepovers as a teenager feels a strange call to work in some of the poorest countries in the world. Yet, I can’t deny the desire I have, and I have to find ways of powering through the fear. Because, beyond the fear, there is always a soft, gentle sense of triumph and consolation.

and I am finding some comfort in the words of singer/songwriter Tori Harris who said in an interview:


“Scripture is very clear that the emotions of fear, doubt, insecurity and anxiety are birthed in Hell and thus NOT from Heaven. When you apply this knowledge to the fact that the devil attacks that which is most Holy and most good – you quickly realize that if you are feeling doubt, fear, anxiety or insecurity, that you are likely in thought or action, doing something very good and very holy. You see, our God is SO good. He desires to pour into us the deepest desires of our heart. He has organized the universe very intentionally and very exactly so that He can present to us our hearts deepest desire.” (

I’m also helped by the music of Audrey Assad. My favourite of her songs at the moment is “Slow” In this song, Assad speaks of the beautiful, slow work of the spirit of God. The lyrics are profound. Do yourself a favour and have a listen if you can. It’s been a song I’ve listened to on repeat over the past two weeks.


1622788_10153050554864460_2065102874_nYou’ve drawn so close that it’s hard to see you
And you speak so softly that it’s hard to hear you
And I guess that’s what I get for inviting you in
Because you took me at my word
And now I know

Faith is not a fire
As much as it’s a glow
A quiet lovely burning
Underneath the snow
And it’s not too much
It’s just enough to give me hope
Cause love moves slow
Love moves slow

You’ve grown so dear that it’s hard to miss you
And you come so near that it’s hard to feel you
Oh, and I guess that’s how it is when I let you move
Because you take me at my word
Oh, and now I know

1796632_10153050554594460_1534344049_nThat faith is not a fire
As much as it’s a glow
A steady humble lamplight
In the window
And it’s not too much
It’s just enough to give me hope
‘Cause love moves slow
Love moves slow

I heard that faith moves mountains
I know it moves my feet
To follow you
And maybe I’m a mountain
Because it’s moving me
To follow you

1888499_10153050554614460_905911565_nMy faith is not a fire
As much as it’s a glow
A little burning ember
In my weary soul
And it’s not too much
It’s just enough to give me hope
Because your love moves slow
Yeah, your love moves slow

So I move slow
Because you move slow
Love moves slow
Let’s move slow.



Today’s music on was very touching. The lyrics, “I surrender all to you”, made me think of how important it is simply to surrender to God’s will, or simply to honestly say, I cannot do any of this without you. Have your way with me. Make me new. Mould me like a piece of clay. 

Mark 10:17-27 ©
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
  Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’