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.

Nueva Vida (new life) is a barrio of Ciudad Sandino, and for those of you that don’t know, Redes de Solidaridad (Solidarity Network) is an organisation that has worked here for the large part of the last 15 years.

Redes was founded by religious sister Cristina Sanz ODN, who is currently the provincial of the Company of Mary Our Lady in the Mexican Province.

The mission of Redes was initially to respond to the immediate needs of the people following Hurricane Mitch. This included many of the corporal works of mercy including feeding the poor, providing health services etc.

This humanitarian mission was a priority for Redes, an organisation which always for ways to capacitate people and heal hurts, and to help people to go forward, even amidst extreme poverty. In following this objective, they founded a school, sharing the conviction of Kwan Tzu that if “you plan for a life, educate is the answer”.

These days, Redes is more focussed on a mission of development and capacitisation, rather than being assistencialist. This is not an easy process.

It’s difficult not to simply give food to someone who is hungry, but, in trying to propose a better way and getting out of a vicious circle, Redes is trying to “teach people to fish”. This has made the work of Redes a lot of more successful for everyone.

The people of Nueva Vida know that they can count on Redes at any moment. However, beyond this support, Redes wants to give potential to people, to give them the tools they need to be architects of their own progress.

The process is slow and difficult, but, with the certainty that this will help greater majority of people in the future in Nueva Vida, it is worth trying.

For me, for now, I hope to watch, and also, in some way participate in this struggle and process.




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