What is poverty?

I’m just about half way done with my time here in Nicaragua, and I’ve now visited two of my three homestays. The experience has been eye-opening, challenging and rewarding. It has been far harder than I ever thought it would to establish those person-to-person relationships I talked of in my last post. This only reinforces my belief that it is the most important means by which I can affect change.

I’ve made an observation that I think is worthy of dialogue on this blog. I’ve noticed here in Nicaragua two distinct kinds of poverty.  I encountered the first in Granada, whose touristy nature attracts many homeless. Kids, adults, families and old folks live on the streets. They are hungry and sick and many have no shoes or teeth. They resort to begging tourists and wealthier locals for money, often asking for one córdoba (about $.05) at a time. The majority seems to be kids under 12 years old. 

The rural poverty is entirely different. The families with whom I live in the campo often produce large corn and bean crops, have chickens, goats, pigs, donkeys and horses, as well as vegetable gardens, mango and pineapple trees, and herbs. They have solid homes and plenty to eat. Yet they have no electricity, no running water, no mechanical transportation and no modern communication save radio. By any US standard, this is also poverty.

In the cities (as in any US city) most people do not live as the people on the streets do. In the campo, everyone’s standard of living is roughly equivalent. This difference only reinforces the nature of my project: small, empirical and focused. If, within several miles, the very nature of poverty can change so drastically, there clearly is no one solution for development.

The good news is that my results thus far have been quite encouraging. My nearly universal response has been that solar lamps would be a very effective incentive for improving elementary education, as well as general household productivity and livability.

In a week I will start returning to the households with the lamps. We’re all very excited to see how they are received!

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