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.  Continue reading

The Future of our Grand Aspirations: A Fireside chat with Timothy and Matt

I have been spending this summer in the Summer of Solutions in St. Paul – working to build a green economy – and my own future job – with about 35 other amazing youth leaders. It’s been an exciting mix of sky-high visions, community organizing, building an energy cooperative, and doing lots of leadership development. If you’re not here – we miss you!

Over the past two weeks, I’ve gotten particularly excited about looking ahead to where we’re going with the Summer of Solutions, a project that has now gone nationwide since we started it by forming the non-profit Grand Aspirations as a bunch of Macalester students in 2008. My eyes are always both here in the now and endlessly on the horizons of what all of our amazing allies are doing nationwide this summer – and what could happen next. The past few weeks for me have been about thinking bigger about where we’re going, and about exploring how to share this moment of possibility with everyone …

Fellow national coordinator Matt Kazinka (Macalester ’11) and I pulled together this fireside chat on Thursday night with the help of camera-woman Abbie Plouff and editor Ruby Levine. Its basically an explanation of some of the things going on in the bigger national picture and an invitation to our planners all across the nation to start the process of dreaming with us as we go forward. Hey, if you have ideas of how we can be bigger and better and more creative – we’d love to hear!

Part 1: Welcome, what’s up, and why we’re talking:

Part 2: The big things happening, and next steps on collaboration:

We’ll be checking in, first with Summer of Solutions program planners, and then with partners, participants, and other supporters over the coming weeks.

Keep up the solutions!

Talk to me

As I moved from bustling Managua to small-town Granada, the smallness of the world smacked me on the face and reminded me why I’m here.

Just when I was starting to feel a bit lonely and wondering why, exactly, I had decided to come to Granada all by myself, the world opened itself for me.

Within 24 hours I randomly met four – yes, four – different people who will ALL be in Ocotal the entire time I will be, are in some way associated with Grupo Fenix and were quite happy to talk, listen and make plans for the summer.

My lesson now is obvious: the barriers between us all are no harder to overcome than a few minutes of conversation. We talk at Macalester of Global Citizenship, civic engagement and internationalism, and whenever I philosophize about these concepts I think on a macro scale, nations relating with nations, entire ethnic groups finding common ground.

But my project this summer is grounded in person-to-person relationships, and it’s only going to be successful if I can forge them one at a time. No one of us can really expect to alter humanity’s course; but by intentionally affecting a handful of important relationships with the intention that everyone will pay it forward, we can all move together toward our common ideals.

Please, use this forum to explore how you’re going to do that. Remember: this only works as a dialogue!

Summer in Nicaragua!

In Central America it’s common for airports to be in the center of big cities, nestled in deep valleys. Airline pilots have to pass a special course in which they demonstrate their proficiency in approaching the runway at a 90-degree angle, then banking a 747 so severely that it pirouettes on its wingtip and drops onto a postage stamp runway, where the pilots clamp on the brakes and pray.

Landing in Managua, Nicaragua was not quite that severe, so I feel that I’ve started my summer research adventure on a good note! My checked bag made it here, customs took a mere 20 minutes and my Spanish was sufficient to get me to the hotel; all in all, Central America y yo parecemos de llevarnos bien! Continue reading