Category Archives: Personal Notes

A Little Bird Told Me

Sometimes, the way things happen leaves me breathless.

At the Certificate Program conducted in rural Nicaragua during the week of September 5, I prepared for two and one-half days of presentations on the topic of open book management.  I have a long history with the subject, having adopted an aggressive open book management initiative at Foldcraft Co. in the 1990’s and having spoken frequently on the topic, especially within the employee-ownership community.  This should have been familiar ground for me.

But sharing OBM experiences at Foldcraft is a lot different than trying to teach the essential components over the course of a few days, especially to an audience which has heard little of the concept previously, produces crops as opposed to commercial seating, has likely received limited  other education of any kind, and which does not speak or understand the English language.  I confess to experiencing reservations about my ability to effectively engage and teach.  Nerves, even.

I began Monday morning tentatively, feeling the group and measuring the level of its receptivity, as I always do.  But my audience quickly calmed me down.  I sensed their partnership in this learning event immediately, a feeling of collaboration that fed my own confidence and, in turn, their own.  We took off together in ways that presenters often dream about, with interest, enthusiasm and absorption mutually fueling our energy.

This rural Nicaraguan cohort proved to be among the most interested and receptive groups with whom I have ever worked!  I had quietly hoped for careful listening and signs of eagerness; what I experienced was rapt attention and ideas being internalized even as I spoke.  They exhibited a hunger, perhaps giving example to the notion that “there must be a hunger before food for thought can satisfy the need.”

By Tuesday, my sense was that our learning together was becoming something special, a collaboration which had begun to feed upon itself, elevating to not just a good session for conceptual learning, but a memorable event that might, in fact, hold transformative capacities.  I think we were all sensing it.  And then, a little bird told me that it was so.

I had just begun reciting the tale named, “The Snowflake.”  For the uninitiated, I reproduce it here:

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a tiny bird asked a wild dove.

“It is nothing but a crystal, so it is nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the tiny bird said.  “I sat on the branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk, when it began to snow.  Not heavily, not in a raging blizzard.  But just like in a dream, without a wind, without any violence.  Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch.  Their number was exactly 3,741,952.  When the 3,741,953rd flake dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing as you say, the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the tiny bird flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for change to come to the world.”

On Tuesday, I had no sooner uttered the words, “a tiny bird,” when a hummingbird suddenly flew into our meeting room through the open door and landed, stunned, upon the floor.  I stopped talking. The participants went silent, watching this little creature in wonder.  They looked from the bird to me, as if somehow I had orchestrated its arrival at that very moment for effect.  But I was as stunned as the hummingbird and, realizing that, the class erupted in utter amazement and joy.

Yeris, a beekeeper and friend of creatures great and small, scooped up the hummingbird, cradling it as though its arrival had been a most special gift.  It remained quite still in his open hands, as if willing to share the beauty and symbolism of its presence.  It was then gently escorted from the room, to be administered a few drops of sugar water in order to revive its energy for flight.  Yeris returned to the room with thumbs up, and within minutes the intrusion was complete.

Some in the room looked to each other to understand what had occurred.  Others bore enormous smiles in realization that they had just witnessed something rather incredible.  I noticed two in the group who appeared to wipe away tears.  My own heart was absolutely racing.  When I had sufficiently composed myself, I could only ask whether the group felt blessed in some way, to which there was universal assent.  Do you believe in messages?

“The Snowflake” was intended to be but a small contribution to the week’s lessons, albeit a powerful one.  Amidst days of workshop rigors, knowledge transfer and difficult exercises, the story occupied but a tiny fraction of our time.  But on occasion, those fractions can become like the weight of a snowflake, significant in their importance and memorable for reminding us what we are capable of knowing and feeling….





365 and Counting

I was surprised a week or so ago to see that I had posted my 365th entry at this site.  ( I refuse to call them “blogs.”  I dislike the term and the way it sounds.)  That’s a full year’s worth of observations, reflections, ideas and opinions concerning just about anything.  Certainly, Nicaragua has been at the center of most of these musings, but the scope of the topics has been admittedly wide.  (It’s always been difficult for me to be very narrowly focused; that’s good for, say, getting dressed in a coordinated style, but more demanding for tying one’s shoes.)

I started writing here because a decade ago I began my staff work with Winds of Peace Foundation and became witness to circumstances in that country of which I had been previously unaware.  I deduced that these realities were likewise either unknown by most of us in the United States or, if known, then at least greatly under appreciated.  However limited my audience might be, I felt a call to describe matters of concern in Nicaragua, whether economic, cultural, social or educational in nature.  Particularly since we in the United States have permitted such intrusive and destructive actions by our government against the people of Nicaragua over decades of interference,  the recording of my own awakening and periodic reflections seemed like a worthwhile effort for “infecting” unsuspecting readers.

I have attempted here to present issues from Nicaragua as perceived through the eyes of someone who is likely representative of an average North American.  I have described poverty that is easy to read about but heartbreaking to experience.  I have recounted relationships- formed immediately and out of mutual desires to connect- that were as rewarding and precious as friendships in the U.S.  I have witnessed the love and respect shared between Nicaraguans and North Americans, overcoming the stereotypes and caricatures often presented by handmaiden media.  In short, my intention has been to bring elements of Nicaragua north, to shorten the distance between two countries, two ways of life, that are very different and yet much closer than we are willing to recognize.

At the same time, I know in my mind and heart that I have fallen very short of the objectives I have sought to achieve.  Like seeing the vast panorama of Nicaraguan mountains, punctuated by breathtakingly precipitous valleys, my words will never do justice to the realities at hand.  My own perceptions about Nicaragua and the people who live there are always filtered by my own life and bias and self-interest, even when I do not intend it.  My stories are no better than “Nica via Steve.”

But if for no other reason than my own need to write what I experience, for accentuation, I will continue to offer brief glimpses into this one small part of the world.  I’ll offer up pictures of people, just like you and me, who face the daily struggles of survival and, in the terminology of Maslow, self-actualization.  Maybe in another ten years time the contrasts will be less dramatic, the injustices less egregious, the disparities lessened through growing appreciation of our mutual obligations to one another.  And if these entries will have contributed anything at all to that, then the journaling will have been more than worthwhile.

Thanks for coming with me this far….


Mother’s Day Reflection, Redux

I’ve been thinking about my Mom this weekend.  She’s been gone for six years now, and I think about her often, but especially this weekend, as we in the U.S. celebrate all things motherhood.  I felt as though I wanted to say something in regard to that, and then realized I had already done so a couple of years ago in this very space.  So I offer it here again, because I know how much my mother meant to me, and I to her:

It’s nearly impossible to overlook Mother’s Day today.  In the U.S., stories on the news, on the Internet and incessant commercials on television have been constant reminders that we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our mothers and we’d better pay off a portion of that debt today!  Such reminders are frequently followed by suggestions of gifts to bestow on our moms, ranging from flowers to diamonds.  (Personally, I’m not sure what my own mother would have thought about receiving a diamond bracelet from me on Mother’s Day, although I suspect that she would not have accepted it.)

Mother’s Day is a world phenomenon, with versions of it having been observed for centuries.  Its United States version was created by presidential proclamation in 1914 and we’ve been buying greeting cards ever since.  In a sense, it’s too bad that we need a day to show gratitude to our moms.  In another sense, we’re grateful for the official day to remind us to do so.  If my Mom was still alive, she’d be hearing from me, as she always did.

Of course, motherhood is one of the undeniable, universal ties that binds us together, men and women alike.  Not all women become moms, and no dads (that I know of) have become moms, but we all have a mom and thus a shared experience.  As different as our cultures may be around the world, the connection with our moms is one of the great equalizers of humankind, transcending borders and customs alike.

I watched a news program last night, the final story of which had to do with Mother’s Day.   It featured an entire classroom of six year-olds engaged in the task of creating handmade Mother’s Day cards.  As adorable as the children were to watch, their sentiments were even more precious to hear.  Each recited thanks for a special gift from their mothers that made these  moms so wonderful.  “Thank you for getting me breakfast every day.”  “Thank you for letting me watch movies.”  “Thank you for cooking dinner.”  “Thank you for making lunch for me.”  “Thank you for loving me.”  And one little boy reflected on the fact that when thinking of his mom he thought of chocolate cake.

As I listened to this litany of gratitude from the hearts of little kids, it occurred to me that not all little boys and girls around the world would necessarily be thanking their moms for such blessings.  While Nicaragua will not celebrate Mother’s Day until the end of this month, the gratitudes expressed on that day are likely to be quite different from those heard on the news segment: breakfast, lunch, dinner and chocolate cakes are less frequent amenities in Nicaragua than they are in the U.S.   But while the specific thanks might be dissimilar between the countries, one thing is not.  The hopes and aspirations of the mothers are very much the same.

Nica moms love their kids,  have hopes for a better standard of living, aspire to see their children be able to read and become educated, pray that their young evolve into decent people, and envision lives for them that are free from the exhaustion and indignity of poverty.  I can imagine hundreds of mothers in Nigeria today whose visions for their children reach far deeper than breakfast, lunch and dinner.   As well as in Ukraine.  And Syria.  Motherhood in such places is not the same as in the United States.

If the dreams that are dreamed by Nica moms are the same longings as U.S. moms, the likelihoods for those dreams are not.  For U.S. moms, dreams still hold the very real possibilities of becoming true, and kids can and do grow into their mothers’ yearnings.  For far too many Nica moms (and Nigerian, Ukrainian and Syrian moms), their dreams are the gift to their kids, because there are limited chances of such hopes ever becoming reality.  It’s the most and the best that they can do.  

If the sentiments of Mother’s Day are shared across cultures, the context of life and the future are not.  As we celebrate the love and sacrifices of those who brought us into the world, we artificially limit our regard for motherhood if we do not acknowledge the love and sacrifices of all moms….

Undue Burdens

I spent the first week of this month in Nicaragua, my first visit since April of last year and a revisit that was long overdue.  Like most things in life, one cannot truly know a reality without personally experiencing it and long absences from Nicaragua quickly dull the memory of what life can be like for many who live in onerous poverty.  I do not pretend that I experience the same conditions that plague daily life for the impoverished, but I know it more clearly than I ever could by simply reading or hearing about it.

As usual, I spent the week learning: understanding more about the gaps in education at all levels in country against a cultural reality which has been forced to prioritize work over learning;  sitting face-to-face with grassroots producers who experience all of the same vagaries of raising crops as growers around the world, but with the additional hurdles of unscrupulous coyotes who manipulate and cheat the markets; encountering great development works by local organizations which place human dignity and voice at the top of their resource lists; participating in a territorial workshop where small producers are willing to share intimate details of their work, their obstacles, their dreams and their lives.  Who could ask more from the content of a week?

My reflections of that week just past are nothing new.  They include the recognition that the human struggles in Nicaragua are far more basic than the battles which most of us are compelled to fight in the U.S.  Not easier, not more noble, not enviable, just more basic to the work of making a living and just living.  But also, that a large part of the struggle there is the result of manmade barriers to sustainable daily life.  Of course, there are the realities of natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, but even those have taken on a decidedly man-impacted intensity in recent years.  There are inevitable gyrations to the economic markets which Nicaraguans serve- as diverse as insulated wire and coffee- but also North American market perspectives which view the entire Central American neighborhood as a second-rate trade zone.  There is the rich cultural history of Nicaragua- full of achievement and natural opportunity- but one which has been largely gutted by  outside interventions, by the U.S. and others,  over generations and to the present.

Effective development work in Nicaragua thus requires a re-setting of the clock and of the starting line.  If some of those manmade obstacles are to be corrected, as they ought, then consideration of our collective economic, political and social attitudes have to precede such changes.

It’s a shift which will not be easy.  In talking with one well-intentioned North American last week, I discussed with him some of the roadblocks that compromise Nicaraguan development.  I broached, gently, the notion that we in the North bear a fair amount of responsibility for economic difficulty there.  His reply belied an all-too-frequent posture toward those in the developing world: “If they would just learn English,” he said, “it would be so much easier to work with them.”

Speaking the same language, indeed.  That would be a circumstance which might substantially level the playing field in all kinds of ways, for Nicaraguans and North Americans alike.  But the reality of a universal language is not a particularly likely answer to creating sustainable justice, whether economically, politically or socially.  For many people in Nicaragua, learning comprehensive language skills in their native tongue is a stretch by itself; indeed, a third-grade education in Nicaragua hardly qualifies a child as a linguist.  Learning a second language-let alone, the most difficult language to learn in the world (English)- is neither a practical nor a reasonable solution to development needs.  It’s also a little condescending to expect another culture to adapt itself to our language; there is nothing wrong with their own.  A leveling of the playing field requires some other forms of more mutual adaptation.

It’s easy to fall into such colonial thinking.  We are surrounded by our own, comfortable ways which feel right from their familiarity.   A friend of mine recently made the observation that, “In Nicaragua they just don’t work the same way that we do, do they?”  (No, I thought.  They work much harder.)  Yet, as we know intellectually, if not emotionally, comfort does not always translate to sensibility, and certainly not to justice.  In fact, oftentimes those comforts of ours translate to someone else’s burdens.

Getting out of our comfort zones is an important element of expanding one’s line of sight to such burdens.   I was very glad to be back in Nicaragua last week, to see, to hear, to know….




Ordinary People

It’s been weeks since I last posted an entry, but the absence hasn’t been for the reasons you might expect.  Yes, the holidays came and went during this time, but as filled as they might have been with family at home, time for posting was not limited.  I did not travel anywhere nor did my computer suffer a winter hibernation.  Nonetheless, my time has been impacted by the passage of the holidays and two other significant events: the a two-week bout with the flu and a cold, and the birth of a grandchild.  As commonplace as all of these events might be (though for any grandparent there is no grandchild who is commonplace), their presence in recent days has had me thinking about the ordinary disruptions of daily life, how we experience them and the extent of their impacts.

The holidays themselves pose any number of distractions that can take me out of my daily rhythms.  We plan and prepare for family visits (a household of two is a very different space than a household of ten), change the quantity and content of our meals (cookies are terrific but not very forgiving) and a visit with an elderly neighbor becomes not just a nice time to chat but a holiday expectation (even though she professes to have had all the Christmases she needs).  I suppose that such distractions are among the attractions of the holidays, as they force us out of the sameness of everyday life, even if the routines are the same as other years gone by.  At least they aren’t the same as May or September routines.

Succumbing to illness, especially at this time of year, is especially interruptive, since we have expectations of gaiety and joy; indeed, every advertisement on television informs us of just the right gifts needed to provide giddy ecstasy over the holidays.  Illness, even if not particularly life-threatening, dims the brightness of the days and extends the wakefulness of the nights in a grotesquely unfair example of poor timing, which no amount of tissues or hot liquids can erase.  Holiday illness is the taskmaster of patience, at a time when Godspeed is needed.

To lighten such a load, the birth of a grandchild is highly recommended.  Tiny Claire Elizabeth came into this sphere on January 7, bringing with her the usual fanfare of newborns: the stress of childbirth, the anxiety of families, the thrill of new life, the introspective gravitas of a new legacy, the first cry of perseverance and finally, the unbridled joy of those who will be her family.  What event could be sweeter than this-  the newest piece to life’s puzzle.

So our days have been filled with mixtures of celebration, struggle, anxiety, fears, comforts, dreams and spiritual balm.  The rush of the holidays has passed by for another year, the discomforts of a winter illness have finally sought new victims for their misery and a newborn child has begun her journey of enriching, teaching and loving.

After ten years of working between two cultures and world views, the passage of these past weeks has given me pause to reflect upon the ordinary events and people of that other space in my life, Nicaragua.  What are the holidays and illnesses and births like for my friends in that country, and how do they unfold?  How do such occurrences impact the activities of those who experience them?

I think we can guess at the reality.  The holidays occupy a significant part of many Nicaraguans’ lives, as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is national in its importance.  But there is no frenzy to buy lavish gifts and to host overflowing holiday feasts for most: sufficiency at the table and in the home is difficult enough to maintain on ordinary days, though worthy enough of deep gratitude.

Nicaraguans become ill just like anyone else, so cough remedies and Indigenous recipes abound.  (Honey mixed in rum is what I have been recommended.)  Nicaraguans are not immune to the viruses that seem to stop us in our tracks.  It’s simply a case that Nicaraguans have a much more difficult time stopping in theirs; there is no safety net for such work stoppage and the margin of sufficiency too small to allow the luxury of staying at home or sipping hot chicken soup.  They cannot afford to stop for fear of falling further behind.  There are occasions when illness gets in the way of keeping up.  It’s when one of the particularly virulent strains of virus or bacteria attack the health of a worker and the ability to keep going is lost to the emergency of simply staying alive.  Poverty has a way of breeding brands of illness that make my cold of the past weeks seem like a hiccup.  It seems our respective senses of the ordinary are quite different from one another.

And when it comes to having children and grandchildren enter their lives, Nicaraguans feel the same range of emotion that the rest of us do, I suppose.  But whereas the dreams for Claire Elizabeth include notions of education, achievement and wholeness of life, dreams for the newly-born in Nicaragua may be far different.  The family of a newborn Angelina may dream first of survival and good health for their little girl.  Their prayers might include petitions for enough to eat, water to safely consume, and strength enough to be able to work on the coffee farm at an early age.  Their hopes likely include visions of their daughter being able to stay in school past the third grade, maybe even being schooled to high school, though the hope may be, practically speaking, a long shot.

What constitutes the ordinary for us depends very heavily upon where the miracle of birth and the journey of life occurs.  When we spend even a few moments in reflection and appreciation of that truth, it changes things.  Like the way we choose to celebrate the joys of our lives.  Like the acceptance of a temporary illness as a minor distraction instead of a major roadblock.  And like a growing awareness of just how extra-ordinary our own lives really have become….



But We Have Flowers

We have been through this before.  The shock, the stunned disbelief at the inhumanity of humankind.  129 killed in Paris.  20 dead in Mali. The vows from the nations to exact punishing revenge.  The promise from the terrorists to bring more death and heartbreak.  The cycle is one that is very familiar to us by now, but in this case familiarity does not coax any comfort.  Indeed, our familiarity with the events of this week are a big part of the terror that its architects seek to build upon, an undermining of our confidence, of the rhythms of our lives, of the certainties around which we live out our days.

The magnitude of the attacks and the brutality of people attempting to destroy the very fabric of a shared existence casts us all into despair, even if only for a moment.  We are lost in attempting to understand the psychology of mass murder.  We cannot fathom the mindset which prompts a youthful jihadist to forsake his or her own life and possibilities.  And failing to comprehend such convoluted thoughts, we are left empty and seemingly without hope.  How do we come to terms with an adversary whose only objective is to obliterate us and themselves?

Amidst the debris of this deadly week, many in Paris and Mali have offered brave declarations of intended normalcy and defiant standing.  The streets of Paris are once again filled with the living, who intend their presence as a statement of resilience and determination.  Their attempts to console each other and the rest of us are admirable, though perhaps not completely convincing; the backfire of an automobile triggers fears that hide just below the surface of courageous postures.  We applaud the bravado, but we know the anxiety.  We have experience enough to recognize it.

Then, as if in response to our collective need for strength and stability, we were gifted with the interview.  If you have not seen it, give yourself the gift of watching it here.  Much of the world has seen it by now, in this age of social media which facilitates bombings and healings in dispassionate and equal measure.  The reporter’s interview was with a man and his young son, two of the thousands who had come to the spontaneous memorial of flowers and candles, laid in tribute to the victims of this current insanity.  The reporter sought to learn how a father might be talking to his son about something seemingly inexplicable.  What the father and son provided is nothing less than an answer for us all, a touching exchange that, in the end, might be the best and the most that we can do.  And it may be just quite enough.

For in the end, none of us will carry the largest gun.  No one can corner the market on deep-seated hatreds.  There are no borders or boundaries sufficient to assure absolute protection from the weakness of humankind.  If the game being played is “last fool standing,” then we all eventually lose anyway.  But in the playing of it, we have choices both personal and collective.  We  have each other, the chance to know love and empathy and beauty and every other good thing encountered in our lives.  Anne Frank knew the truth of it and wrote about it, until her turn was over.

Who can know our final destiny as a species?  A final fool might eventually, in fact,  rule over whatever blighted remains of earth there may be.  But we will have had flowers….

I Wonder, Part 2

I still wonder.  A lot.  It seems that the older I become, the less I know about anything.  The more I read, the more questions I seem to have.  At this rate, I wonder if it’s possible that I will know less when I die than I did on the day I was born.  I wonder about that.  I wonder if you do, too.

I wonder about a global economy wherein so many human beings are in need of so much, while the leaders of governments and industries struggle with the need to grow.  I wonder if we’re even talking about the same planet.  I wonder if impoverished people in Nicaragua know that we in the U.S. spent $7 billion on Halloween costumes, cards and candy this past weekend.  I wonder what they think about that.  I wonder if we think about that.

I wonder if it is even possible any longer that world use of renewable energy sources will be reached before practical depletion of fossil fuels.  I wonder what the outcomes will be if the world does not achieve such a transition.  I wonder what my children will think of me and my generation in such a case.  I wonder if I’ll still be around to hear their frustration.

I wonder about the people I know in Nicaragua, and whether they are doing OK.  I wonder if their harvests have been as good as hoped.  I have not been in the country since April; I wonder if they wonder where I’ve been.  I wonder if they know that I think about them every day.

I wonder about the lottery.  Not the Powerball one, but the one in which the next group of random people are selected by some deluded gunman for elimination from this life.  I wonder what the odds are that any of the victims will be family members or friends.  I wonder if there’s anything I can do about that?

IMG_2810I wonder about Yareli.  I wonder if she is learning, growing, thriving.  I wonder what she is doing.  I wonder about all of her friends and the kids throughout the country, and how they are doing.  I wonder if Nicaraguan leaders truly see her and her classmates as the absolute future of Nicaragua.  I wonder if our paths will ever cross again.

I wonder if we’ll ever get to Mars.  Do we care more about that planet than this one, I wonder?  Sometimes the depths of our conflicts and problems here seem so overwhelming as to be unsolvable.  But I wonder if it could truly be said that the grass might be greener on Mars.  I wonder if anything could grow there.

I wonder if a Nicaraguan farmer could grow anything on Mars.  (Some might say the environments aren’t dissimilar.)  I wonder if a Nica farmer would be successful on land here in Iowa.  I wonder if an Iowa farmer could be successful in Nicaragua.  I wonder if it’s the soil or the soul.  Or something else entirely.  I wonder if U.S. farmers empathize with Nica farmers, and vice versa.

I wonder what the U.S. will be like with a new president in 2017. (Right now, it’s hard for me to picture almost any of the candidates as president.)  I wonder if Nicaragua can envision anyone as their president in 2017 other than the incumbent.  I wonder if new presidents would make any difference to either country.   I wonder what Donald Trump thinks about Nicaragua;  I wonder if he knows there is a Nicaragua.

I wonder what the animals know that we don’t.  Some scientific studies demonstrate that certain species have specialized knowledge and innate senses far beyond our own, that allow them to experience the world very differently than we do.  I wonder why we aren’t more curious to learn more about that.  Especially anything related to stronger memory.

I wonder every day if I’m doing everything I can….





Ten Years After, Part 1

There must have been some kind of special “karma” in the air last weekend.  I had an urge to listen to a record album (yes, the kind that are played on a turntable) from the 60’s by a group called Ten Years After, and featuring a song entitled, “I’d Love to Change the World.”  After listening to both sides of the 33 1/3 RPM, I realized that both the song and the group hold special meaning this week: today, October 1, I have worked with Winds of Peace Foundation for ten years.  And naturally I have honed a deep yearning to change the world!

Ten years ago I left my role as corporate CEO with no plan about what I would do for my “next chapter.”  I had two kids in college and two more headed that way, a nice home with its accompanying mortgage, a desire to distance myself from the obligations of corporate demands (both personal and philosophical), and a need to search for meaningful work that was closer to my passions and compassions.  Firmly believing in the shelf-life of a CEO, I chose an early retirement on September 30, an option some companies afford to folks who are not old enough for Social Security but who are old enough to recognize when it’s time for a change.  I had no plan or prospect in mind.

I became involved actively with Winds of Peace the following day. Having served on its Board of Directors since its inception in 1980, I was familiar with its mission and history.  And with one of its founders, Harold Nielsen, in the hospital with pneumonia at age 90, I might have been the most logical and available person to step in on a temporary basis.  But within a week, I recognized the work as something I wanted for my “next chapter.”  By the time I could visit Harold personally later in that week, he apparently had come to the same conclusion.  He offered me the opportunity.  I jumped at the chance and have never looked back for even a moment.

There have been many affirmations about that decision.  The first was that I continued to work with founder Harold and Louise Nielsen, two of the most genuine and selfless people I have ever known.  (Harold was the wise  and entrepreneurial founder of Foldcraft Co., my firm of some 31 years.  Louise was his wife and co-conspirator, as Harold would say.)  The second immediate affirmation  was in the person of Mark Lester, the Foundation’s “feet on the ground” in Nicaragua, a most exceptional man, a student of and advocate for development in the country, and one whom I had met years earlier during my first visit there.  The third affirmation emerged a bit later, during my ensuing visits to Nicaragua when I was able to meet face-to-face with the potential and actual beneficiaries of the Foundation’s work.  This was where the true richness of the work has been experienced, where the longing to serve meets the hunger and thirst of people who are living their very lives on the edge of collapse, continuously.  These and other affirmations are endless and continue to this day.

Ten years is a long enough period to measure any organization´s impact and progress.  Over the past ten years alone, WPF has issued grants totaling over $2MM, loans totaling $7.6MM and maintained a loan default rate of just over  2%.  It has partnered on more than 300 agreements representing thousands of families.  It has underwritten scores of organizational and technology workshops as its focus has become focused on a territorial strategy.  The Foundation has added primary, secondary and university education as additional focal points for funding and development.  We have accompanied.  We have researched and written.  We’ve been busy.

The past ten years have brought about change in the lives of our partners, as well.  Access to capital in some of the most rural settings of Nicaragua has been a critically important element of life for those served by WPF.  For some, it may have meant survival.  The accompaniment in organizational development by our colleagues has illuminated some dark places where myth, falsehood, forgery and undereducation have festered for generations, rarely permitting the light of opportunity to foster growth.  Women’s voices have been heard.  Students bloomed.  People wept.  And smiled.

Well and good; the actions behind these measures what WPF has been called to do.  But there have been personal impacts, as well.  The past ten years have also rather dramatically changed the way I personally experience the world and its complexities.  I have come to understand how incredibly difficult it can be to “give away” resources.  Not the physical distribution of them, but the ways in which such work must be done to achieve meaning and impact; the presence of large amounts of funding does not guarantee success in the move away from poverty and marginalization.  Sometimes it even contributes to the problems.

I have experienced the importance of accompaniment.  I am still surprised and moved by the importance of our accompaniment with partners.  There is a feeling of strength on the part of rural peasants knowing that they are not entirely alone, that someone else knows of their existence and plight.

I now know the face of the poor.  I have established relationships, friendships, partnerships with individuals, real people with real families and real problems.  These are not statistics or photographs, but real human beings for whom my empathy and concern runs as deep as for any member of my community, my neighborhood, or other niches of my life.  That has changed me, as it would you.  I now personally understand why Harold and Louise Nielsen were so easily moved to tears when talking about this Foundation’s work.

In ten years’ time, Harold and Louise have both passed away.  Our focus has both broadened (with the addition of education and research) and narrowed (with the emphasis on a specific territory).  Our processes have sharpened, with the involvement of our three Nicaraguan consultants and their personal commitments to WPF work, and our own experiences in nurturing healthy organizations.  The presidency of Nicaragua has changed, the country’s relationships within the international community are different and so is the landscape within which development must conduct its efforts.

But the poverty remains.  The Nicaraguan poor are as omnipresent as ever, perhaps not in every statistical metric, but certainly according to any reasonable measure of basic human needs.  And therein lies our work agenda for the next ten years, which I’ll envision in Part II of this message, next week….