Whose Good Work?

At this time of year I receive many newsletters and periodicals from other organizations who work within Nicaragua.  Most are headquartered somewhere in the United States but have staff or the majority of their operation within Nica.  I’m familiar with many, but not all, and I’m always interested to read about the good work that they are doing on behalf of the people of Nicaragua.

I know they are doing good work because they say so.  Their newsletters are full of pictures of partners who have either raised a successful crop, started a new business, raised some farm animals or otherwise benefitted from the presence of the donor.  I’ve even profiled some of our own partners here and elsewhere on the website as we attempt to share the methodologies and resulting successes (we hope) of our work.  It’s a natural outgrowth of organizations which, at some point in their work, need to justify their efforts and tout their results.  If they don’t, perhaps nobody will.

But as I have read these reports (often with a request for additional donations), I have increasingly found myself thinking beyond the efforts of the charitable organization and looked for the presence of Nicaraguans themselves.  They are always in the picture, if not within the focus, and it is their success and results which should matter more than the metrics of the donor organizations which support them.  I’m convinced that such is not always the case, particularly when I read what is being measured as success.

One of the hallmarks of Winds of Peace is the degree of accompaniment and follow-up involved in our partnering.  So we gain a pretty good, first-hand picture of the impact of funding, the efforts of the funded, the changes experienced, the goals attained and the objectives missed. We’ve had the experience of hearing governing boards explaining what went wrong in credit.  We’ve had boards of directors take us to worksites where the aspiring entrepreneur shows off the gains of his/her efforts.  We’ve experienced long and short-term successes, as well as long and short-term failures, taken some risks we shouldn’t have and perhaps rejected some proposals we should have supported.  Those realities are simply part of the work that we are in.  But we should never forget that we are merely facilitators, catalysts in this process of development, and that the real work is always the province of Nicaraguans.  It is their persistence, their tenacity, their commitments which make for our organizational metrics.  Even where the actions are provided from the outside, they require the engagement of Nicaraguan participants to make the effort work.

Our organizations might point to any number of successes in our colorful, uplifting media, but triumphs are truly not ours to sound.  The hard work- the good work, where it is being done- is performed by Nicaraguans whom we serve.  We might suggest that the work is really a partnership, that successes are shared benefits.  But let’s not lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day most of us return to lives that are stable, predictable, secure and relatively comfortable.  For most of our Nicaraguan partners, such respite is not the case.  The unpredictability, uncertainty and day-to-day reality makes for a very different context in which to execute the plans, provisions and outcomes that our carefully-considered projects have imagined.  Simply stated, it ain’t easy.

My post-holiday reflection may seem to be wandering here a bit.  But don’t misinterpret my thoughts: I deeply appreciate the work that is being done all over Nicaragua in a spirit of intense commitment and support by many outside organizations, including Winds of Peace.  It’s just that before accepting any kudos or pats on the back for whatever impacts may be made, we need to recognize where the hard work, the good work is being done, and by whom….


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