In March of this year, a group of four new employees from the Outreach International team in Kansas City traveled to Nicaragua. They visited our program partner group there, called Alcance Nicaragua. “Alcance” means “outreach” in Spanish, and this amazing group really did reach out to welcome them, teach them, and challenge them, like the true partners and professionals they are.
Here are just some of the thoughts, feelings, and reflections of the U.S. team members as they looked back on their very first experience seeing community-led development in action, and witnessing first-hand the incredible effectiveness of the participatory human development process.
The Trip to Nicaragua began with meeting the Alcance team in person. As members of Outreach, the new group understands what community-led development is, and why it’s so effective as a lasting solution to poverty. But to hear it explained by the specialists who implement it every day, with all its depth, subtlety, and complexity, immediately put the trip into perspective.
This group of dedicated experts left a lasting impression on Mckenzie, our Donor Engagement & Support Specialist. “Annabelle (a Human Development Facilitator, or HDF) grew up in an Outreach-affiliated community. She herself benefitted from community-led development initiatives. It impacted her life so much that she wanted to become an Outreach HDF herself.”
In fact, the HDF who worked with her community and inspired her to pursue this profession is Alcance’s own Juan. Now they work together.
“This example just goes to show how deeply the relationship between an HDF and a community can impact individual lives and the community as a whole.”
More Thoughts on Community-Led Development
Casey, our Development & Project Management Specialist, had this to say: “I now see how vital HDFs are in the work of sustaining community development. Their impact on people’s lives goes beyond what words can say.”
Mckenzie continued: “I’m now the HDFs’ number one cheerleader. While the community members and group leaders are the ones that are identifying their poverty issues and working to resolve them for themselves, none of it would be possible without the training, expertise, and group dynamic skills that the HDFs bring to the table. They truly are the key to the entire process, and it takes an extremely talented person to do the job.”
Alex, the Outreach Director of Field Finance and the Nicaragua Program Manager oversees all efforts carried out by Alcance. She traveled with the new team, and found these interactions quite satisfying. She recounted, “I just love to see my U.S. Outreach colleagues getting to know our Alcance Nicaragua colleagues. The Alcance staff are so incredible, and I love when other people get to learn that in person.”
The first community they visited was chosen because it’s in the very beginning stages of the participatory human development process. El Higueron was a prime example of the issue of poverty in Nicaragua. Lennon is the HDF working with the people there. He was simply visiting, asking questions, listening to concerns, and gaining trust.
One community member the team visited with was Angel. Casey remembers him well. “Angel made a lasting impact on me. He was ambitious, kind, and honest. But most importantly, he could have been my neighbor or someone in my own community. The love he had for his children was universal. He mentioned the best part about being a father was having his children run to him after getting off a long day at work. It was yet more proof that love is all around us, empowering change.”
Alex saw Casey and Angel together. “I was very touched when Casey asked Angel, ‘What is your favorite thing about being a dad?’ This was such a simple and beautiful question – one that had nothing to do with the differences between our circumstances and everything to do with the common experiences of being a human. You could tell that Angel was a dedicated father, and he just lit up at the chance to talk about this.”
HDF Ricardo gave the U.S. team an amazing display of expertise in Coyolar, a community that is in the middle stages of the Outreach International multi-year community-led development process.
U.S. team member Chris, Content Manager, was particularly impressed. “From the very first moment entering this new community, we could tell they had made great strides in their development process. The community group was prepared for our arrival and motivated to work. Ricardo led the group with a brilliant balance of probing questions and challenging ideas in combination with his positive energy and gentle guidance. He’s really a master teacher.”
Coyolar itself had taken visible leaps forward. There were construction materials in neat piles, ready to become new homes. New, partially built structures were standing. There was a barber shop open for business and with customers waiting.
Most impressive was the community center and clinic building. Chris continues, “The clinic was such an advancement compared to what we had so recently seen from the earlier stages in El Higueron. Private exam rooms, medication storage, and instructional posters explaining health issues like you’d see in any doctor’s office.”
And one particular piece of equipment caught the eye of the group. Chris remembers, “There was a scale for weighing babies. Everyone knows that monitoring weight is a crucial part of infant healthcare and setting children on the right path. But just seeing the scale made us smile.”
The final and most developed community the team visited was the small town of La Leona, which sits in the mountains in the municipality of Boaco. The HDF, Luz Dania, demonstrated her expertise by letting the community members lead the meeting. She took a back seat and watched with a nonstop smile while the group leaders, mostly women, gave their own presentation with all the skill and confidence Luz had instilled in them.
The community leaders presented the government documentation which showed that they’re recognized as a legal entity. They walked the U.S. team through the complex process, and highlighted their incredible progress. And they gave a great example of commerce, with some of the best bread the U.S. team had ever tasted. It made for a pretty wonderful way to end the trip to Nicaragua.
Casey met six-year-old Natalie. “What was interesting is that it took me a long time to ask around and find out who her parents were. Each person in the community looked after Natalie like she was their own child. I can see how their philosophy on community impacted their progress as a united body.”
Alex came to the bread-baking celebration midway through. “During the final community visit, I walked away to do a focus group session while the group was waiting for the bread to finish baking. I could smell the bread throughout the focus group interview and couldn’t wait to get back over to try it. But when I walked back thinking about the bread, I was even more excited to find that the U.S. Outreach guests and community members seemed to have settled into a comfortable and happy shared snack and visiting session. Despite the language barrier, it seemed like everyone was just happily chatting and sharing the beautiful day and delicious food. Such a lovely picture in my memory!”
A Broader Perspective
Kevin, our President and CEO, has traveled to almost every one of our program partner countries. His perspective reflects this experience. “On a visit like this, we go to communities in order of their seniority (least developed to most developed). It’s almost like time travel. We’re able to see what happens when our work takes place over a five-year time span. The first is a place where we have started; the last is a place that is near graduation.”
Kevin continued his thoughts: “After leaving our second of three communities, our very own Chris said to me, ‘after seeing the growth between a place where we’ve just started and one that is three years in, I am expecting to see something like flying cars in the next one.’”
The trip to Nicaragua left a lasting impression on all team members, both new and with long experience.
“EVERY time I visit our communities,” Kevin continued, “I am reminded of the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit, at least when people are placed into the right circumstances. Community plus hope is an incredibly powerful combination.”
How to Help
Learn more about the clinic in Nicaragua that’s changing lives, or get to know Bayardo, the Country Coordinator. You can also learn more about the strong women who are leading the way on development projects. And see how community-led development works, and why it works so well.