The next post in our series of posts reflecting on the Nicaragua Site Visit with Outreach International comes from Nicky Kerr, a senior at Graceland University. She reflects on her definition of poverty, how Outreach International's process of development called the Participatory Human Development Process (or PHDP), the empowerment she saw in the communities where OI works and the impact this trip had on her own life. -Stephen Donahoe
"1. My definition of poverty is still forming, and is uniquely based on my
personal experiences. Because my story and my relationship with poverty will
continue, I expect my definition to evolve, and I don’t claim it’s absolute
completeness or truth over other definitions.
"That being said, I have thought about how I define poverty extensively. We
often differentiate between material poverty (poverty you can see), and
poverty of the mind (poverty you can’t see). I recognize that poverty can be a
mentality, and that changing your mindset can be life changing in the midst of
tragic material circumstances. Still, I struggle with this sharp duality that
we have created. It is important to know that they feed into each other, and
to remember that both need radical change if poverty is going to become
"Still, too many focus solely on the material manifestations of poverty. I will
never forget how smoky Tina’s kitchen was—with no ventilation, everyone had to
take turns going outside, and many would stand at cook with tears streaming
down their face (I never saw Tina cry though—she was one strong woman!). At
the time we laughed about it, but when I began reflecting, I wondered how
dangerous it was to inhale that smoke all of the time—perhaps for years on
end. My parents are both chefs—my family highly values cooking. Their family
certainly did too, and I loved learning from them, but I just wanted so badly
for them to be able to cook in a ventilated place—a detail of poverty that is
a unique part of my experience, but it is only focused on the material.
"My host mother, Lydia Alvarez Angulo, had a beautiful house. The latrine was in the
back, up a steep hill, but the house was well maintained. I remember asking
George—"They seem decently well off, and I don’t really know where the line
is, but I was wondering—are they technically in ‘poverty’?” Even at the time,
I knew it was a naïve question. George pointed out that nothing is stable—if
anyone were to get sick, or a disaster were to happen, there is no insurance
or safety net. This was an aspect of poverty I hadn’t yet considered, which
contributes to “unseen poverty”—even when you acquire the material things that
one needs to survive, a lack of assurance and stability can still trap one in
poverty and fear of the future.
"So many other aspects of poverty are unseen as well. We talk about the
“culture of silence”—a need for the poor to find their voice, get an
education, declare their rights and their desires, and own their future.
Ultimately, these things are needed for the cycle of poverty to be broken, and
a definition of poverty would be incomplete without these aspects. Still, most
of the world sees the empty stomach or the sick baby as the poverty—and they
don’t look outside of the physical conditions for the source or the solution.
"2. PHDP puts these aspects of poverty at the forefront, maintaining that if we
can bring communities together, inspire them to find their own voice and take
proactive roles in bettering their own lives, then the material conditions
will follow. Alcance Nicaragua requires community members to invest in
themselves—to struggle through the process and learn it well, and then apply
it the their community and individual goals.
"We talked about four aspects of reflection: understand, learning, impact,
resolution. In many ways, I found this to be a mini-version of the whole PHDP
process. Alcance/OI always begins with observation: listen, learn, and try to
understand the conditions of poverty as they are. Within that, they begin
asking questions. Many times, community members will begin to find the sources
of their struggles, and begin to understand their own conditions, which will
lead to the second step: learning. Learning the process, learning how to take
action, even just learning that there are options outside of the continual
cycle of poverty can be transformative in the lives of these (and all) people.
It is with the application of this newfound knowledge that the impact comes—
physical changes are made, improvements come from a shift in mindset or a new
strategy. “Resolution” isn’t as final as it sounds—it should include
reflection and evaluation, as well as celebration of accomplishments. But the
process is not linear—it’s cyclical, and should continue indefinitely in the
community and the individual. It is a process of empowerment.
"This differs from other organizations who focus solely on the material aspects
of poverty. As I said in my definition, you can get more things and still be
trapped in the mentality of poverty—when you aren’t invested in the course of
your own life, and when you live in fear of the future. This is why Alcance/OI
focuses on overcoming the culture of silence to empower people to change their
own physical conditions.
"3.This is exactly what I saw in El Llanito and Los Alvarez. I was humbled as I
watched the people of Los Alvarez beam with pride and anticipation when laid
out their mission and goals for us. They shared what their community had
collectively decided was important for them, and their plans to put those
priorities into action. This is a strong example of people overcoming the
voicelessness that is so prominent in the culture of silence.
"Other communities trapped in poverty might never find that sense of
organization, communication, and visioning. The mind set wouldn’t help them to
set goals and strategies, and dependency on the system or on others to provide
the answers typically prevails. Without a new paradigm, the cycle of poverty
would continue. Once Alcance/OI helps the people to establish a new way of
thinking, the transformation is phenomenal. The dependent mindset becomes
independent and innovative, and inherently more community oriented. There is a
sense of commitment to each other within the goals they set, and that mutual
investment means that people are constantly pushing each other to reach higher
and keep working hard to create a better life for themselves, for each other,
and for generations to come. How beautiful!!
"4. In the immediate future, this trip has radically shifted my priorities.
Instead of focusing so much on what I have that the people of Nicaragua do
not, I was overpowered when I found something that the have in abundance that
I crave in my life: a complete focus on building a loving community. Self-
sacrifice became a theme, and I began to question my motivations in life: why
am I going to school, why do I want success, if not to be surrounded by people
that love me, and that I can love in return? Since we got back, I’ve really
tried to prioritize my relationships: I want to invest fully in the people
that I love, and commit to them in ways that make all of our lives better.
This means my family, my boyfriend, my professors, my friends—validating their
worth in my life has never been more important.
"In the long term, I certainly want to keep these priorities. I also reaffirmed
that I will dedicate my life and career to the cause of poverty and to the
values of PHDP. I can’t wait to study social justice, to invest in my
community and in this process that I believe in, and to give my energies to
this cause that I whole-heartedly believe in."