By Laura Hargrove, PWS&D committee member and teaching elder at First Presbyterian Church, Brandon, Man.

In November 2019, after the end of the rainy season, I accompanied John Popiel, PWS&D’s program coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, on a monitoring visit to Nicaragua. While I have traveled a fair bit, I had mostly been to the developed world. This was my first visit to Central America. It was also my first visit to a region where the political situation had been so recently unsettled.

Nicaragua had a revolution in the late 1970s but there have been more recent protests with severe government repression. These things have an impact on the economy—not only does it keep tourists away, many people in opposition to the government were killed, disappeared or fled the country. There had been a high level of unemployment in the years prior to our visit. In addition, Central America is seismically active with many volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. All of these things affect the lives of the poor.

PWS&D works in many places around the world through local or regional partner organizations to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. When we work with others, our ability to impact people in need is multiplied. We benefit greatly from our partner’s local knowledge, but we don’t get to see the projects we support every day. Monitoring visits are an important aspect of PWS&D’s work; both for assessing how a project is unfolding and for building and maintaining relationships with our partners.

A young woman who is part of a peer education project stands with her mother at the family’s market stall in Managua. Photo: Laura Hargrove

One of the projects was in the dry region working with small-scale farmers to improve soil and water conservation and increase crop diversity. Community members learned about nutrition, soil and water management, small business and marketing, as well as human rights, and sexual and reproductive health. By developing local leaders and empowering the entire village knowledge spread broadly within the community.

The other two projects we visited are based in the capital city, Managua. A peer-to-peer empowerment project teaches sexual and reproductive health, human rights, safety and nutrition to youth associated with some of the large open-air markets. Political strife in Nicaragua since 2018 has impacted the economy, leaving many financially insecure and their children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The youth we met had benefited greatly from the project, evidenced by their self-confidence and knowledge about what they have learned.

A young woman who is part of a peer education project stands with her mother at the family’s market stall in Managua. Photo: Laura Hargrove

The third project benefits teen mothers in a neighbourhood based around one of the Managua city dumps. The project provides nutrition education to improve maternal and child health—the women learn about their rights and responsibilities, reproductive health and child development. In talking with the mothers, it was delightful to watch the face of one Mum as she realized her toddler, since joining the project, was bigger and stronger, walking and talking earlier than an older child had.

Each of our partner organizations clearly makes a connection between the work they do among the poor to educate and empower and their own calling as Christians. Through them, we are able to reach out to the poor of the world in Jesus’ name, empowering them to realize their value as human beings.

*This article was first printed in the Summer 2020 issue of Presbyterian Connection newspaper.