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Day One: Bienvenidos a Managua

Nicaragua map2 And there, sadly, is where my español ends. I’m traveling through Nicaragua with my colleague, Brian Duss, in preparation for Bread's Offering of Letters 2009. We’re gathering stories and video footage of people who are being helped by development assistance from the United States. Bread members will spend the next year working to reform development assistance, making it better and more efficient.

I spend most of my days working in Bread’s DC office, writing from a cubicle that overlooks the Irish Times pub (and, currently, a noisy construction site). In my 11 years at Bread, I’ve had the privilege of taking a couple of trips like this, to write about people and development programs in the field. And the cliché is true: Travel changes you. My eyes are never more open than when I touch down in a place I’ve never been before. A place like Nicaragua.

In the taxi from the airport, my eyes are open and stinging as smoke from garbage fires and cooking fires drifts across the city and through the open car window. At stoplights, men and boys sell bottles of agua, mobile phones, watches. Women peddle fruit and empanadas (tasty turnovers). Many of the houses have corrugated tin roofs held down by strategically placed rocks. At noon, I see some children in school uniforms walking alongside the road. Girls arm in arm, giggling. I see many more children not dressed for school, some not dressed in much at all.

How to begin to take it all in? We start by having dinner with Sharon Hostetler, who’s based in Managua with Witness for Peace. WFP has worked in Central and South America since 1983. Sharon is originally from Ohio, but has lived in Nicaragua since 1982. She helps give us an overview of the country, or as much as you can get over dinner, which of course isn’t enough. I ask her what development assistance from the U.S. can do for Nicaragua.

“There’s been a tension between what’s development within a country and what’s development in U.S. government eyes. Sometimes U.S. interests are okay, and sometimes they’re at cross purposes with Nicaragua’s needs. Nicaraguans love their country. They need peace, prosperity, and development. But it has to be development that works for them.”   

That’s hopeful to hear on our first day. One of the principles of foreign aid reform that Bread supports is that countries like Nicaragua must identify their own development needs and goals. I know it’s early in the trip, but I feel like we’re on the right track.

Kimberly Burge is Bread for the World's senior writer/editor.

 

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