This newsletter I want to dedicate to Darryl who is turning 80 years old shortly.
When I arrived in Nicaragua thirteen years ago, my predecessor Dr. Darryl Mortenson was retiring after a lifetime career working in overseas community development on four continents. Darryl was a wealth of knowledge and everyone
I met had a great deal of respect for him. We overlapped for about three weeks and in that time, I became very aware of what big shoes I had to fill. Darryl used every moment to share with me his insights into what he called ‘people centered community development.’ Darryl loved to share simple but yet very profound ‘sayings’ and was always quick to follow up with a story to demonstrate his point. A number of Darryl’s sayings still stick in my mind… let me share a few:
- “Start small, slow and simple and avoid paternalism at all cost.”
- “Do not confuse community development with project development. Community development is working with the people; project development is doing it for the people. Projects should be used only to help people learn the process of development.”
- “Only help a community when it’s ready – just because a community is poor doesn’t mean it is ready.”
- “The impact of our work will emerge in the generation to follow. We usually never get a chance to see the fruit of the work we start.”
I spent last week evaluating a program we support with our partner Accion Medica Cristiana (AMC) in the mountains of Central Nicaragua. Our work with AMC is primarily focused on working with farmers to improve yields, protect the soil, plant ‘kitchen gardens’ and diversify crops. In addition, we facilitate infrastructure projects and train local water committees to manage them. We also interact with groups in the communities to think through important issues like how to adapt to a changing climate and add value to the products that are produced in their community. And of course, we also engage community leaders to empower their community by modeling servant leadership and visioning for a preferred future. We witnessed evidence of this taking place with what we saw with our eyes and in the discussions with various stakeholders in the communities we visited.
We also used a lot of simple ‘participatory tools’ to encourage discussions that make it easier to understand the changes taking place in the community overtime. One of tools we used requires participants to form three groups and draw a map as to what their community looked like in the past, how it looks now, and what they want it to look like in the future. An older man named Don Digno presented the ‘past’ and described how the land was essentially deforested with a handful of farmers working as day laborers. The ‘present’ drawing, presented by Dixon, a young man in his twenties, vividly demonstrated how a lot of changes had taken place. Coffee groves had taken the place of pasture land, trees had been planted, and a water system now was tapped into most of the homes. Dixon proudly pointed out on the map the school that was recently built and the road that allowed vehicle access to the community. The third drawing was confidently presented by two teenagers, Maydolina and Gilbert.Their community map for the future included electrical poles, roads to the homes, even more tree cover, wildlife returning, youth going to high school and a bridge over a river.
There were a number of things that impressed me about this community, but the one thing that stuck out was the way the younger generation was so empowered and engaged in telling the story of their community. Certainly, they were benefitting from the hard work invested by their parents who proudly sat by and watched. It occurred to me that I was witnessing what Darryl hinted at when he said “The impact of our work will emerge in the generations to follow. We usually never get a chance to see the fruit of the work we start.”
Darryl, I had the privilege of seeing the fruit of our work. Happy Birthday Darryl!