Nicaraguans stand together in a thatched-roof kitchen.
Ruby (right) and Jonathan (second from right) are members of their local youth committee.

Reimagining Nicaraguan Poverty Relief

Relying on Beneficiaries to Be Proactive Participants in Rural Development

Ruby and Jonathan seem different.

Different, that is, if you approach world poverty with the expectation that people fall into one of two distinct categories: those who give and those who are helpless to do anything but receive.

Ruby and Jonathan definitely do not fit that stereotypical model of global charity.

In Need, But Not Helpless

Ruby and Jonathan are students — one in high school and one in college. They grew up (and still live) in one of Nicaragua’s many poor rural neighborhoods, a community that lacks modern infrastructure and most of the amenities we take for granted in the U.S. A few bits of modern tech can be found here or there, but for the most part, families live like U.S. or European families might have 100 or even 200 years ago, fetching their water from hand-dug wells, practicing subsistence farming and living in simple shelters that often don’t even have a concrete foundation.

By tired conventional wisdom, one might expect Ruby and Jonathan to fall into the stereotyped role of a charity recipient in a developing country, holding out their hands and begging for help — but nothing could be further from the truth. These are engaged, ambitious young people, eager to tell us what they are doing to strengthen their community. They installed a garden for the local schoolchildren, and their proactive approaches have been changing attitudes among their neighbors, who see their optimism, drive and faith as a powerful source of hope.

Both students are members of the local youth committee, a group organized by our Chinandega ministry partner to motivate and empower economically struggling villages, and their can-do attitudes are a dramatic proof that those with needs do not always consider themselves helpless.

Donate to Make a Difference


Empowering Rural Nicaragua

The work and spirit of Ruby and Jonathan represent in microcosm the larger work underway in Chinandega — a work that honors the dignity of the poor and recognizes the potential of their resourcefulness. An important emphasis of this strategy is “bright spots” — highly motivated individuals who have the capacity and drive to become leaders in their communities and grease the wheels of change.

In fact, a significant amount of the community transformation process our local partner is undertaking in needy communities is successful because it relies on partnerships that give poor families a greater say and greater responsibility than was once the case in international development programs. The beneficiaries have embraced this approach too and have moved mountains with their talents, abilities and willpower.

Related: Support Cross Catholic Outreach’s water projects around the world.

What Beneficiary Participation Looks Like

While the clean water systems popping up in Chinandega are funded by U.S. donors, Nicaraguans are digging the trenches and engaging in the other critical tasks necessary to complete the projects. The communities also participate in the planning, cover a small percentage of construction costs, provide land for a drill site (sometimes donated by a landowner), and are educated in the proper use of their new resource. Then the communities take full ownership of the water systems, assuming responsibility for long-term maintenance and repair and managing the collection of monthly usage fees.

Families who desire to take the next step can also apply for modern bathrooms. A shower and sink with running water, plus a toilet connected to a septic tank, improve personal hygiene as they replace the old latrines that leach contaminants into the water table. This upgrade is an enormous blessing, and one reason it works so well is that our partner does not push it on uninterested families. Instead, our partner explains the health benefits of the bathrooms and then offers to build them only for families willing to cover a sizable portion of the cost (a small dollar amount, but a significant investment for a rural Nicaraguan farmer).

The result is that the beneficiaries feel empowered. They take pride in what has been accomplished, and they move forward with a sense of personal responsibility that ensures they will maintain their wells, bathrooms and other developments for years to come. Their self-image transforms from one of need to one of capability as they are inspired to set goals and achieve them, and as they realize the impact they themselves can have on their families, neighbors and communities. 

Related: Learn about another need in rural Nicaragua: nutrition.

Raising Up Nicaraguan Leaders

By encouraging and equipping local individuals to be leaders in their communities, this project puts the beneficiaries in the driver’s seat for long-term success. As these communities take ownership of their new resources and chart a plan for the future, they feel a renewed sense of dignity.

Thus, our local partner collaborates with each community to assemble and train three leadership teams:

  1. The Community Water and Sanitation Committee owns and manages the water system.
  2. The Community Development Committee tackles the general advancement of the community.
  3. The Community Youth Committee gives the young a voice and prepares them to be the next generation of leaders.
A family stands in the doorway of their new home.

Five Goals for Community Empowerment in Nicaragua

An important part of working alongside the poor is communicating clear goals. Our Chinandega ministry partner organizes its efforts around five primary goals:

  1. Leadership — Raise up local leaders and equip the community to take ownership of its new resources.
  2. Water — Install clean, reliable community water systems and provide a modern bathroom for every home.
  3. Health — Reduce preventable diseases.
  4. Education — Achieve 80%-100% school enrollment and participation for local children.
  5. Economic — Effect a 10% annual increase in income of families receiving microenterprise.

Get Involved!

The people of Chinandega, Nicaragua, have tremendous potential, and they are already showing how tapping their wisdom, strengths and talents can turn ideas on paper into life-transforming projects in the field. You can help them realize their potential by supporting Cross Catholic Outreach with your gifts and prayers today!

Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.