A Reflection on AKF and Nicaragua

Carl Scheider, and his wife Judy
Minnesota - U.S
In Oct. and Nov. of 2011, I had the privilege to spend 2 full months working with the AKF team in Nicaragua. I learned a great deal, and I even felt as though I might be able to contribute something to the effort.

The major thing I learned was that “the effort”, or the GOAL, shall we say, is quite a major undertaking. The mission of AKF is posted on the wall in the center – but I think I can simplify it as: “to change the world”. They, we, are trying to change the world. The current state of the planet is one of inequality, poverty and war living quite comfortably side by side with power, wealth, comfort, peace and health. When we visit Nicaragua with AKF, we come with the latter state of affairs from the North, and we are immersed in the reality of life in a developing country. As I say all the time, “We live in Disneyworld”.

But just how does one go about changing the world? No one has issued a blueprint as yet. I have been part of a small effort to do this for the past 25 years with a small town in Nicaragua. At first, we did things FOR them. We sent money to buy cows, we put a roof on their baseball stadium, we sent down used typewriters to start a commercial school, etc. And along the way, we visited – we came, we came to know them and love them, and we returned, time and time again.

At some point, thanks to AKF, we both shifted from DO FOR to BE WITH. We came to realize that DO FOR was just perpetuating their sense of dependence, that they needed us to make a difference in their lives. Instead of doing for, we moved to accompany them in the journey. We became friends and family members with them in their struggles.

More recently, again thanks to AKF, we have shifted from BE WITH to WORK WITH. We are now equal partners in our relationship. They have come to realize that they are in charge of their lives and their world, and that we are here to help as best we can. They have resources and responsibilities, and we have some as well. It has taken us 25 years to get to this level.

For the past year, AKF has been starting a relationship like this from scratch with two new communities. Just how does one do this? It is clear that you do NOT show up and push money at them. That would be like courting a potential spouse or partner by waving your checkbook in their face and asking what you can do to build a lasting relationship. So, how do you do it? The answer – a thousand small steps. You visit, talk, get to know, invite, chat, play with, help, etc., until a number of people come to trust you enough to actually sit and visit and talk about their issues and problems. You then invite them to your center, to meet other communities that have been down this path in the past, so that they get a sense of how this all works. Now you are at the point where they can, as a community, make an informed decision.

So, they opt to continue the courtship, or the relationship. Now comes the really hard work. What does it mean to be a community? How are we organized, who is in charge, how do we make decisions, what do we need to focus on first, and so on. These steps involve formal training and lots and lots of trust building before a real community of interest begins to develop in the people. If all of this works, they arrive at the spot where they are actually a functioning community, that can determine its goals, and set about accomplishing them. At this point, we might bring some assistance from outside – the local government, federal, other agencies, etc.

AKF understands this process well, and they are about it.