David Hauth, an intern for Green Empowerment, is working in Nicaragua with AsoFenix on a number of renewable energy projects. He shares his thoughts about the work that he has completed, the challenges he has faced and the success that he has experienced.
As I write this blog I find myself in the middle of my 13th month in Nicaragua, ”un año y pico” as they would say here. Looking back over the past year it seems like a monumental task to attempt summarize, synthesize and adequately convey both the breadth and depth of my experiences, the perspectives I’ve gained and most relevantly, the knowledge I have learned.
Because I have learned such a great deal this past year. I’ve learned that development work is hard, really hard. It is a work of ambiguous and ever-changing situations backed up against rock hard deadlines, expectations and international money. Of uneducated labor and beneficiaries matched up with highly engineered projects. It is a work without glory, unrewarded in terms of the material gains of wealth and recognition. It is a work of independence, self-motivation and integrity, where very often your direction is your own, shaped by the goals you set for yourself and the sacrifices you alone are willing to make.
Development work is also a job never finished, a task never completed. No matter how much help you give, how many lives you improve, maybe save, there’s another child suffering, probably just a mile down the road, begging your “pesito” and your “corazón.” It is a world that can sometimes seem so bleak and hopeless it can knock you down, regardless of your strength of character or depth of commitment. It is a very special person who finds the strength to get back up, time after time.
And that’s another thing I’ve learned, this work is not for everyone. I stand before you today, a humbled man of 25 who is in the prime of his youth and full of energy and hope, to tell you that I don’t know if I could do this work 5 more years, much less the rest of my life. My heart is full of passion and desire to help. In my dreams I see myself working hand in hand with the poorest and marginalized, helping to provide a little justice in their lives. But the truth of the work is no dream, it is very much a reality in which only the strongest and most passionate can live. That is why I am in such awe of the people who dedicate their lives to this calling. Those who can get up every morning, knowing that their work never ends, that the need is always there, yet tell themselves “I’m going to do my part today, I’m going to try.”
I’m talking about Jaime Muñoz, a man who has no more than a Third World “high school” education, yet whose passion and hard work have led him to educate himself and personally found and direct a Nicaraguan NGO with connections all over the world, an NGO whose only goal is to help, and who has helped thousands of people, in its own country, receive the basic services (water, energy) that for us are so natural and necessary most of us probably can’t fathom life without.
I’m taking about Jason Selwitz, Michel Maupoux, Anna Garwood, Gordy Molitor and all the Green Empowerment staff whose passion and enthusiasm are oftentimes so intense that it can be unnerving. People who’s education, intelligence and creativity could see them earning more than twice as much income in the for profit world, but have instead chosen to work twice as many hours. They are the small percentile driven, not by their daily desires, but instead by a greater passion to actually see done what they feel is right. These people are rare, they’re rare, special and very necessary. Development work is not for everybody, in my mind very few can do it. We should appreciate those that actually do.
I suppose you are depressed now right? What I’ve managed to say up to this point is that the work is almost impossible and the people who can do it almost don’t exist. Well let me try to cheer you up with something else I’ve learned, or maybe more appropriately, seen. That is that it works. Call it a miracle, call it unbelievable, call it whatever you want. I’m going to call it a fact. A fact that in the face of scarce resources, education, time and money it almost always works.
Where does it work? It worked in El Roblar, a community so isolated it can only be reached by walking over 2 hours….up. Where just recently was finished a 17 kW micro-hydro system that will provide clean and cheap energy (each family pays a small, flat monthly fee for maintenance) to over 30 homes. Energy that will provide refrigeration, lighting to replace cancer causing kerosene lamps, TV for education via national and international news and, if we can find the funds, energy for a computer in the school so that their kids, their future, aren’t trapped in the archaic past.
It worked in El Roblar not only because of the end result, but perhaps more importantly because of the process. A process that involved bringing the community together, the discovery of leadership, the learning of new skills and the realization of self worth. A process that involved Gustavo and I, two trained engineers, standing for 3 days with our hands in our pockets watching Marco, Juan Antonio and the rest of the recently trained community hang over 3 kilometers of overhead power lines. Watching them do it right. This of course after they had hauled several tones of cement up the mountain, built a damn, dug 500 meters of trench through the woods, laid the penstock and built the turbine house.
It’s also working in the community of Cuajiniquil, which will reap the benefits of the first partnership, created and fostered by Green Empowerment, between Asofenix and blueEnergy, a Nicaraguan NGO specializing in wind energy. Benefits that will include, through a hybrid solar-wind energy project, a potable water pumping system and micro-grid to provide energy to the isolated community of 15 families. This partnership between two of the largest and most effective renewable energy NGO’s in the country will facilitate an exchange of knowledge and expertise and only strengthen each organization’s ability to affect meaningful changes in future.
Where else does it work? It works at home as well. It works through the involvement of local communities and universities that want to help. Involvement that benefits both sides through the exchange of experiences, cultures and friendships. Organizations such as the Havurah Shalom Congregation from Portland, Oregon that sent representatives down in December of 2008 and are currently raising funds for a solar water pumping project in the community of Jocote. Or the students from Northwestern University who came down during their spring break this year and kick started a large scale biogas digestor project and have been raising funds to come down in 2010 to install 3 battery-charging wind turbines in communities without electricity. This long term commitment in funds, resources and energy provides an enormous amount of support to Green Empowerment and Asofenix and is necessary for the continued success of both.
I could go on forever about the change I’ve seen and the progress made. But the important thing is that, regardless of the obstacles and overwhelming need, progress is being made and positive change can be seen, both in Nicaragua and at home. And that is the most important thing I’ve learned, that despite the hardship, lack of resources and people progress is being made one village, community and person at a time. Progress that I’ve been lucky to be a part of.