CEO blog: Fighting poverty in NicaraguaPosted by Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer
7June 2012: Back from Central America, I have been reflecting on the second half of my trip – the visit to Nicaragua. In some ways it was similar to El Salvador, in others quite different.
My first meeting was with the vice minister and secretary for external co-operation. It was a friendly and cordial affair, with the minister taking time out to paint the context for development in Nicaragua.
He stressed that Nicaragua is a proud and independent nation, wary of alliances with international donors like the IMF and the World Bank and looking to create alliances of mutual interest in Central America with countries like Guatemala, Costa Rica, Cuba, and of course Venezuela, with its oil wealth. This of course causes tensions with some of its other neighbours like the USA.
Our agreement with the Nicaraguan government, now headed by Daniel Ortega, is due for renewal next year. The buzzword is ’alignment’: some level of synergy between Plan’s programme priorities with the overall national objectives of the government’s plan in its fight against poverty.
Reaching the marginalised
Certainly, Nicaragua’s strategy has analysed the national context and seems to fit squarely with Plan’s new global priorities - with its emphasis on education, protection and marginalised groups.
The intention to invest more in the semi-autonomous Atlantic-facing regions of the country will mean reaching out to communities who are both literally and metaphorically on the fringes of Nicaraguan society, the poorest groups in the poorest country after Haiti in Latin America.
But we have to remember in our discussions with any government or its institutions that our programme priorities emerge after long discussions with the children and communities we work with. We speak first with and for them. We are proud of our independence, and that we cannot be seen to or indeed to take party political sides and become partisan players in a country’s political system or its internal debates.
We made that point to the minister and I left confident that he understood that alignment must never become uncritical adherence to governmental priorities, and that we could work together constructively in that spirit.
I had some time to visit Plan’s Chinandega programme unit (PU) some 2 hours drive from the capital, Managua. There we visited a great school, which was very precise about its objectives: 100% attendance, 86% pass rate of the nationally set exams, the full participation of parents in planning their children’s education.
It was inspiringly clear and showed how as a supporter of the school and community it is possible for Plan to work with it and agree measurable objectives. Of course, Plan is not the only would-be contributor to this success - the role of local municipal government is vital - and we therefore cannot take all the credit for this excellent performance. But having agreed some targets is so much better than just counting our spend or our inputs.
The school was linking this drive for higher educational standards with ’autoestima’ (self-esteem) and in particular ensuring every pupil had the right level of knowledge of sexual and reproductive health to prevent drop outs and patchy attendance at school.
The relationship between our facilitators and the communities was close and effective. We had helped local farmers establish a co-operative to sell their organically grown vegetables as far as Europe.
It seemed to me that we had created a holistic and interlocking progamme in this PU, around families and their children - from early childhood care and development to potential employment and money earning activities as they grow up.
As I hope you can tell, it was a fascinating couple of days in Nicaragua. My thanks to Horacio Torres, the country director, and his team for their hospitality and organisation of the visit and for their continuing work in what is one of the most challenging countries in the region.
Find out more about Plan’s work in Nicaragua