This is inspired by Gabriel's post about whether he should return to Nicaragua and do something useful. I say inspired because these are not new thoughts--writing them here is what he inspired.
One of the reasons Nicaragua is the "land of opportunity" is that living is cheap and labor is cheap and available. But, the longer I live here the more I realize that it is only the land of opportunity for a certain type of person. And, more often than not that needed personality characteristic doesn't seem to appear in most Nicaraguans.
There are lots of things we could name this characteristic. Self-motivated. Entrepreneur. ... What I am talking about is both the interest and ability to identify a problem, figure out a solution and take action. This is something I am very good at. The fact that I seldom find a Nicaraguan that is good at this is very frustrating.
I don't want to "give money to Nicaraguans" and I don't want to "employ labor". I want to share my ability to identify and solve problems with Nicaraguans so that they can be "more successful" in the long run without me "helping". I want to now talk about:
- The problem with an example or two
- What I mean by "more successful"
- What to do
Probably 2 or 3 times a week I see something that can be easily solved not get solved. This can be as simple as loose screws in the hinge on a cabinet door. The "solution" is to carefully guide the door closed each use. The fact that there is a screwdriver in the next cabinet which could solve the problem is never considered.
My most recent example was that we wanted to plant a garden. But, the soil where we want to plant it is packed clay. I am about to go buy a pick and Ana points out that we have one on the finca and our finca caretaker could come down and turn the soil. (We have sand to add.) Ok, fine. When he arrives I explain the goal and the area.
I go to work. He is gone by the time I go look. The soil is now on huge clumps with lots of rocks. He did exactly what I had asked specifically ignoring the goal. He is not lazy--but this is a typical example of needing to "manage" a project.
I need to put this in here so that people don't just see it as meaning "more money" or "a new SUV". We, none of us, want money. We want a better life for us, our family, ... The fact that many people in Nicaragua live on less money than a average electric bill in the US suggests Nicaraguans have a good start. Addressing some basic needs--access to clean water, health care and education, for example--and eliminating other hardships such as being subjected to dangerous agricultural chemicals would be a good thing.
I know many people who live in a rural environment. They work hard to sustain their families. They don't want to move to a city for a "better job" and such a move would not help anyway. Improving their quality of life would be a good thing.
One project I know of here is a low-tech example of doing this. It is a "bicycle well pump". The typical well here is a hand-crank pump. The bicycle pump allows you to use leg power to pump water. Mostly build from scrap, it "helps" with little investment.
What to do?
This is the hard part. When I see someone say "I want a job that does something useful" I am not sure if they are saying:
I want to figure out what is needed and do it
or, more likely,
you figure it out and I will work for you.
From what I see, Nicaragua desperately needs more of the former.
I can offer a list of business ideas that will very likely succeed financially and, more important, will either decrease the amount of money that Nicaragua exports or actually import money. I could start one, manage it and make money. But, I couldn't start 2 or 5 or 10 because I don't know where to get people to manage them. To have the necessary vision to analyze and solve the problems of running a business.