MANAGUA, Nicaragua — “It never ceases to amaze, and shame, me when I see how much those who live in poverty cling to faith in God. It’s enough for them.” The building is little more than concrete floors and walls. The roof is tin and there is no air conditioning. The pews are hard and unforgiving, yet over 200 people have crammed themselves into an area the size of a Taco Bell dining area to experience the power of the Word.
Among them is an American couple on a mission: adoption. Jason and Jenn Rainey left for Nicaragua on April 22 of this year in the hopes of returning with two beautiful children with whom to begin their lives as an American family. It was only supposed to take two months, but due to bureaucracy, they are still there.
This cultural immersion, in the capital city of Managua, has given them a chance to experience a lifestyle closer to the poverty line than either had ever experienced before. Jason Rainey answered a few questions about his life in Central America, where he does his part to lift a small portion of people in Nicaragua out of poverty.
How does poverty affect the daily lives of the people of Managua?
“Children as young as five years old try to sell items or wash windshields in busy intersections to make money. You will encounter children every day who are asking for money or something to eat,” said Rainey. He goes onto say that 30 percent of the capital is without power. Some rural areas have no running water and those that do can’t filter the iron and unusable minerals.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Central America, ahead of Haiti. Fifty-seven percent of those in poverty reside in the bigger cities like the capital. Natural disasters have been a big factor increasing poverty. Remnants of fallen buildings can still be seen from the great earthquake of 1972.
“The house where we are living in the capital city would be considered upper middle class,” Rainey explained, “and we lose power or water at least twice a week for various periods of time. Water pressure varies by the minute. The worst house I have ever seen was an older lady who had draped black plastic over tree limbs for a roof. Cooking took place over a fire. That was it. Another lady’s house was constructed of cardboard.” The high poverty rate attributes to the almost 50 percent illiteracy rate as many parents can not afford school uniforms.
Hurricane Mitch hit this area the hardest in 1998. It left 20 percent of the population homeless, killed thousands and did billions of dollars in property damage. Due to poor international agricultural trade, Nicaragua has yet to fully recover from this grim disaster.
Can you escape Nicaragua poverty and how?
“From my experience it is very hard to get yourself out of poverty,” said Rainey. He has volunteered in an orphanage, which seemed to have the best chance of helping many of the country’s youth. “The children are given three meals a day and attend school each day. When they get a little older, they receive vocational training. Without help from the outside I’d say it’s almost impossible to break the cycle.”
Is there government assistance and is it worth it?
“As far as I know there is little to no government assistance/welfare,” said Rainey. “Healthcare is very cheap and sometimes free here, which helps with medical needs; however, medications are usually not free.” This slim bit of optimism has come about due to the 5 percent increase in the country’s economic growth, but even the Nicaraguan economists have said, “:e will not achieve a great transformation, eradicate extreme poverty and overcome poverty in Nicaragua by growing at 5 percent.”
How do Nicaraguans cope with poverty?
“Some people that live in the remote villages dangerously connect their own wires to the main power lines and steal electricity. Sniffing glue is also popular with many people because it takes away the pains of hunger. The children you see in those intersections usually spend their money on glue mixtures to sniff. People also turn to heavy drinking to forget about their problems… spending their paychecks on booze instead of food.”
Yet with 80 percent of the country being Christian, many Nicaraguans turn to their faith for support. “People come in droves,” said Rainey. They fill every available space of any area when a preacher is willing to give a sermon. “Meanwhile, in America we complain when it rains or when we don’t have a strong enough wi-fi signal in our house. We just don’t get it.”
Rainey ended the interview with a very poignant observation of his current city. “The idea that people should help other people is a very American idea. People just don’t think about it here. Many times it seems like it’s every man for himself. Step on who you need to step on to make progress in your life.”
If you would like to help Jason and Jenn Rainey as they continue on their quest you can find out more about them, their children, and their needs here.
– Frederick Wood
Sources: Online Interview with Jason Rainey, Tico Times, Rural Poverty.org, BBC, World Bank