About the Project - Nicaragua 2006
Almost invariably the first thing I am asked when I say I'm going to Nicaragua is "is it safe?" This was my fourth trip to Nicaragua. Before 2001 the concern for safety may have been fear of violence from those who remember the Contra War of the 1980's, or simply the anxiety of those suspicious of travel to a third world country. Now it seems all travel is haunted by the specter of 9/11.
My photographs depict the reality that I've experienced in Nicaragua, which is often completely at odds with common expectations. Nicaragua has become a relatively safe country despite its unfortunate status as the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere (after Haiti.) Envisioning such a poverty-stricken land creates its own set of expectations. While I don't ignore the conditions my experiences have led me to see the contrast between expectation and reality.
Carrying the cultural baggage of living in the U.S., it is hard to reconcile the many contradictions that are visible everywhere. People living in makeshift shacks, often protected from the elements by little more than thin plastic sheeting, smile shyly but graciously. Bare dirt yards, fenced with barbed wire and teeming with poultry, fat pigs and scrawny dogs, are carefully swept; the clothing immaculately clean. Public lanes are littered with trash and lined with lush tropical vegetation punctuated with glorious flowers. Children seem to be everywhere, playing with the simplest of things, like the four piled onto the chassis of a broken stroller crashing through the underbrush in the woods, or the young girl meticulously applying lipstick to a toddler with her fingers, then rubbing her fingers on her shirt.
The adults work incessantly. Many disappear before dawn to work in sweatshops in free trade zones, returning after dark. Despite this industriousness, 78 percent of Nicaraguans live on less than two dollars a day.
I went with a group of 19 people from Milwaukee organized by a non-profit called Bridges to Community in order to try to make a difference. In five days we built two earthquake-resistant homes of reinforced concrete. The differences we made transcended the improved material conditions for the families who received new houses. Though not as visible, the changes we came away with were no less profound: a new appreciation for the value of living in community.
For more information about Bridges to Community and the work that is being done visit www.bridgestocommunity.org.