Do handouts really help anyone in Nicaragua?


A Nicaraguan lady sat on the stairs of the Hotel Plaza Colon, a popular hotel in Granada. A group of Lindenwood students and I stayed there during a study abroad trip, and this trip enlightened my views about American society.

The lady had stained clothes and dirt splotches on her body. The expression on her face drew pity from me and my friends. We immediately reached into our pockets to give her our money. I still remember like yesterday the expression on her face: Her eyes stared into space, and they never moved even after we had emptied our pockets.

In my mind I thought, “¿Porque ella no nos dijó gracias?” Why didn’t she tell us thank you?

At the time, I did not express my feelings because I was proud of myself for helping someone in need. Throughout the trip I witnessed homelessness like I had never seen before. Homelessness did not simply mean being without a home; it was a lifestyle for some Nicaraguans. Poverty, lack of shelter, and begging for food and money were typical for some of the locals. It was their way to survive.

One night a group of friends and I went to a restaurant where a group of Nicaraguan children were performing and selling goods to the tourists. I enjoyed the performances but I did not want to continue giving away my money. Instead, I decided to share some of my food with one of the children. I asked the waiter for an additional plate, and placed some of my tacos and French fries on the plate. One of the younger boys kept staring at me while I was eating. I told him to come over to my table. The little boy quickly came to the table, but as I placed the plate in front of him all of the children gathered around us and began reaching for his food. A fight broke out between the little boy and another boy. My heart was pounding because I had never seen children fight over food in this way. There were cries, yells, and screams, and punches that filled the surrounding area. I got up to sit at another table with my friends. My friends accused me of starting the fight because I had given the little boy food.

The little boy decided to come to the table where I was sitting, after he had finished fighting.  I asked him “¿Porque tú estabas peleando con los niños? Why were you fighting with the kids?

Ellos llevaron mi comida entonces yo peleé con ellos porque yo no tengo comida. Por favor dame más comida. They took my food so I had to fight them because I don’t have food to eat. Please give me more food.

Those words from the little boy assured me that homelessness was not just a temporary lifestyle.  It is how some lived their lives every day, and it is normal for them.

When I got back to the hotel, the same lady was sitting on the hotel stairs again, this time with two children. Again she had her hand out reaching for money. I looked at the lady and the children, and this time her eyes seemed to look directly into my mind. Though I felt sorry for her, I walked past her and went into the hotel to go to bed.

When I got back to the United States, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people in Nicaragua, and how poverty has shaped their mindset. Now when I look at American society I start to think that we are also headed in this direction. Although American and Nicaraguan society have their differences, their citizens are beginning to share the same mindset. Like the Nicaraguans, some Americans are losing the initiative to do to things on their own. They rely too much on aid from the government.

Some Americans do not have the passion to live the American dream anymore because they believe that it does not exist. They cannot imagine a lifestyle outside their own. Similarly, some Nicaraguans do not think that there is another lifestyle besides homelessness.

The trip taught me that even though people live in different countries and have different cultural values, we feel the same emotions and face the same dangers. We all need some guidance as we discover our paths in life, but we also face the temptation to become dependent: to accept the aid of others with never a word of thanks, but only asking for more rather than working to provide for ourselves and for those who have even less than we do.


Andrea Scott is a recent graduate from Lindenwood University, with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Spanish. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and works for the St. Louis Language Immersion School District. Her dream is to leave a legacy through her writing.


  • Kendale

    Perfectly put.

    • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

      Unpefectly put

  • Luciana Rojas

    Andrea, I would like to suggest you visit other cities and towns in Nicaragua, so you can learn more about our country and our people. Granada is not Nicaragua. Granada is a touristy city with a lot of problems related to the same tourist context. Nicaragua is a impoverished country that has been through war an other political problems. Nicaraguans are a very hardworking and even with all the problems, people have dreams and fight every day to have a better life. One visit from your fancy hotel is not enough to judge our people and our problems.

    • Patrick

      perfectly put, Luciana

    • Warren

      I don’t think Andrea ever said Nicaraguans are lazy or they’re not hardworking. I’m half Nicaraguan, and I lived in Nicaragua for over 10 years, and Nicaraguans are hard working people, generally speaking. However, there is some truth in her article, thousands of Nicaraguans live in dire conditions and you’ll see it, no matter where you travel, be it, Leon, Managua, Matagalpa, Bluefields, etc. I personally think the reason for this is because there is a lack of opportunity for social and economic mobility, not because people just don’t want to put in the work to succeed (although this may be the case for a few). I’m going to sound a bit condescending but for people who are Nicaraguan or are residents of Nicaragua, it’s much more productive to work in providing opportunities for underprivileged people, than responding vehemently defensively to the claim that many Nicaraguans are poor and giving them handouts doesn’t help.

      • Debbie Goehring

        Warren, I think that most of the people who have responded critically to this article ARE providing work opportunities, programs, and assistance in Nicaragua. I know that I am! Maybe the problem is a lack of a central website for Nicaraguan volunteer and project opportunities. Tim, would it be possible to create a page in the Nicaraguan Dispatch where organizations and programs can list their volunteer opportunities? If we can create a list of volunteer projects, possibly tourists and residents wouldn’t feel so helpless when they encounter people begging. They could have a sense of purpose and direction, a list of contacts, and a sense of belonging to a community who cares, takes action, and through cooperative efforts, tackles the magnitude of poverty related problems.

        • Warren

          That’s great to hear!

          I haven’t been back to Nicaragua in almost two years now. But I’ll be flying back to Managua this December, and staying for about a week! If there are opportunities to lend a hand, even if it’s for a day or two I’d love to hear about them.

  • Kaseem

    Great article….goes to show how small our world is in reference to the human mindset.

  • Elena Rivera

    I’m sure of one thing with this article: You’re leaving a legacy with your writing by reinforcing stereotypes of American students who go to Nicaragua or Central America for 10 days and without much information start thinking that you’re experts on poverty and the country’s problems. Please read more about Nicaragua’s history.

    • Rebecca Ore

      The humano-tourists always manage to visit Granada and often also San Juan del Sur and Omatepe Island and do about three days of work, or two, often scab construction work.

      One thing — for people who both don’t have families and who have mental illnesses, the street is often where they end up, but this is often where they end up in the US, too, and under more unpleasant conditions. My neighborhood is middle class to lower middle class and nobody tries to run off either of the two crazy homeless women here. People help them.

      Most of the time, outside Managua, which does have some brutal poverty, and perhaps the cities with high tourist density, the kids asking for money are playing with you, and if you shout at them for asking (some do), then it’s even more fun. I’ve watched some not bother to ask me for money because I just smile and wag my finger, ask someone who started shouting — the kids had experiences with both of us in the past and knew who would turn a lovely shade of reddish pink.

      One thing is that many Americans seem to be both slightly slow (poor Spanish is seen the same way that poor English tends to be seen in the US though people are more polite about it) and full of money.

      I don’t think anyone can understand Nicaragua from a short-term mission, which will either be fairly useless or focus, perhaps necessarily, on the worst off Nicaraguans rather than the majority of urban people who are just living their lives as dentists, construction workers, electrical power grid technicians, Claro clerks, waitresses and shopkeepers. I haven’t lived in the campo so don’t really have observations about the realities there, but suspect that they’re as complex in their own ways as the urban realities.

  • Mary

    I agree, I saw women in cusmapa building a road with their bare hands, plastic buckets, and wearing flip flops. Very hard work.

  • Debbie Goehring

    Andrea, comparing the poverty mindset of Nicaraguans and United States citizens is like comparing papayas to peas. What really floored me was your statement, “Like the Nicaraguans, some Americans are losing the initiative to do to things on their own. They rely too much on aid from the government.” Exactly what were you studying abroad? Obviously, it wasn’t the history of the struggles of the Nicaraguan people. I’ve heard so many people like you make assumptions about poverty, and the people who in live it. You may be very well meaning, but misled if you believe that poverty is of one’s own making. Blaming the poor because you assume that they are too lazy, or lack initiative, or are tempted to become dependent just perpetuates the stereotypical fallacies of poverty throughout the world. if you truly believe that all it takes is good, old-fashioned work to rise above poverty, then why are most of the hard working Nicaraguans I know, who exist on 2-3 dollars a day, still poor? The Nicaraguans I know and respect don’t even know that a life exists without hard work. Sorry to be so blunt, but I suggest that you stop watching Fox news and try a little empathy and compassion. You sound like a spoiled, naive child..just work a little harder instead of asking for more, more, more. still have a lot to learn.

    • Patrick


    • Darcee


    • Giovanna

      I was about to write something along those lines, but you’ve nailed it, Debbie. That was a surely well-intended, but very disappointing article. Although there’s some truth to the point intended (handouts don’t help anybody in the long run), it was a very simplistic way to put it.

    • Paulette Sokolow

      I am total agreement with Deborah Goehring. I think that Andrea needs more maturity, education and insight into the history of Nicaragua. She also needs more insight into the human condition and psychology of the oppressed and the oppressor. It is a pity to judge these situations and conditions as she has done. Then again, it is exactly “pity” that is the culprit here. Never should we pity. It is destructive. How about empathy, compassion, understanding and support? The situation and its alleviation is much greater than what the shallow thinking of a young American person can perceive. Listen to these wonderful Nicaraguan people. Work with them. Learn with them. They have much to teach the so called “first world”, especially Americans. I am actually surprised that the Nicaragua Dispatch published this.

    • Rebecca Ore

      Yeah, Debbie.

    • ed

      This young naive girl is what the wealthy GOP love.She is not a GOP trust fund child and doesn’t even know it.I am betting she voted for Romney.So many like that,but fewer in the last election.Maybe the young ones are getting wise.If you are not filthy rich don’t vote for billionaires.

  • D burns

    The majority of the street kids in Granada have homes and while a simple rice and bean diet food on the table. If you’d walked over a block from the main tourist strip you would have found an arcade where those street kids hang out.

    The poverty in Nicaragua has never left me feeling sad or sorry for them, in fact if anything it makes me feel more frustrated with north American poverty where it’s the norm to own a big screen t.v and satellite while feeding the kids McDonald’s (how do you like them stereotypes).

    I’ve been told and my experiences have lead me to believe that there is truth in this; that Nica’s feel sorry for us expats almost like we’re orphans because their riches are their families.

    I don’t care what your political values are, and I do understand you FEEL like you on your few days you were there had this great insight.

    But your a kid viewing a culture through a first world priledged eye, and frankly I don’t believe anyone who I’ve ever met whose actually spent time in Nicaragua would ever write anything close to what you said.

    As a writting critique saying what you said in Spanish makes me want to pat you on the head “good girl for paying attention in Spanish class”

    I know this is harsh, but hopefully you’ll learn something from it. Why don’t you come back to Granada, and stay in a home stay instead of a posh hotel?

  • marce

    Andrea me gustó tu articulo y escribo en español porque he leído que tienes un Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Spanish. voy a referirme a esta parte “The lady had stained clothes and dirt splotches on her body. The expression on her face drew pity from me and my friends. We immediately reached into our pockets to give her our money. I still remember like yesterday the expression on her face: Her eyes stared into space, and they never moved even after we had emptied our pockets. In my mind I thought, “¿Porque ella no nos dijó gracias?” Why didn’t she tell us thank you? “- La mujer que viste es una señora con un problema mental por lo cual es normal ver su mirada ausente, nadie sabe quiénes son sus familiares y nadie la ha llevado a un centro psiquiátrico para ayudarla, en una ciudad como granada turística el aumento de la mendicidad es mayor a la de otras ciudades del país debido a que turistas como ustedes dan dinero de buen corazón y piedad pero que no ayudan en nada a los niños porque si le das comida a un niño una vez en lugar de enseñarle que debe ir a la escuela porque es la única alternativa para salir de la pobreza entonces ese niño seguirá en las calles hasta que muera, la vida no es fácil pero debemos hacer turismo con responsabilidad, si me permites decir que en granada hay organizaciones que ayudan a los niños a salir de las calles y trabajan con ellos de manera permanente y no sólo los observan en un viaje de 10 días. Apreciaríamos si tienes ideas para aportar.

  • Joe Diaz

    This was a great humor/satire article. I really laughed. The fictional voice of the naive, self-important American making vast socio-political generalizations on the basis of poor people outside her fancy hotel was perfect.

    I am looking forward to Ms. Scott’s future works of satire. And I applaud the Nicaragua Dispatch for finally publishing some good ol’ fashioned humor pieces.

  • Lara

    Dear Andrea,
    I live and work in Granada and I couldn’t read this article without telling you and the other readers the real story about the woman in the photograph of which you speak. The reason that she didn’t thank you wasn’t because she didnt appreciate your help. It is because she is mentally handicapped and has no sense of what money is or what to do with it. When given food she will give you a smile like a child receiving a toy. The look in her eye that you describe is not one of somebody mooching of of handouts as you describe. It is the look of a woman who has no access to the type of help afforded to many mentally handicapped individuals in the states. If you want to make a difference with your writing, get your facts straight. Talk to the people of Granada, not the extranjeros, but those who live there and find out what the real issues are. I hope that one day you will be able to come back to Nicaragua and experience it outside of a class trip. If you need a guide, let me know.

    • Lara

      I would also like to add that those who help her are members of the community in Granada. They give her clothes and food and do everything that they can within their limited means to make sure she is safe. The reason that she stays on those stairs is because she feels comfortable there. It is NICARAGUANS that keep her from starving to death, not the cordobas coming from the pockets of tourists.

  • Ronald

    Damn, this article is NOT the best one I have read. You make the stupid assumption that people choose to be poor, that they do because they are lazy. Well… in reality… people don’t choose. And this is not only true for Nicaragua, but also for all the countries around the world, including the United States. You are lucky that you got education etc, but you know, it doesn’t make you different. If you were born and raised in the same conditions as these poor people, you would probably be begging in the streets as well.

    “Like the Nicaraguans, some Americans are losing the initiative to do to things on their own. They rely too much on aid from the government.” is the most crazy part. You are trying to make a point by comparing poverty in Nicaragua and probably Obama’s health care plan. You probably vote for the republican party and get your news from Fox News. But let me give you an example: take the Nordic countries ( Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark), they have big governments, strong health care policies and yet, they are the most developed counties in the World (far more than the US ever was). Please, go and learn about the world outside of America before you write another article.

    I apologize for the few mistakes I may have written.

  • Darrell Bushnell

    A judgement of Nicaragua from the steps of the Hotel Plaza Colon and a meal on Calle Calzada? Poverty is chosen because it is easier to depend on others? I’m not sure if I am more offended by your simplistic views of the people of Nicaragua or the statement that the people in the states are becoming dependent on handouts. Sounds like you have been listening to too many conservative talk shows.

    The vast majority of Nicaraguans that we know are doing what most people do, working hard to provide a better life for their children. If poverty could be eradicated simply by working hard, there would be little poverty in the world and certainly very little in Nicaragua.

    Since you do not understand wealth and poverty in the states, you will probably never understand it in Nicaragua. You are a lucky young woman to not have to live in poverty but luck was the major factor and not just your efforts. Do some more research.

  • patrick

    Good for you, Andrea! As a Journalism major you can be proud you got people thinking!

    • Debbie Goehring

      Patrick, your definition of good journalism must be different than mine. Good journalism is credibility and integrity. Good journalists get fires stirred up in their bellies to set something right, to respond to injustices, to offer solutions to universal problems. Good journalists do research and are independent thinkers. Andrea didn’t get me thinking, only angry at a simplistic, naive view of poverty.

  • helen devries

    It’s not the Nicaragua I know…even in a tourist spot like Granada where so many tourist businesses are owned by Americans.
    I know a lady who sells ceramics to keep her children at school…she is a wonderful guide to the area but the tourists will not trust a poor woman. They spend their money in the tourist traps instead.
    If you want to help people, learn about their lives and buy what they produce.
    Nicaraguans are hard workers, they want a better future for their children…they don’t need condesencion.

  • Charlotte Wales

    This misguided and obviously-pampered young woman has a LOT to learn – her “observations” show she has no real idea of how hard people in Nicaragua work just to survive and provide for their loved ones on a daily basis, with little opportunity to advance. One has to wonder how she got so imperious and ignorant at such a young age – – perhaps too much FAUX NEWS viewing???

  • mnelson

    I’m just so disgusted with this moronic Noreteamericana’s train of thought or lack thereof. She writes like a confused fascist … first she acknowledges that the little boys had actual hunger, then she goes on to become a naive sociological commentator comparing the endemic poverty in NIcaragua with those 47% of Americans who depend on government (excluding Boeing, Lockheed, Blackwater and all the defense contractors in the USA who depend on government). Does she know that many of the hard working Nicaraguans employed in maquiadoras earn about $3.00 a day and are fired when their hands and back wear out … at about age 25?

  • Ken

    I agree with most of the critical comments though want to make one more of my own: Please don’t use the word “homeless” for Nicaragua’s poor. This is at best a specific malady in the US arising from housing policies there and most poor Nicas have homes, however humble and crowded they may be. At worst its a euphemism for poverty that arose about a generation ago in the US and recalls the privatized values there.

    This said, may I ask my fellow critics to lighten up? It’s a good thing that Ms. Scott is concerned about Nicaragua’s poor, and everybody has to begin their understanding somewhere. I’ll take a piece like this any day over the more callous and sometimes exploitative attitudes of many other visitors and expats.

    Also, while awkwardly and perhaps even offensively, Ms. Scott does highlight an important issue: The attitude of entitlement among some of Nicaragua’s poor. Simply because a person comes from a wealthier country doesn’t mean that he or she is obligated to give handouts to the poor, and as everyone knows none of us could afford to help all of them anyway. Moreover, at some point this attitude and the dependency it fosters can become a cause for continued poverty. The beggar or hustler mindset is not good for the Nicas, and it’s not good for the Yanquis either.

    So Ms. Scott is onto something, just something more complicated and nuanced than she realizes. I say give her time and encouragement.

    • Debbie Goehring

      Great points, Ken. I do agree that Andrea is on to something, here. Yet, on the other hand, a journalist has to have thick skin and toughness to survive in the media today. She did peek at a partial truth, the issue of entitlements. However, she chose a poor subject for her example. Those people who know this woman are upset that Andrea just assumed this woman was capable of a polite ‘thank you.” Honest and responsible journalism revolves around accountability and fairness. It’s not something you just write about one day and walk away from the next. Maybe Andrea will write a follow-up to this discussion. Her current article trivializes poverty. Maybe the next one will expand on these issues and problems we face daily in Nicaragua and offer some creative suggestions for improving those conditions. A good journalist would respond. Let’s see how much she has learned from these critical responses.

  • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

    Andrea! You are self righteous, May God have mercy on you child

  • Pingback: Peeking at Poverty | Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua()

  • Carol Scism Lynch

    Andrea, the happiest home I have EVER had the pleasure to visit would be, by your apparent standards, horribly impoverished. Dirt floors, sparsely furnished with ancient odds and ends, no kitchen, per se, outdoor toilets, chickens in the house … you name it. Poverty, in my world, doesn’t relate solely to lack of riches, but encompasses even the human spirit. This beautiful family, living on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, have more wealth in human kindness and spirit, happiness and peace of mind than any un-impoverished family I’ve known. In this country (I live in Granada), the people with opportunity (and there is not a great number of opportunities here) who are fortunate enough to have jobs work their asses off! Swimming pools for rich gringos are dug by hand, rural roads are paved by hand, brick by brick! The gutters are swept and cleaned by hand, with broom and push cart, for a mere pittance. Did you not get out enough to see all the street vendors setting up and hoping for sales 7 days/week? Or did you see the ladies with the enormous baskets on their heads, filled to overflowing with fruits and vegetables? It takes at least 3 people to get that basket on her head when she starts out in the morning, and she walks the streets selling her goods all day. Shame on you for misjudging a people you don’t begin to know, and shame on you for missing the love, happiness and peace to be found throughout this beautiful country!!

    • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

      Well said Carol, well said :-) And to All those people who agree with Andrea, SHAME ON YOU, Satan himself will claim your souls

    • Ken Granacki

      Well Said, I see the wonderful spirit in these people. They are happy and hard working and have nothing. It has really make me rethink what is important in life. I love Nica!!

    • Kave

      Well said again Carol. We’re choosing Granada, Nicaragua as our home and I have never felt a moment pity or above those that we will be living as neighbors with.

      I know she’s young, and I do hope she decides after these comments to come back and do a home stay of some sort.

  • Mela Pellas

    Just goes to show you, there are 47 percenters throughout the world.

  • Ken Granacki

    I am also going to have to disagree with the article. I am building a retirement home in Granada and I feel that these people are dirt poor but some of the hardest working humans I have ever encountered. They fix cars with very little tools, they build homes in sandals, they bust their butts for about $3 per day. The street children on the Calzada are not a true representitive of the country as a whole. They are there to get Junk food. They do not have to be hungry. There are fabulous organizations there to help them get food and off the streets. Like a previous poster said the beans and rice they can get isnt as fun as the food on the streets. They find the streets exciting and the same kids are out there day after day, month after month because they like it. You give them money they go to Eskimo buy a ice cream then come back begging again. There are many needs for these people. Granada has a great ex-pat community that is working to help the people. They are feeding, educating, housing, offering library services, helping the police. These people are the ones that are making a difference in the country. I hope someday to be able to live there and join these wonderful folks in helping the Nicaraguans make their country great.

    • Raffles

      Well said Ken. My wife and I have already renovate a home in Granada and as soon as I retire hope to spend a lot of time there.

      The warmth of the majority of Nicaraguan’s in Granada sold me on this location over many other possibilities. Yes expat’s helped make the choice too because they on the whole reflect the same values and work to make Granada better for everyone.

      No easy answers or solutions but then that’s life isn’t it?

  • Aurora

    Hello, I read your article and think that your point of view about poverty in my country is wrong in many ways. I am agronomist I have been working in the more poor areas of Nicaragua. I can tell you that the poor people like to work and feel proud of their work and THEY ARE very honest. Some people may like to live in this way as you mention. However, they never have the opportunity to have an education and A JOB THAT IDENTIFY THEM. I would like appreciate that you can spend more time in Nicaragua to have a complete idea about my country. One single trip does not make you an expert about Nicaraguan society. PLEASE DO NOT SAY POOR PEOPLE LIKE TO LIVE IN THIS CIRCUMSTANCE FOREVER IF THEY HAVE A CHANGE THEY MAY CHANGE THEY SITUATION.

    I am sorry for my grammar mistake I may have.

  • Panacea82

    Andrea, You lack the most important part of being a journalist, critical thinking.

  • Joe G. Jones

    I think I like Darrell’s comment! I might even go further and include what a Nicaraguan attorney told me about the poverty and the stance of education in Nicaragua. He said that if the government gives a poor farmer a couple of chickens, he’s a grateful to tears. If he gets a cow, the government is a god! The lack of affordable education is a real problem here, not like the U.S. and to try to compare anything in the U.S. with what is happening here, is just plain silly. Even the public education in Nicaragua is expensive with some parents working two jobs just to keep a child in school. Private schools are better, but even more expensive. I will tell you about a young boy that we met here last year. He was begging for money in the Parque Central. I asked him why he wasn’t in school? He didn’t have much of an answer. When we returned last spring, we saw him again and he was still begging, but then I saw him also shining shoes in the parque. Later I saw him begging one hour and shining shoes the next. I can’t say that the poor people of Nicaragua are lazy or waiting for a handout. I think I would like to describe them as “scrambling.” For the most part, they will do anything you ask to earn a little money. The lucky ones that are bi-lingual for the most part, can find a job related to the tourist trade, but even that pay is low. Some of them easily work ten to twelve hours a day, scrambling.
    You can not possibly form any kind of valid opinion by staying in one of the best hotels in Granada and walking across the parque and down Calle Calzada, let alone compare it to anything in the States. I would suggest you come down and take your time to get to know the real people of Nicaragua. I love it here . . .I am terribly fond of the Nicaraguan people and will miss their warmth if I leave.

  • Michelle Ortega

    Luciana, Elena, Debbie … I couldn’t agree with you more!
    and LOL @ Joe Diaz …. you crack me up. :)

    Wow, where to begin? You know people – we really shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by this article. It’s just the same old attitude and belief system that most tourists and visitors that come here have.
    I do think that the author has a good heart … it’s just sorely “misguided” at the moment.
    And please people … really? So the insult is going to be that she’s a republican? That just shows the immaturity of the critics.

    I remember when the Calzada was for Nicas. My husband and I spent hours walking up and down the street every night before I was due with our baby. We knew all our neighbors, would stop to chat with them …. supported the small stores that people had and more.
    Now – it’s set up for tourists and foreigners. There’s no more community there. We can’t walk romantically nor peacefully up and down the street just enjoying the fresh air from the beach.
    Now it’s full of foreigners who have no clue what Nicaragua is or who Nicaraguans are or are not.
    The menus tell you not to give money or food to the kids – but do they heed the warning? Of course not! I mean – what do we know right?
    These kids have homes aside from a few of them and even some of the ones that sniff glue still have homes! The main ones begging though – they all have homes and food and clothes. They CHOOSE not to go to school and study. Why? Because it’s easier and more fun to beg off the “stupid tourists”. (their words – not mine)
    There are several programs throughout Granada to help these kids (both street and poor) with food and necessities.
    There’s 2 types of tourists basically here. 1. Those that won’t even look in the eyes of the people offering services, selling items or asking for money. I mean for Pete’s sake people – they are SELLING something not begging … have enough courtesy to say “no gracias” at least!! 2. The “rescuers” … the ones that don’t care what the recommendations are and give money and food to the kids – essentially making them more poor in the end b/c these are the kids that are not going to study or go to school or anything b/c life on the streets is more fun b/c the tourists give them whatever they want!
    My point is – tourists and foreigners are NOT helping our kids out by giving them food …. Nicaraguans DO need help but there are organizations and healthy ways to help our country. But saying that they are lazy or have no initiative to work … what a slap in the face to all my dear friends and family and all other nicas that work their butts off to provide a living for their families!
    I’m so glad too that someone pointed out that the woman in the photograph has some “special needs”. It’s very obvious that she has some special challenges in her life – and getting upset because she didn’t have the ability to say “Thank You” ….. I just don’t have words at the moment.

    Andrea, Here’s a reality … Look at where you stayed! Did you stay in REAL Nicaragua or REAL Granada? No … you stayed at one of the most expensive hotels in Granada for your “study”. Maybe you should have chosen something more economical and with the money you saved, donated it to one of our many wonderful organizations here that DO help our less fortunate!
    If you want to come visit real Nicaragua and learn what real Nicaragua is like – let me know and I will set you up.

    • Erik Jota

      I forgot to reply directly. My reply is beneath this one.

    • Kave

      You said what I wanted to say, thank you!

  • Erik Jota

    “It’s just the same old attitude and belief system that most tourists and visitors that come here have.”

    “There’s 2 types of tourists basically here. 1. Those that won’t even look in the eyes of the people offering services, selling items or asking for money. I mean for Pete’s sake people – they are SELLING something not begging … have enough courtesy to say “no gracias” at least!! 2. The “rescuers” … the ones that don’t care what the recommendations are and give money and food to the kids – essentially making them more poor in the end b/c these are the kids that are not going to study or go to school or anything b/c life on the streets is more fun b/c the tourists give them whatever they want!”

    Those ignorant tourists. Horrible, horrible people. I agree, we should label them in two groups. Group 1: stupid tourists. Group 2: just as stupid tourists.

    “We can’t walk romantically nor peacefully up and down the street just enjoying the fresh air from the beach.”

    I know. It’s because of these smelly tourists.

  • Xiomara

    Even with all its hastiness, this article contains one single valid and important point–handouts don’t really help anyone in Nicaragua or anywhere in the world. I think we are all at fault when we reach into our pockets to find a few coins and calm our own feelings of pity. If we feel SO BAD for the needy then let’s TRULY help.

  • Kave

    This is just called taking advantage of opportunity which is a capitalist ideal.

    “Also, while awkwardly and perhaps even offensively, Ms. Scott does highlight an important issue: The attitude of entitlement among some of Nicaragua’s poor. ”

    How about the person who owns the video arcade which is geared completely to the “street kids”? I see this not as entitlement but frankly capitalism. Stupid gringos give money , I’m going to capitalize on that, screw the rice and beans at home.

  • David Cardin

    Donate to a worthy cause, giving in the streets is like giving a wino a buck, he’ll be right back ASAP when the need arises again, repeat performance, ongoing infinitum. You need to change the circumstances on the ‘why”, and a reliable organization specializing in handling the poor is much more equiped to handle the crisis the tourist see’s in “their” eyes. When done right, the old adage of (my words) “give food/fish for a day, you’ll need to supply it again tomorrow, teach them how to fish/education and they can do it themselves” . They key is the right government or organization that is geared to the “teaching” part. That is the real “key” making sure that the donations actually get to the receipients instead of the 1% getting the loot and trickling down the scaps to the intended.

  • Kave

    I’m just going to say that the author being from St Loius should spend a week in a home stay in East St Loius and then a week in a home stay in Granada and decide where she is most comfortable in.

    I’m also going to say that that author should apologize. Being that she sent this into an English speaking Nicaraguan ezine she should have realized that the vast majority of readers not only choose to live in Nica they live outside of a tourist strip, and love where they live.

    Does your neighborhood in St Loius have constant beggars or do you get that in the core where tourists gather? I’ve been to St Loius, I was told to not go with my daughters to the local mall a block away. Srongly…

    We went anyways, walked in and walked out quickly.

    In our hotel Bush junior was doing a tour. Husband and I had a interesting time that night with his SS guys.

    So I’m sure my experience with St Lousie is much different then yours.

    If you are truly interested in Nicaragua why don’t you sit back and read and listen and learn instead of what you’ve done.

    Author I am new to Nica and you offended me a great deal, but I’m always open to people changing. I know that your young and have your ideas and crap but you overstepped in many ways with your nativity.

  • Federico

    I understand this is your first experience outside of the United States. I am also aware that you probably experienced a cultural shock while studying abroad in Nicaragua.

    I know you believe you have found a deep truth to life, and in many ways you have. Seeing poverty has more than likely put things in perspective in your life: family, love, friends. It has made you more appreciative and grateful for the opportunities you have access to (jobs, education, technology, etc).

    However, please do not cast judgements on el pueblo Nicaraguense. First, I am Nicaraguan, but have lived longer in the states. One thing I find a stark contrast is hospitality. Poor Nicaraguans will invite you into their home and try and offer you everything they have – funny in countries where people have nothing they are more willing to share.
    Second, please try and understand the historical and political context of Nicaragua that have created the conditions that we see today. For example, the Spanish’s treatment of the indigenous planted the seeds of distrust and discimmination we see against “indio” vs “chele”, rich and poor, high class vs low class, european descent vs indigenous.

    Also, did you know in 1972 there was a huge earthquake that destroyed Managua?
    Did you know in the late 1970s there was a revolution that ousted a dictatorship?
    Did you know many Nicaraguans were left in the 1970s and later exiled in the 1980s due to a conter revolution? And said soilders were illegally funded by the US?
    Did you know in the 80s Raegan declared an embargo on Nicaragua?

    Natural disaster, war, polical instability, and an embargo from the US crippled the country economically.

    My last point it, many Nicaraguans do work hard. Have you ever seen the guys in the sugar cane fields? I would not last a day. The fisherman that leave San Juan del Sur at 6 AM and come back at 6 PM?

    My grandpa is an 89 year old physician who still goes to work everyday in Granada. Why? Because he works hard, loves medicine.

    This reminds me of when my sister and I each took a friend to Nicaragua 3 years ago. They saw Laguna apollo, Volcan Masaya, Volcan Mombacha, Cocibolca. We had a great time. However, one night drinking with my cousnis (most have gone to US universities and speak english), my sisters friend foolishly said “they should print more money” and later she said “they need to build more schoools to educate them”. I was so offended by the comments.

    It’s just not that simple.

  • Chris

    This article sure is blowing up…

    And geez you guys, you sound a little too over-protective of the situation here. There is validity to both sides of the argument…it’s not like every poor person is stuck in poverty forever. Not like there aren’t any ways out.

    I’ll agree that a lot of Nicaraguans really are hard-working, but that’s not all it takes to rise out of poverty, in theory that is… It’s a lack of morals that’s really holding these people back. What was going through that lady’s mind when she sat on the steps of a popular tourist spot, staring into empty space and guilt-tripping people into giving her money? What about all those kids, who instead of going to school or at least working a decent job, are roaming the streets unsupervised? Yesterday I was in Jinotepe for the first time, and two things struck me the most: the sheer amount of trash, and the sheer amount of graffiti!

    It’s amazing…all of it is…and the obvious culprit behind this kind of social-economic situation is the break-up of the family, and kids born out of wed-lock. If the parents aren’t there, together, to provide for the children then it’s all downhill from there…

    • Cookie Cardin

      Chris – Children born out of wedlock? Are you kidding me? There are plenty of children in our community from ‘single parent homes’ and they are good kids. The entire community looks out for the children – and, just like the 1950s U.S., the community reports back to the parent(s) if the kid gets out of line. Yes, it’s a much smaller community than Granada, but the premise is sound – neighbors helping neighbors, and that includes the kids.

    • Rebecca Ore

      The woman is known to Granada residents as someone who is mentally challenged, as someone has already posted.

      As for the kids, if people give them money, not going to school has a bigger pay off than going to school, regardless of whether they buy more time on video games or give the money to their families (one kid I knew in NYC gave her Halloween money to her father since many of her peers didn’t have a father living at home).

  • Adolfo

    I agree that much of the poverty stems from social situations that disrupt family structure. That when the mother prostitutes her 14 year old daughter, or her son roams the streets because she is prostituting. Or father abandons children. However, I disagree with you on the “there are ways out of poverty”. That is the thing, many of these people have no opportunities. They are socially and economically stationery.

    First, you have to understand the social context of Nicaragua. There is still a strong divide between indigenous/indio or dark, and people who are white ( “chele” ) with more European descent. You see it all around you in Nicaragua. You see a white guy in the back of the car? The chofer(driver) is dark. Go into the homes of Nicaragua’s conservative in Granada, there maids are all dark. You hear it in the language “No seas indio”, which means “Don’t be Indian”. This type of discrimmination is encoded in Nicaraguan society DNA. People do not even question it, and it is a cultural norm.

    Hmmm. Let’s see if I can elaborate on this. Having lighter skin is considered a very attractive phsyical characteristic in Nicaragua. Why? Because of the social context. Light skin means you come from a family with money, that your descendants were from spain. Light skin means you are educated. Light skin means you have a job, that you are not some “indian off the street”. And it goes both ways. You may be lightskinned you may not have a lot of money. Your family maybe broke and bankrupt. But the darker mestizo Nica population will assume you are rich and wealthy just because your skin. It may sound antecuated to Americans and old-fashioned, but perhaps it helps you understand how deeply rooted it is in Nicarguan culture.

    So, like in any country where one group controls wealth and other resources, it keeps the other group “poor” even if they do not do it intentionally. Wealth stays within one group and does not trickle down. It creates a culture of privelige and discrimmination, and mistrust from rich to poor and poor to rich.

    The second factor of poverty is also very much social and deeply ingrained in Nicaraguan society and culture. Not many people that among the those living in poverty, women make up the largest group. Among those unemployed, theres more women than men. A lot of this has to do with the culture of machismo. Nica is a male patriarch society (in fact, domestic violence, sexual assault are “secret” problems in Nica). M Men are more capable than women. Men are better workers than women. Men take pride in suppporting the family. The wifes role is to care for kids. This is very sad, many women do not know where to begin looking for work. They work in sweatshops, sell home made jewelry at markets, they get into prostitution.

    Third, and this is also related to the above two, is the deep social stratification among Nicaragua. Yes, there is a strong divide between rich and pooor, dark skin and light skin. This creates a high class and low class. Nicaragua has a relatively small middle class. Middle class provides an important stepping stone out of poverty. For example, look at Brazil, many people who were below the poverty line in the last 20 years or so are now entering the middle class, and that is what is fueling rapid economic growth. That stark contrast between rich and poor makes vertical movement almost impossible. You just don’t go from “poor” to “rich”

  • Adolfo

    Woops, I did not finish my comment… posted to early…

    Your statement “…’s not like every poor person is stuck in poverty forever. Not like there aren’t any ways out” gives me an insight on your lack of knowledge regarding Nicaraguan history, sociology, and politics.

    There are many other factors contributing to poverty in Nicaragua. I could talk about the historical precedent the Spanish set by strongly discrimminating and establishing practices that created the preliminary conditions for the inequality we see today.
    I could talk about the political instability of Nicaragua – the revolution, the counter revolution – and how it is impacted the economy.

    IF there were ways out of poverty, Nicaraguans would pursue it. As hard as it is for you to understand, many people in Nica have no opportunities for economic and social mobility.

    Nica’s have gone to great extremes to escape poverty – gorilla warfare, a revolution, sniffing glue and use of other drugs, shinning shoes, selling jewelry at a market, prostitution, working in sugar cane fields, maids, choffers, farmers – if there was a way out of poverty, Nica would have found it.

    • Chris

      Thanks for the long reply! Informative and entertaining indeed…

  • Erik Jota

    All the commotion! This must be the Essay of the Century. She’s a young girl writing down a young girls opinion. Big freakin’ deal.

    Few words for those who feel “offended”. Why seems the whole world offended these days? There are few words with an inflation rate that high: i.m.o. it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Being offended by someone’s opinion is really silly. Being offended because someone is saying something stupid is really really really silly.

    Lighten up people, because it really offends me.

  • Adolfo

    In the United States there is lots of opportunity for upward economic and social advancement. However, statistics that it is still very difficult to go from one class to the next. If it is hard to go from “below poverty” to middle class in the United States, imagine the magnitude of difficulty it is to make that transition in Nicaragua?

    Please save your ethno-centric and ignorant comments like “why dont they just print more money” or “…. its not like they are stuck in poverty forever”. Read newspapers, books on historical events before you post.

  • Terri

    Hi Andrea,

    I love this article. Our foundation works in rural areas in Nicaragua. We work hard to create opportunities for people so they can learn to help themselves. I don’t believe handouts really solve poverty, in fact, I believe they prolong it.

    If you are interested in more information on what we do and how we change lives in Nicaragua, please contact me.


  • Glenn

    Those of us living here know this woman by sight. Her finger tips are almost raw from her continual tapping on the ground or wall. I asked a physician who was visiting to give me some comments about her. He spoke no Spanish and could only render opinions based on observation from a distance. He said she does appear have some severe mental problems, on that I think everyone who knows of her “existence” and that is about all it is, can agree she needs help.

    I personally don’t what can be done but I do what I think is right. I drop off clean clothes, some food from time to time but she never seems to be begging. Maybe her mind can’t work that way, I don’t know. I think about her and others like her and it breaks my heart.

    She must have some place she goes on occasion as she does have different clothes from time to time. I have seen her sleeping on the street in the rain so she may have only a stash in a storm drain she puts her things.

    I am so frustrated about it but don’t know where to go for help for people like this.

    You just want to take her to someplace and make sure she is washed, no, scrubbed and her hair shampooed and she has some sort of medical check and then goes to a place that maybe can give her a better life than she has on the street. Yes, maybe an institution where she will be well treated and safe.

    Thanks to all of you who share these feelings and maybe someone knows of someone who can “rescue” this poor woman as well as the others in Granada that we all know exist.

    The guy with the beard, sack on his back and the machete that he will pull but not use to scare you away. My doctor friend said this has all the possibilities of a person who could be very dangerous.

    I just cross the street when he is near. You know who I am referencing. Those of you who call Granada home do anyway. Those of you that do not, look around in your city. Same people, different skin color, different names, same problems, and ask what you can to help?

    Thank you for your observations. For some of you who do not travel close to the ground this may seem shocking, but is everywhere. Any contributions you wish to make to helping people in Granada are always appreciated. I am not pushing anyone in particular and only wish I knew who could do the most good. One thing I have learned in 12 years here is that about 99% of all donations go to do good. Many people have dedicated their lives to making Granada a better place.

    Thank you for your visit and I hope you are not turned off but turned on to do something that will help by some of the observations you have made. Those of us living here appreciate you more than you will ever know.

  • georgeh

    nicely done Tim Rogers! you knew that this article would get the expats worked up. And many of these comments are worth reading and thinking about. I have forwarded this to friends that come down to visit. and my fave? Adolfo! 5 stars. *****

  • Ana Anonima

    Andrea Scott, what’s most offensive about your article is your “medical clairvoyance” as applied to the disabled woman in the photo and to others in the US. This is as equally offensive in the US as in Nicaragua. You and others like you seem to think you can simply look at a person and know that they are not disabled, physically or mentally – that they are simply lazy. Or not even need to look at a person – just know that if they receive assistance of some kind, you KNOW they are just moochers, an even stronger form of your “medical clairvoyance.”

    Let’s hope you never have to be judged by your own standards.

  • John Shepard

    What I find most offensive is the “kill the messenger” aspect of many of the posts. The “May God Have Mercy On Your Soul” crap. Andrea offered an insight, was honest about her limited exposure to Nicaragua, and her post was articulate and to the point.

    You may agree or not agree with her conclusions, but to attack her personally serves absolutely no purpose.

    I have conflicted views about Nicaragua, and like the US, there is no one stick to measure all Nicaraguans by. Most are hard working and honest, others depend on thievery and handouts. I really don’t see that much difference between Nicaragua and the rest of the world. Even in countries with abundant opportunities and extensive social support you will find thieves and beggars.

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  • Enola

    Although I do not agree with this article, I really find it quite humors that a good number of people are getting mad at the writer for drawing conclusions while those replying are doing the exact same thing. What does Fox News have to do with this or that she may be a Republican? My views swing to the right, but I am very concerned about the people of Nicaragua, have studied their history and am very involved in not for profit work being done to help children in Latin America. Posting that she is ignorant while you come up with your own ignorant conclusions is very hypocritical and is not what it takes to help tackle the problems the country is facing.

    • Debbie Goehring


      I confess. I am one of those people who made the Fox news comment. The only justification that I can give is that since this is the election year in the U.S., I’ve been listening to and watching too much propaganda. I’ve been in a frenzy and have to fact check everything that is posted on Facebook. :-) I do apologize for bringing Fox news into this conversation, but her comments sound so eerily familiar to conservative talk shows and a mindset that, in my humble opinion, will destroy humanity. Sometimes my ire gets the best of me.

      • Enola

        No worries, Debbie! I appreciate your post and completely understand. I am also glad that she was able to respond to this article. Thanks to all for thought provoking posts!

  • Nick

    Aside and apart from the specifics (whether the lady on the steps has mental problems or whether the tykes in the park take the coins they manage to get and go to a video game arcade), the general idea of “handouts” needs a reasoned discussion. The world is full of examples where such handouts do nothing to resolve the underlying problem (the old adage of give someone a fish or a fishing pole).
    First of all, in acute emergency situations caused by natural disasters, handouts are absolutely necessary. In chronic emergency situations, a longer-lasting response is called for.
    Second, in these chronic situations, handouts do not work. The Ortega government began a program in the countryside of giving extremely poor people different farming related items in order to give them a leg up. In cases where they gave one of these pigs and advice on how to raise and breed them, the pigs did not last long because they in fact represented a burden for the family, who now had to find a way to feed the extra mouths in their yard. Other approaches to the problem have been tried with differing degrees of success, though for most people looking on, it is difficult to see improvement when a family goes from being “extremely poor” to “poor”. (The technocrat distinction between those with $1 a day versus $2 a day.)
    Creating dependence is a problem, which is why some of the more successful poverty alleviation projects do not “give away” something. Material and technical assistance is provided from outside while those benefitting are required to contribute a small portion of their income and/or labor. With housing, the Techos program seems to be working as does the Santa Helenita project just east of the Empalme to Boaco.
    When people receive something at a cost, they are more likely to care for it and appropriate it as their own possession and responsibility.
    This was confirmed for me years ago in a minor way with a TV set I gave to a man who was doing odd jobs around the house. He was quite content at the time, but a few months later he became upset with me because when the TV needed a repair (likely because of the constant power fluctuations and black/brown outs that characterized the electricity supply at that time), I said it was not up to me to pay for fixing it.
    And another time, I gifted bicycles to some people working for me. Those bikes did not last long. But on the other hand, when I opted for lending the employee money (to be paid off with small weekly interest free payments over the course of a year), the bikes were as well maintained as could be expected.
    Anyway, the problem is complex and trashing someone’s musings on the subject accomplishes nothing.
    I second the idea mentioned above, if possible, for Tim to have a link on this site that would list the plethora of small-scale projects doing good work throughout the country so that anyone who feels so inclined can participate or contribute in another fashion.

  • No Basura

    Again, you have to go back to the lowest common denominator to attack the problem, you can’t go backwards and eliminate what is here. More mouths to feed than those who produced those mouths can furnish. Why? Sex is fun, easy and consequences dumped on the rest of us. In a country where religion dictates that nothing should prevent conception, then you have conception, very simple.
    You can not wipe out the problem without education and having that education understood and acted upon. No needed or unwanted kids, no extra mouths to feed.
    Simple cause and effect. These kids need to be not only fed, but educated so as not to replicate this ongoing and increasing MAJOR problem. The probability of them becoming productive citizens by which their only education is how to score food is incredible.
    You can’t go backward and eliminate the cause, but you sure can go forward.
    As an example on a much grandeur scale, Europe as a whole continent has a declining population and they are under the same religious dominate sphere as Latin America. The only real difference is education and follow through.
    Peer pressure is one off the most motivating factors in anything, from keeping up with the Joneses to doing what ever a gang member must do. There is no peer pressure not to produce unneeded progeny, it is a standard practice. That is societies responsibility, but again, fighting a religion that prevents or discourages birth control makes this a tough battle. Thus education with peer pressure lays in wait, make society scream out and provide whatever means it takes to educate it’s population, birth control is only a mere micro by product of a well informed citizenry.

  • No Basura

    A real eye opener for me and possibly for you if mouths to feed and where are we going “as the world turns”, click on to this link for an amazing glimpse into our recent past population and where we are now and where we are headed. Latin America and Africa lead the % increase war, with Asia still the mass producer.

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  • Jessica

    I’m coming late to this exchange. Here is what I’ve read.

    “You sound like a spoiled, naive child…”
    “…makes me want to pat you on the head “good girl for paying attention in Spanish class.”
    “The fictional voice of the naive, self-important American…”
    “Sounds like you have been listening to too many conservative talk shows.”
    “This misguided and obviously-pampered young woman…”
    “One has to wonder how she got so imperious and ignorant at such a young age…”
    “I’m just so disgusted with this moronic Noreteamericana’s train of thought or lack thereof.”
    “I know that your young and have your ideas and crap…”
    “Andrea! You are self righteous…”

    Your collective high horse is so high no one can see you.

    And, John Shepard, I agree.

  • Tami

    Nicaragua is a beautiful place with lots of lovely landscapes, and the culture is rich in art. However, yes, the poverty element is depressing. It does leave a deep impression to see people destitute. So, I can understand why you remember the poverty-stricken people that crossed your path. It’s very sad. It can be a haunting experience.

    Other towns outside of Granada don’t have this as much, at least in my experience wandering around. San Marcos, Jinotepe, and Masatepe, for example, don’t have this to such an intensity. However, many visitors to Nicaragua do go to Granada. It’s a tourist town, and it is a good place to be if your Spanish is limited.

    I remember my first time to Granada, Nicaragua back in 2003. I remember a couple of familiar beggars that approached me in the park because they were hungry. There was an old woman in particular who often approached me. She walked with a limp in the Parque Central and would always say in English…”I am hungry.” Sometimes I would give her change, sometimes I would avoid her like the plague, and sometimes I would say No! After I left Nicaragua, that memory stayed with me.

    Sure, I remember the pretty churches and the awesome volcanoes, but yes, the begging and the poverty element stuck with me too.

    It’s intense, and then there’s that feeling…do I help this person? Oh, but wait, there’s a bunch of people in this situation. What do I do? Sometimes I helped, and sometimes I walked away. I think that is a very normal experience.

    There were times when I would give somebody some food or drink (water) and I felt better, like I had eased someone’s burden. Then, there were times I felt like a complete gringo sucker.

    I wish you would write about the glue-sniffing.

    No matter what people say, your blog post has been read, and it’s gotten quite a bit of attention.

    I don’t know why people assume you watch FOX News. Well, if you are a journalist, you have to watch and read a bit of everything.

  • Nica Dean

    I find it amusing this coming from someone that belongs to the same race of people in the USA that are losing/have lost the initiative to do to things on their own. They rely too much on aid from the government. And they live in a country full of opportunity! You should visit go Haiti instead of Nicaragua!

  • Maria

    Andrea, your story is a bit sad to me, I am looking forward to visit my husband’s family this coming year (2013), I know that Nicaragua is a poor country, but I believe they’re not all that bad as you described. You should have visited more places aside from the town to see, and know about their culture and beliefs. I never been there yet, but I believe that Nicaragua is one of a marvelous place to be on earth! Poverty is all over the world, but instead of talking about it; why not do something about it in our little way rather than to depend in the government that is too busy to respond immediately.