Incredible: feeding, housing, doctoring, financing rural Nicaragua

I began to write this on a flight from Managua back to Houston, after 3 days with Keith Jaspers, founder/president of, and Rev. Mel West, a retired pastor who introduced my family to Rainbow Network 8 or 10 years ago.

Thanks in good part to the appreciation of the Dell shares my father bought in 1989, my father has contributed significant funds to Rainbow Network in the last 8 years. This was my first trip to Nicaragua. One of the most important things I learned first hand was how efficiently Rainbow uses donors’ funds.

On an annual budget of about $2.25M, with a Nicaraguan staff of about 65, including 9 doctors, 2 dentists, 13 educators and 7 micro-loan coordinators, plus about 4000 Nicaraguan volunteers, Rainbow currently reaches about 50,000 people, in about 124 communities, organized as 7 networks (project regions). Driving around in 4 wheel drive pickups, on mostly unpaved rutted roads, with Keith, Mel, national director Nelson Palacios and other staff, I visited 3 of the 7 networks. Visiting about 15 of the 124 communities, I observed one dental visit, met the other dentist, saw the patients being treated by two of the doctors, observed several elementary school classes, participated in two micro-finance loan meetings, heard the public health presentations, attended an afterschool meeting of high school Rainbow scholarship students, and visited quite a few Rainbow feeding centers, which provide lunches for the school children, elderly, and pregnant/nursing mothers, five to six days a week.

Inescapable impressions for me are the comparisons to a successful startup. Keith’s non-NGO professional experience is as a sales executive and manager of a group of hotels. After 10+ years of experience with Habitat’s international board, Keith and Karen Jaspers self-funded Rainbow. After the first few years of successes, they converted Rainbow to a 501C and started accepting donations.

Colonia La Paz, 2003One of my most emotional moments was seeing the results of my father’s funding in 2002 of a housing project completed in 2003. People who had lived in dirt floor shacks, got decent housing with 20 year loans that they can afford to pay off through the micro-finance program. Rainbow has now built more than 500 of these homes.

Colonia La Paz, March 3, 2008Today, the project my father funded is filled with happy families, that have maintained, decorated and improved those simple buildings. Though they no longer sleep on dirt floors (I can’t imagine sleeping in the mud in the six month rainy season), they are still crowded in these homes, with up to four families sharing one dwelling. While visiting Colonia La Paz, I committed funds for four new homes on adjacent land owned by Rainbow.

I brought back a few GB of video clips and photos and integrated those into a more comprehensive trip report at

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