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BWAP 2024: Perfect Solutions? ~ Mei Hippe

Mei is in her third year pursuing a degree in Public Health.

Public Health, like Christianity, makes good use of allegory. One of the most popular allegories in Public Health is the “Upstream-Downstream” allegory, which reads like a parable.

The Upstream-Downstream allegory describes a woman fishing on a river bank. The woman sees a man being washed downstream, so she rescues him. Then, she sees another person struggling in the current. And then another and another. She spends all day rescuing these people from the river. Eventually, this exhausted woman decides to go upstream to see what could possibly cause so many people to fall in. There, she finds a cliff with no protective barriers to prevent people from going over the edge and straight into the river. There, she comes to the conclusion that it’s much easier to create a solution upstream (at the cliff) than to rescue people downstream.

If you want to work in Public Health (like me) creating upstream solutions is a big part of the job description. And solutions were a big thing that we wrestled with together on this trip. What kind of solutions are being put in place in Nicaragua? What things work, what things don’t, what things could work? What kind of solutions is Pres House supporting? What solutions does our money support? And what kind of solutions should we support going forward?

It was a general consensus among our group that capitalism is not the perfect solution. For me, it was very instinctual, for many reasons, to seriously question a market solution and to want to stop Nicaragua from further developing the same systems that we have in the United States because I look around at the systems we have in place in the US,  and I think that they are so very far from perfect. Perfect doesn’t look like huge wealth disparities, it doesn’t look like systemic barriers to capital, it doesn’t look like poverty.

However, when relying on instinct, it’s important to question what we know and where we’re coming from. In fact, this trip raised a lot of important questions. What do we know about what the people want in Nicaragua? What do we know about the people and culture and history in Nicaragua? It is simply not our right as Americans to put in place the systems in Nicaragua. What are the past dynamics between the United States and Nicaragua? What is my perspective and position as an American college student, coming from an extremely wealthy country for a week-long trip to take an hour-long look at Microfinancing.

However, the question that stood out to me the most was: how far upstream can we go?  How perfect does this system have to be? Can we, as humans, achieve a perfect society? At some point, we have to understand that we can’t achieve a perfect system on our own. Microfinance isn’t a kingdom solution, it isn’t a perfect solution. It’s a solution that is hard at work within the imperfect world we have now. It’s incredibly daunting to keep looking up the river. It seems like people keep falling in for any number of different reasons. It’s easy to give up wrestling with solutions because it seems like no solution is good enough. But God never asks us to create perfect solutions. Instead, we’re asked to show up faithfully in his name, to do the best that we can, with the resources that we’ve been given, to help others. We’re asked to wrestle faithfully together, to share in his love; and share in the hope that one day God will be upstream.

It’s been such a privilege to get to wrestle with these many different ideas, it’s been so valuable to hear everything from the cynical to confident, from so many people who are looking for so many different ways that they can make the world a better place.  It’s also been such a privilege to be able to visit Nicaragua, to see people who have put aside perfection and despite the difficult and complex systems they’re working in, worked hard to put in place solutions to make the world better.

Read the rest of the BWAP Nicaragua 2024 reflections:

Rev. Mark Elsdon ~ Why Nicaragua?
Jack Wilharm ~ The Power of Microfinancing
Nathan Tan ~ Politics and Faith
Aurora Kuelbs ~ Opportunity
Allyson Mills ~ Grace and Power Under Dictatorship
Kyle Digman ~ Murals in Nicaragua
Will Clancy ~ Politics of Faith
Sophie Elsdon ~ Nicaraguan Pride

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