Face to face with poverty

Edward (back right) and Barbara (centre front) Dunsworth in Nicaragua in April 2019.

In the late 1990s, Haligonians Edward Dunsworth and wife Barbara had had comfortable lives.

He was a successful lawyer and they lived in a comfortable South End home with their four children. He supported various charitable organizations, and one evening attended a dinner honouring people who had made outstanding contributions to many worthy causes.

He sat alongside a man who had been involved in a Habitat for Humanity building project in Guatemala. “I was incredibly moved by his story and expressed interest in joining in a similar endeavour if one became available,” Edward recalls.

Soon after, he got an invitation to join a group of Nova Scotians in Nicaragua for a Habitat for Humanity house-building project. “It was my first real face-to-face experience with poverty and I was overwhelmed by what I saw,” he says.

One late night while he was in this small, very poor village in northern Nicaragua, he was walking alone. “My life played out like a video and the question I kept asking myself was why none of my previous good works had involved working with the poor,” he says.

When he returned to Halifax, Barbara saw he was somehow a changed man. They soon sold their home, uprooted their family and began a seven-year journey, living in three developing countries in Central and South America.

In August 2005, the Dunsworths moved to Managua, Nicaragua, as directors of the Hand in Hand Ministries‘ community development program. During their first months, there, they visited a number of other non-profit organizations to learn about their programs and Barbara volunteered at a pre-school in a poor neighbourhood in Managua. 

They were shocked to see the circumstances of the children in the pre-schools and the conditions in public primary schools. The contrast between the bright, eager-to-learn, young children and the lack of trained teachers, supplies, books, and other resources disheartened them.

They decided to try to focus on the educational deficit facing poor children in Managua. They devised a pilot project to select bright children from families living in a poor area to go to a good private school starting in January 2006

The plan garnered a lot of local support and proved successful. In 2009, a new Canadian registered charity, known as Pathway to Progress Nicaragua, incorporated. It partners with Hand in Hand Ministries, enabling the education program to expand to 90 students.

The pandemic forced the Dunsworths to recently return to Nova Scotia, but they hope to soon resume their life-changing undertaking, promising to never abandon the Nicaraguan children they have grown to love and cherish.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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