The Rainbow Network is unique. There are several things that set us apart from most Christian missions:
- We are interdenominational. We have financial support from churches representing 17 denominations, including Catholic and Protestant.
- Our approach to the people in the very poor and remote rural communities of Nicaragua that we serve is that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. How can we help? Let's roll up our sleeves and go to work! We are known as Christians by our work not by our preaching. We do not ask people what church they go to or try to convert them to a different church. We simply partner with them to change and save lives in very real basic ways.
- The basis of all of our work in every community is our community organizations. When we start working in an area we start with town hall type meetings that are very well attended. We discuss how we might work together at these meetings, and ask many details about the conditions in the community. We ask about schools and the number of kids that attend, the literacy of the adults, how many homes have cement floors, how often they eat meat and what, how often or if ever a doctor visits the community and if any modern meds are available. We ask about drinking water, bus service and many other things.
After 3 - 4 of these meetings, we will tell the people we would like to work with them, and ask them to vote on an invitation for us to do just that. We then elect a committee of 10 - 15 residents. This committee (we usually have to teach people how to work on a committee) forms sub-committees for each of our four areas of work, Healthcare, Education, Economic Development and Housing. Our staff then works through this committee as we work our projects in each community.
Committees meet monthly and we continue to have town hall meetings every six months in each community. Our success and accomplishments in every community depend a great deal on the ability and function of these Rainbow Network Committees! On any given day we will have 1,500 or more volunteers and committee members working on Rainbow Network projects within their own communities!
- Most missions will operate a school or two or perhaps a medical clinic or two. Our approach is different. We combine or “network” all of our projects together. We operate 410 grade schools with an average of 9,000 students in attendance. We have high school scholarships, there are no high schools in these communities so we offer 1,000+ scholarships to go to high school in a nearby city. We operate medical clinics with 11 full-time Nicaraguan physicians visiting each of the 144 communities we serve. We also operate a significant program in small business loans in each of these communities with more than 5,000 loans outstanding at a time. We build hundreds of simple cement block homes that replace some version of a scrap built or mud and stick hut. We "network" all of these projects together for both management and financial efficiency and the betterment of the communities. Each of the communities we work in can participate in our programs of Economic Development (micro-enterprise loans), Education, Housing and Healthcare.
- Much of what we do requires the resident to pay back something. Our small loans have to be paid back. Our houses have to be paid for. The families help with the construction and then are charged only for the materials that go into the house. Today that is about $4,800. That amount is repaid to us, usually on a 25 year loan without any interest. Home owners usually participate in our small business loan program and pay for their house with the profits of a small business we teach them to operate.
Scholarship students are required to give two half-days per week of volunteer service to their community (often helping in our grade schools) in exchange for their scholarship. Our doctors charge a fee equal to 50 cents to $1 that includes the consultation and any and all medicines the patient needs. No one is refused medical treatment and about 15% are treated without any payment.
- Another thing that makes us unique is that we focus on one country with our work. We do not try to be "world-wide" or follow the last news crisis to a different country. There are many operational advantages to working within one country, with one language, one set of social customs, and one set of laws.
- All of our staff within Nicaragua are Nicaraguans. This is indeed a project for Nicaraguans, by Nicaraguans, and with Nicaraguans! We do not do this work to make North Americans feel good about themselves or their church, but rather to genuinely help with the long term development to some of the most desperately poor people in this hemisphere!