Matthias Scharpenberg. ©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2014/O. Moraga
11 de August de 2014

German citizen Matthias Scharpenberg’s three-month internship with UNICEF Nicaragua is coming to an end. His work consisted of reviewing research on the child-rearing standards of the different ethnic groups in Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean Coast region.

By Matthias Scharpenberg / Olga Moraga.- I have been back in my known and increasingly unknown country of Nicaragua for three months now. I had a lot to learn because I am not a specialist in the subjects I was working on and I do not have any practical experience on childbirth, rights and indigenous awareness. I am neither a mother nor a father and I do not have any indigenous roots.

I studied sociology, geography, peace studies and conflict resolution. I am predominantly white-skinned. My work here did not consist of providing technical support to the health personnel or community leaders. It focused on organizing the knowledge exchange process and facilitating dialogue among the different areas and points of view of the health workers and local and regional representatives in relation to the research study on child-rearing standards conducted by researchers from the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URACCAN). To do this it is important to know how to listen and be empathic.

I also wonder whether I also have indigenous roots. Who is really indigenous? During this experience I realized the importance of having one’s own language and communal lands in the identity of autochthonous groups. I have always been profoundly moved by the knowledge that many languages are in danger of extinction. One day I asked myself why exactly I have such a strong emotional reaction to that. And then I realized that my grandmother Johanna also speaks “Plattdeutsch” (or Low German), the original language of the Westphalia region of Germany, a language that neither my father, brother nor I ever learned. That language is going to be extinguished in our family when my grandmother dies!

So I realized how much my own history is connected to what I am doing. When I wrote my grandmother’s biography a few months ago I also realized that my home town of Waltrop in Germany was organized in a very different way back then. My great-grandparents had a farm and were organized communally just like here. They were difficult times that forced them to share out of necessity.

I also discovered that I have the experience of my own birth through memories as a baby stored in my subconscious. These experiences were with me when I was talking to the midwives and doctors about birth practices. In this way I learned how important midwives are for ensuring the women’s wellbeing and because of the vast knowledge they have. They often know how to apply natural medicines without secondary effects when doctors tend to recommend chemical products. They also turn the whole childbirth process into something like a ritual for the couple and the people to welcome a new member into the community.

Germany is currently at a crossroads that could see it lose its own midwives if the process of childbirth is limited to institutionalized care (

I think that this opportunity to work in UNICEF allowed me to reflect on valuable things about myself. This is especially true when you are aware of your own points of view and your own perception of the world, which is vital for understanding that each people has its own culture and has to respected as such. If that had not been the case, this experience would not have been so important for me.