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This two-part article explores the experience of living and working for poverty-focused NGOs in a civil war whose roots lay in the chronically inequitable distribution of power and access to resources. Based on 12 years’ work in Central America, the article reflects on the demands and constraints placed on international aid workers in the context of civil conflict; and on the ways in which relationships with local organisations and NGOs are affected. Empowerment and participation are examined from the perspective of those who reject their role as war victims. In Part Two (to be published in Volume 7, Number 1), the author examines the immediate and longer-term impacts of war and political violence, both on those who survive and on local and international workers who are concerned to address its causes and consequences.

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