United in Hope Scholarship Program: 2016 Annual Report

We connect US sponsors with Nicaraguan children who grew up in La Chureca, providing the funds and structure needed to allow these students to have a better education and more opportunity. Specifically, we pay for tuition to private school and university; provide funds for books, school supplies, and uniforms; and provide a small classroom within their community to study and receive tutoring help.

2016 Financial Report

In 2016, we provided $7,794 worth of financial support, broken into six main categories.
  • Approximately $797.50 in initial setup costs. This included renovation of a small room in the community to use as a study hall (installing a door, purchasing paint, and furnishing with desks, chairs, a bookshelf, a computer, a printer, ink, a wifi router, etc).
  • $982 of ongoing office expenses, including: $202 for ink, paper, etc; $360 rent for the study hall; $420 for internet.
  • $100 in donations for medical supplies for the adjoining medical clinic.
  • $48 in fees for sending money internationally.
  • $1,380 in wages to the Program Director in Nicaragua.
  • Approximately $4,486.07 in annual tuition expenses and graduation fees.
Sources of Funds
  • $1,440 donated by 27 different individuals towards the end of 2015.
  • $1,854 in recurring donations.
  • $4,500 in a start-up grant.

Roots and Where We Are Now

Towards the end of 2012, Rosa, a nurse who had worked in La Chureca for over a decade, asked us to help support two students by providing funds for them to go to a private school outside of the landfill where they lived. She explained that it would provide a much better opportunity for the children: smaller classes, more discipline, periodic drug paraphernalia checks, good English classes, a computer lab, and exposure to life outside La Chureca. We started with two students, and have added a student or two each year. Over the decades, La Chureca had become a destination for most financially destitute in Nicaragua: if all else failed, they could move into the landfill, collect trash, and sell what they could. This persisted for generations, and most of the children in our program knew no life outside La Chureca. La Chureca has changed — new cinderblock homes were built for the families outside of the landfill and their old homes were bulldozed. Many things have improved, and many things have not.
In late 2015, fueled by the generous donations of many individuals, we expanded the program to make both a deeper and broader impact with those we sponsor. Rosa, seeing that many children still had trouble studying at home (where they live with many relatives and would have to pay by the hour for internet to do research) envisioned a study hall–a small room in the community, equipped with basic supplies, internet, a computer, and a printer–where she could go to work with the kids each day. In order to distribute the fixed ongoing costs of that room and make a wider impact, we expanded the program to support 10 students.
2016 was a great year! The students did very well in their classes, and we had our first graduate, Hector. We are very proud of everyone’s effort and grades, and look forward to seeing what they’ll accomplish in this year!

In 2017

  • We will become a 501(c)(3) organization to give tax-deductible benefits to donors.
  • We will seek to help raise English scores by providing an English tutor six hours a week (and we’ll evaluate the impact that has after 1st term grades are released).
  • We will improve the amount of updates to donors to keep them informed of how their student is doing, by sending an iPhone for pictures that will automatically upload to the cloud.
  • We will begin gathering more information to understand the relative impact of the program, as compared to other very low-income public schools (statistics currently provided describe the entire country, which encompasses a vast rural area with very different patterns than cities like Managua, and within the cities our community represents some of the poorest of the poor).
  • We will seek to raise funds through direct sponsorship (in which a donor or donor family is linked with the student their funds support), smaller ongoing donation options, and one-time social media campaigns to raise whatever else is needed.
Thank you so much for your support in helping this program come to be. Please consider sponsoring a student for $70/month, a partial sponsorship from $35 to $10 per month, or a one-time donation to help the entire program.

2016 Student Report

Prepared by Rosa Esmeralda Diaz, Nicaraguan Program Director
In 2016, the ten students passed their classes very well. The subjects that were most difficult for them were Mathematics and English, so all this year we’ve been working on strengthening what they learn in school and helping them with assignments.
It’s worth mentioning that among our students is Héctor Ñamendis Mendoza; he is the first grandchild or child who graduated in his family. They are of scarce economic resources, who lived together in the largest landfill in Nicaragua, known as La Chureca. Today there is a Waste Plant where they continue to work but the money they earn isn’t sufficient to have their children in school, much less prepare them. It’s because of this that Héctor’s dream is to study Engineering Systems, for which I ask that you continue to support him in higher education. He is very good with Mathematics and he helps strengthen the other students with their Math. Héctor has been a part of the program for three years.
Ana Yanci Cano Castaño, who is going into 10th grade, is a young woman who has little support from her parents, since they are separated. Her mother is a Home Assistant (cooking, cleaning, etc), her father is a taxi cab driver. She lives with her grandmother and two brothers in Villa Guadalupe (the community of new housing built to relocate those who lived in La Chureca and other very poor neighborhoods around Managua). She often works on the weekends selling jewelry to help sustain the home, buy things she wants, and help support the school costs of her brothers. She went to the study hall frequently, and ended the year without any issues in her grades.
Daysi Madriz, a young woman who is going into 8th grade, was one of the best students in the program. The school gave her a diploma of recognition as the best student in her class, and she excelled in all subjects. She’s a person who is always willing to give her best, she’s intelligent, and always happy helping the other students in the program who can’t complete something. Her family is of scarce economic resources. Her father is the one who sustains the family, working as a Loader in a company. Her mother is a homemaker.
Jade Gonzales was elected Miss Congeniality in her school. She is a strong young woman, and was on the Honor Roll throughout the year, the second highest scoring student after Daysi. Her parents help her in her school obligations. She is dynamic, cheerful, always looking for ways to better herself in her studies. She wants to become an architect, to help the most poor in society of Nicaragua by planning social homes and buildings. She likes English like a second language.
Melany Picado is a young woman in 7th grade. She has very little help in school from her father, a taxi driver who works both shifts and is a single father. Melany lives with her maternal grandmother. She received a lot of help in math from Héctor, who helped her with her homework and to make it to the study hall. She completed the academic year with a lot of her own strength as well.
Nohelia Cortes is in 7th grade, a daughter of a single mother who works as a Home Assistant. This young woman worked very hard in her classes, the most difficult of which was English. She always asked for help in study hall, and always receives the help of her mother. She wants to study to be a Veterinarian.
Cristina Delgado, a young woman who is studying Journalism, is going into her 3rd year at University. She’s works very hard, coming from a very poor family which sells slow-cooked beans to sustain themselves. There are four children in total, who pass through many difficulties for daily living.
Yasser Castro, a young man going into 10th grade, worked weekends or free moments to complete tasks for neighbors, like sweeping the patio, going to the store, or going to the market to make a little money to help his mother with maintaining the house. They are a family of scarce economic resources. His mother doesn’t know how to read or write, and goes to houses to wash and iron clothes. He’s a hardworking young man who likes to read and is a very good student in Language and Literature. He would like to graduate and become someone good in Nicaraguan society.
Cristian Alvarez Silva, a boy going into 6th grade of Primary School, will graduate into Secondary School this year. His mother provides for the family alone, washing and ironing clothes, and selling ice cream and ice from her house. They are of scarce economic resources who don’t receive much help from anyone. Cristian takes care of his youngest brother when his mom leaves home. He’s a very hardworking boy and did well on his grades.
Eveling Escobar Rodríguez, a young girl who is going into 3rd grade of Primary School, did excellent in her classes. She receives help from her parents, who work in the Recycling Plant close to the community. She’s an introverted and very cheerful girl. Now that she knows how to read, she loves to read stories, and looks for books and anything else to read.
Please become part of the community in 2017, by supporting a student at whichever level you are able to, and thank you for helping make 2016 such a great year!


Provide a full scholarship:

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$20 recurring:

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Jade, crowned Miss Congeniality
Jade, crowned Miss Congeniality
Hector, Eveling, Nohelia
Hector, Eveling, Nohelia
Melany, Daysi, Nohelia
Melany, Daysi, Nohelia
Daysi and Jade
Daysi and Jade
Yasser and family
Yasser and family

Australian Visions of a Nicaraguan Landscape

Photography and Philanthropy in Nicaragua


I couldn’t help but overhear them, and I didn’t try very hard not to either. The first thing they said repulsed me, I wasn’t entirely sure why. The second confirmed my feeling: these people don’t understand Nicaragua.

I don’t much, either, for that matter. The first time I flew to Nicaragua, airplane thoughts became goals in my journal, scribbled questions I might be able to ask people I would meet. I wanted, above all, to leave with an understanding of what it was like to be a Nicaraguan.

“What’s your passion? What do you love to do?”
“What’s your greatest difficulty? Your greatest hope?”
“How much do you make a day?”
“If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?”

At the bottom of the list, I summarized the questions: “If I were born a Nicaraguan, what would I think like, aspire to, fear, and regret?”


Nicaraguan kids


As it turns out, those answers don’t come easily from a conversation with a stranger on the street. My ambition was admirable, but understanding a people requires much more than ten days of curious questioning. I wanted to see behind the mask of everyone I met, to see others for who they were.

We do not travel as empty vessels. We do not see the world as it is. We see the world through our own history, our own country’s standards, our own myths. We see the world as outsiders. The goal of good travel is not merely to compare what we see with what we’re used to, but to see the world through the eyes of the people we meet.  Good travel is not easy.

I found myself eavesdropping shamelessly on the Australians next to me and scribbling the agitated thoughts their conversation guided.

“Don’t take any pictures that are too terribly sad,” one counseled the other. They talked of the great suffering of these people, and how sad it was. I recoiled at the tone of it. Feeling certain they saw more suffering than existed, Western eyes grading a developing country by Western standards, giving the people a test they don’t care to take.

Later, “It’s so beautiful here.” “I know,” another responded, “I’m reluctant to put pictures on Facebook because it looks like I’m in a tropical paradise.”

The contradiction of these two thoughts was apparent to me, and I seethed at their attitude towards this place. On one hand, they saw a great suffering but didn’t want to express it by photography or words so they wouldn’t depress others who saw and read. On the other hand, they saw great beauty but didn’t want to express it so others wouldn’t think they were having an easy time in paradise.

Why not just express the truth?

Ah, but the truth isn’t easy to come by. To find the truth we have to become a Nicaraguan, learn their history, lament for their losses, revel in their revolution, awake in terror in the night for fear of assassins, glorify the jungle rebel who fights against all odds. We must smile at the beauty around us.

We must not carry our own country with us, but walk naked through the streets and allow those we meet to clothe us.

That’s what I aim to do.


Survey in Naranjo


Here are some upcoming articles I’ll be doing about Nicaragua.  If you have any questions you’re curious about, send them to me.

  • Anger towards America
  • Contras and Sandinistas
  • History Timeline
  • The Jaguar Smile, a book review
  • With the Contras, a book review
  • Blood of Brothers, a book review
  • Transition from La Chureca to Villa Guadalupe, what it was like for the people
  • Economics – wages of bus drivers, taxis, what tourism does to a city
  • Writing from Villa Guadalupe’s students

Please subscribe, share, and let me know you’re reading!

– Jeff

The Scholarship Program Funded by You!

The ability to change the direction of your life–the opportunity to choose a different path–is what it means to be free.  It means being able to leave a job you don’t like to pursue one you do.  Freedom means we can dream of a better world and make it so. 

To be free we only need a few things.

We need to know we’ll survive.

We need education.

We need credit.

We need accountability.

Here’s how your donations helped bring more freedom to a large group of children in Nicaragua, and how you can help deepen that impact for years to come.


A playground in the relocated community of Villa Guadalupe

20k in my pocket

The first time I went to Nicaragua, you sent me down with $250.  The second time you sent me with $775.  We did some cool things, and we learned a lot about the people. 

This time, you sent me with a whopping $1,440, donated from 27 people, ranging from PayPal transfers to upturned coin jars.  I was astonished and humbled.

Finding somewhere to donate those funds was a challenge, bigger than ever before.

I could give $275 to three people and not have a lot of questions to consider.  I could give $775 to a few people directly and the rest through a nonprofit and feel great about it.  Over the past few years, I’ve studied many nonprofits and fell in love with the idea that a donation can become so much more than that donation, if it’s used well.  $100 can make a small or a big difference, for good or for bad, depending on how its given.

$1,440 would pay rent for a family in the US for one month, and maybe put some groceries in the refrigerator, but in Nicaragua it equates nearly 9-months of income for the average person (according to the World Bank).  Put in terms of the US economy, where the average individual income is $26,695, it would be as if I were walking down the streets of Austin with $20,000, looking for someone to give it to.

(disclaimer: my economics isn’t perfect here.  I’m comparing the amount of time it takes to earn a certain amount of money, not how much goods that money will buy.  Put in terms of PPP, $1 in US is $10.36 in Nicaragua, so $1,440 would be $14,918.   My point is that I went down with 9 months of income). 


Carpenters in the Mercado Oriental, one of the biggest markets in Central America, making doors.


Roots of the program

Three years ago, on that second trip to Nicaragua, I met Rosa.  She was working in La Chureca as a nurse and a social worker, and she requested my help to send a couple of children to private school outside of the landfill.

She said it provided a much better opportunity for the children–smaller classes, more discipline, periodic drug paraphernalia checks, English lessons, a computer lab, and exposure to life outside La Chureca.  We looked into it, and in conjunction with the jewelry cooperative, in which we would sell jewelry made from recycled materials by women of La Chureca, we determined we could make a commitment to support two or three children long term.  I wrote about their stories, and some of you sponsored the children.  Four have been going to private school ever since.


Rosa, buying paint for the classroom in the Mercado Oriental.

New opportunities

Rosa never rests.  On this trip to Nicaragua, she had a new vision for the children in the community.

La Chureca has changed.  The people have been moved t Villa Guadalupe, a large neighborhood of concrete housing built specifically for them and other groups of the extremely poor.  They were given a home, streets, police safety, playgrounds, and an occasional health clinic.  Some of the most bitter parts of the cycle of poverty have been removed, but they still face many challenges, including education.


One road among many in the Villa Guadalupe community

In a highly competitive country where childhood education isn’t mandatory, only 9% of children complete secondary school (the equivalent of Middle School and High School in the USA, grades 7-11).  Many children drop out to help support their family, and often school is seen as a drain on the family’s resources.  Uneducated, they’re less able to respond to their environment, and often follow the same occupational path as their parents.  They have children early, have to find a way to support them immediately, and become stuck economically.

Private school alone doesn’t beat the 9% statistic.  It helps in a massive way, but there are more obstacles than the classroom, and Rosa knew that.

Rosa doesn’t rest

Rosa wanted to rent a room outside of school where the kids could study and receive help with their homework.  She wanted them to have a computer, internet, a printer, some books to read.  She wanted to have a place where she could check on them daily.

I said I’d think about it.  With higher fixed monthly costs, it was going to be more difficult to find sponsors who were able to support the kids; this was a large ongoing commitment; I wasn’t involved enough to give it the oversight it would need; and I wanted to find a way for the families to pay to be a part of the program.

I met each of the kids in person, and talked with some of the parents.  After talking with a mother and father of the youngest girl on scholarship right now, I wrote in my journal:

“These are strong people that want the best for their daughter.  That is the best agent for change, and a place to study is superfluous.  We can give opportunity by providing scholarships, but it is up to these families and individuals to make the most of it.  If having this room provides a 10% increase in opportunity, but having private school provides a 75% increase, it makes more sense to use donations give more kids the opportunity for private school.”

I took a few days away from Managua to think things over, to consider why it didn’t feel right.  I studied, wrote, talked with mentors, and let it settle in, not willing to make a large ongoing commitment without believing in it 100%.  I knew the funding would be available, from the generosity I’ve seen from you all in the past.  The question was in missed opportunities, engagement from parents and children, and effectiveness.

I didn’t want to just help the first people we ran into, and ignore the rest.  I didn’t want to give something away for nothing in return, because I knew that when people pay for something they not only value it more but it’s also more effective.  I didn’t want to start something we wouldn’t finish.  On the other hand, in saying “yes” I would be responding to a strong “voiced need,” both from Rosa and from the students and parents I had talked to, and that’s the way I like to do things.

I had stalled for as long as I could – the trip was almost at an end.  I had a whopping $1,440 available to me and didn’t think I’d be able to find a place for it, but I was OK with that.

I said no.

Rosa had been thinking, too, and together we made some tweaks to the idea that brought everything into place.

We increased the program to 10 students to offset the increase in fixed monthly costs, and still make the scholarships accessible, and Rosa came up with a great way for the students to “pay.”

So now I present to you our work, Rosa’s vision, and one of the nonprofit organizations I hope you’ll choose to support continually.

Unidados en Esperanza (United in Hope)

United in Hope is an educational program that reaches out into an entire community, providing opportunity for those who want it the most.

We will provide Private-School scholarships to ten children in Villa Guadalupe.  There, they will receive more personal attention, more discipline and structure, exposure to life outside their community, and overall a better and more safe education than they would in the community’s public school.  They’ll learn English, they’ll have access to computer labs, they’ll be surrounded by children who value school as much as they do.  They’ll also be known in the community as a recipient of this scholarship.

To be a part of the program, a child can apply with Rosa.  To stay in it, they must keep their grades above 80%.  Best of all, and the reason we’re able to reach much farther than 10 children, each child will spend an hour every school-day tutoring other kids from the community.  If anyone needs help with their math homework, they’ll find Hector waiting there, willing to help.  If anyone needs help with a writing project, Cristina is there.  With them all, Rosa is there to help whoever she can and oversee the program.  Each student will be able to give their unique talents to help other kids in the neighborhood.


Ana Yanci tutors another child from the community
Ana Yanci tutors another child from the community

We rent a small room in Villa Guadalupe, part of one of the concrete houses built in the relocation program.  While I was there, we spent a few days equipping it with what they would need: paint, book shelves, a computer, a printer, a portable wifi signal, a door to close it off, and a lot of supplies.  Later, Rosa and the kids painted it and made it look great.  The building is rented to us by FunjoFudes, who, among many other things, provides pharmaceuticals to adults and children in the community.  It has a good courtyard in front where kids can sit, and a big playground next-door.  We also provide a decent compensation for Rosa ($100-$150/month), who will be traveling to the community each morning to work with the kids.


Three students and some of their parents, the core to the informal scholarship program over the past few years.
Three students and some of their parents–the core to the informal scholarship program over the past few years–posing before working on our little study room.

“United in Hope” was the name chosen by Rosa and the students, and I think it’s perfect.  All of us–students, parents, other kids in the community, Rosa, and us donors–are acting together to help bring children in the community the future they hope for, whatever that future may be.

Scholarship costs are $70 per student per month.  We would love you to join with us by providing a full or a half-scholarship for one of these children on an ongoing basis until they have completed their secondary education.

If you’d like to sponsor a student, write to me here (click).  Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll post the applications of the students and help match you with your student.

Look for an update within a few days for a specific breakdown of what your $1,440 paid for, and thank you so much for joining me in this experience.


Ana and Gretel starting the paint on those gray brick walls!
Ana and Gretel starting the paint on those gray brick walls
Rosa, her taxi-driver friend, and me, driving around to pick up supplies
The courtyard in front of the study room, where kids can pick up the wifi signal, study, and receive tutoring help.
Picking up Wifi!
Loading up the bookshelf









Where Do They Go From Here?

For me, the most important thing I can give someone else is opportunity. To be free–to have the opportunity to choose what our lives will look like–we need the basics (food, shelter, healthcare), and then just two more simple things – education and credit. So much of the landscape of our life is decided by when we start to go to school, what our teachers think of us, and how long we stay in. I think every child deserves the best education we can give them.

Because of how important early and ongoing education is, that’s where we’ve decided to work – more on that coming on Monday! For now, read this local perspective on education in Nicaragua.

Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” — Henry Ford

In Nicaragua, the academic school year starts in February and ends in December. Ron and I were invited to be a part of two graduation ceremonies this December. The first graduation ceremony took place at our La Paloma elementary school, which has 88 students, 4 teachers, and now the librarian that I hired for my library in the school.

The second graduation ceremony took place in Urbite High School, where our god-daughter graduated. The education statistics are frightful and the state of education in Nicaragua is and has been in crisis and stagnation for many years.

I can’t help but wonder where the graduates will go from here.
IMG_96072014 statistics report that Nicaragua has 1,389,000 pupils enrolled in primary and secondary education. Of these pupils 940,000 (67%) are enrolled in primary education.

View original post 592 more words

“What do you do?”

To the ubiquitous question asked at wedding receptions, cocktail parties, Church, and literally everywhere we’re forcecd to talk to someone  we don’t already know, we all answer in pretty much the same way.  “What do you do?” may as well be said, “What do you do to earn money?”    

If I forget about that for a second, and answer more literally, I do a lot of things.  

I build fences.  

I hang out with my wife.  

I take care of my dogs.  

I spend a ridiculous amount of time laying down trying to avoid doing anything productive.  

I eat food.  I then poop it out.  

I talk to strangers about what I do and give far more literal answers than they were looking for.  

I have a better qeustion.  

What do you do with new information?

I’d love to know.

Myself? I ask more questions, but it’s never that simple.    

 The problem is I am rarely satisfied with incomplete answers: nuance creeps its way into every opinion I have, if by the end of my process it can still be called an opinion.

And that’s why . . .   

I have little for you but questions, at this point.  I process new information by writing, but by writing privately first. 

Letting it ferment 

One of the books sitting on my “Favorites Of All Time” shelf is Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck.  In it, he takes a three month trip around the United States in order to understand America again.  It’s fantastic.  

He, like me, brings too many things he knows he won’t use.  

“I thought I might do some writing along the way, perhaps essays, surely notes, certainly letters.  I took paper, carbon, typewriter, notebooks, and not only those but dictionaires, a compact encyclopedia, and dozen other reference books, heavy ones.  I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.  I knew very well that I rarely make notes, and if I do I either lose them or can’t read them.  I also knew from thirty years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event.  It has to ferment.  I must do what a friend calls “mule it over” for a time before it goes down.  And in spite of this self-knowledge I equipped Rocinante with enough writing material to take care of ten volumes.”

This trip to Nicaragua has brought the curiosity I’m used to, but a much greater reluctance to come to conclusions.  I have a separate notebook for each trip, each filled with thoughts and questions and profiles of the people I meet.  This trip’s book is the same, but it holds few conclusions.  If there is one conclusion I’m happy making it is that poverty is complex and solutions are incredibly difficult to come by.  

I’ve had the pleasure of being forced to make decisions about programs to begin, and in that decision-making process I’ve had to refine my philosophy toward philanthropy.  I’m excited to relay those thoughts, and the results of those thoughts, but can’t do so yet.  

Over the next few weeks I’ll be “muling it over,” and making sure I don’t let too much time pass so this trip falls into the shadowland of memory, so I can continue to ask questions about the things I saw and learned.  

To do that, I have to write.  To think clearly, I have to write privately, for myself.  Once I’ve dealt with the issues enough privately, I’ll be able to publish them publicly, receive feedback, and further adjust my views in response to what you all have to say.  

That is my process: writing to myself first, and then to you, and then back to myself again.  

Some people are Prayers, others are Talkers, others are Runners, or Gymers, or Cryers, or Gossipers.  

I am a Writer, dear reader, but not yet to you.  We have so much to talk about, and I hope we’ll be able to do that soon.  




I kind of missed the point at the end of this article, which is perfect because it illustrates what my process is.  It’s not always true that I don’t come to conlusions.  Without temporarily accepting an idea, it’s hard to test it.  

Writing helps me express temporary conclusions, then balance those conclusions with opposing thoughts, and eventually, perhaps, come to some clarity.  

Phase 1: write to myself

Phase 2: wait some time, then write to myself some more. Edit, refine.  

Phase 3: write to others

Phase 4: receive feedback, further explore ideas I missed.
I’m a Writer because I wouldn’t process information nearly as well without the four steps of this process.  That’s why blogging is important to me.  #3 creates a challenge to think things through clearly in #2, and the existence of #4 helps me learn from others perspectives and find more to write about.  

The trick is in the waiting.  If I post early, I’ll often wake up the next morning and think, “Well that wasn’t very true, was it?”  If I wait too long, I lose the energy of the idea, and it all fizzles incomplete.