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.
20k in my pocket
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.