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Join the EI Family – A Donor and Retired Teacher Shares his EI Experience

June 21, 2011

My third trip to Nicaragua in February 2011 felt like a homecoming. This trip, as I walked down the rutted, muddy streets of Barrio Esperanza, a poor neighborhood in Granada, I was accompanied by a group of older students from the area. My Spanish was improved enough from the year before that I could listen to them talk about what they were doing or planned to do after high school graduation.EI kids

Anyelo was a softspoken star among the graduates. He is studying to be a pharmacist, while also returning to tutor younger children in his neighborhood as a way to pay back what he has been given by Empowerment International. He and other kids like him are dedicated students whose parents or who themselves never could have envisioned a life beyond poverty before Empowerment offered them encouragement and support.

The EI model makes sense to me, a retired teacher.
Help children get to school with the required uniforms and supplies.
Work closely with their families, who often have little or no education and who rely on their children to help earn a living for the family, often at the expense of school attendance or completion beyond the elementary grades.
Provide after-school tutoring programs, conducted by both staff and some of the older students.
Engage kids in extracurricular activities that promote health and self-confidence. Connect graduates with higher education and training opportunities.

One goal of the Empowerment program has been to simply keep kids in school, and for the last two years they have been able to do that at a rate above 90%, despite the pressures of poverty and culture that pull about half of all students out of school after the primary grades in the country as a whole. I saw those pressures in the small rural schools I visited on my first trip to Nicaragua in 2005. Students there were eager to learn. But isolation, parents’ lack of education, skepticism about the value of school, and only intermittent contact with a supporting nonprofit all combined to make it difficult for children to stay in school.

EI, on the other hand, has been successful because staff live and work in the communities they serve.  Daily contact with students and families make the difference.  That was very apparent as children and parents came out to greet our group of students and EI staff members as we walked through the Barrio.3 EI children

Our family’s involvement with EI started on the recommendation of a friend, Morgan Smith, in 2008.  After meeting founder, Kathy Adams, at a celebration and fund-raising event in Boulder, Colorado, we began sponsoring students in Barrio Esperanza.  For a modest monthly contribution, we were assured that these children would have the support they needed to stay in school and to develop academic and life goals.  And that has been the case.

Plus, EI has been wonderful about negotiating letter writing between us and the students we sponsor.  The icing on the cake is that I have been able to visit these children and their families twice, now.

This year, my visit really did feel like a homecoming. One of the students we sponsor, 6th grader Maria Dolores, shy but all smiles, invited me into her shanty and brought me a chair.  On the way to see her, I had passed her mother and father atop a horse drawn cart full of reed mats they make, on their way to Managua to sell them.

Maria and I had exchanged letters several times and so our conversation covered familiar topics – school and family and what she hoped for her future.  She couldn’t let me leave without a hug and a photo, many thank you’s and a promise to study hard.

A few hundred yards down the road, I stopped to visit another of our students, Katerine, a second grader, who came running from a friend’s house and latched onto my waist in a bear hug.  She couldn’t wait to show me her report card and a medal she had won in school.  The previous year just days before my visit, her mother had lost her job at a local maquiladora.  This year she was again without employment, but had been able to spend a few months working in Costa Rica. Life here is very difficult, she told me, but I know that Katerine will have better chances than I did.A girl in EI

EI’s programs are transforming lives in Nicaragua. My involvement with EI has helped me to understand how powerfully they represent a much-needed positive image of America-as partners in the construction of a better world. My wife and I support education-related non-profits in the U.S., but we are also committed to spending our time and talent abroad.

As travelers we know firsthand the importance of sharing our lives and stories with the people we meet. A world of strangers teeters always on the brink of misunderstanding and conflict. Even a modest effort to communicate with people beyond our own country helps us feel we can be at home anywhere.

Having seen their work firsthand I can say that Empowerment International is a trustworthy, effective organization. Even if you never have the chance to visit Nicaragua and its friendly people, you are making friends and representing your country by financially supporting EI’s work. If you are lucky enough to see that work in person, it will feel like a homecoming, not just a visit.

~ Alan Olds (Denver and DC)

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In Nicaragua 50% of the kids that start 1st grade never finish 5th grade. It is our goal to make this percentage drop significantly.

$30/month is what it takes us at Empowerment International to put a child in school. If you would like to help a child stay in school and get better life, please click on the link below or contact us

Donate at Change.org

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