What are some of the success stories of the graduates of the program?
Most of time, our donors have appeared from interpersonal connections of the founder Kathy Adams, board members, our volunteers, or our staff. Yet for the past 3 years we have launched a new way of reaching out to donors while offering them a way to connect with the community. By a variety of tours we have been able to recruit people with different interests such as photography or biking and offering them a week long experience of working side by side with our kids photographing or biking . From these connections arise many new ‘EI family’ members who become committed to these amazing people they have connected with. In addition, most of the proceeds from these tours (run by our local staff) go right back into the programs.
Since 2008 we have received grants from Weyerhaeuser Family Foundation, SG Foundation, Hotel con Corazon, Cucu Foundation and Equal Education Foundation. In addition, schools sometimes do fundraiser for our kids and will sponsor a child or several children or a Rotary Club will contribute to our school supplies such as the Boulder Flatirons Rotary club.
How do you keep donors?
We try to stay connected to them and keep them informed, so they feel they are really making a difference with their donations. We find our most committed donors are those who feel connected to the project, the children and the communities we serve. Our most loyal donors have either been exposed to this type of poverty or have been to the countries themselves. A fantastic way to get a glimpse of everyday life for us on the ground is to like our facebook page.
Are donations to EI tax deductible?
Empowerment International (EI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; all donations are tax-deductible in the USA. If you live in Canada, we are in the process of filing for non-profit stats. If you live in the Netherlands we have a Dutch partner organization that can help you contribute on our behalf.
How did you select the communities you are working in?
The first community in Costa Rica happened very organically by meeting 2 boys on the street. In Nicaragua, an organization called Casa de Ninez introduced us to 5 very poor communities outside of Granada.
We chose Villa Esperanza because it was extremely poor and there was already a sense of community established, including a community leader. We were really impressed by this. The kids and families in the project were all interviewed.
The first year we chose 76 kids, who were mostly from single parent households. The second year they were again from the same area and had to demonstrate the need (although, they are all in need in this community) and both the parents and the children had to show a strong desire for education and parents a willingness to participate in their children’s educational development.
Our next community chose us. The professor of the two room school in the rural community of Santa Ana persistently requested assistance. Eventually we started to look for funds for them since their interest was so strong.
In the future, we will explore communities that are from a different area of Nicaragua, so that we can try out our model in a different culture and environment. The community will have to demonstrate a true desire to work together and help themselves.
How is EI’s progress measured?
Parental involvement is important element to our success. We measure this by their attendance to our monthly meetings, their interest in volunteering for our special events and committees.
For the children’s progress the objective measurements we use include school retention rates, annual grade promotion rates, number of teen pregnancies, number of kids that finished their defined career path and are gainfully employed. The career paths are as varied as the children. We help them find their own path based on their abilities, their passions, and the employability of that path.
What type of support do you give to the families?
First and most importantly, we develop a foundation based on trust and mutual respect. This comes from our frequent and very personal connections with the families both in their homes and in our education and activity center.
During our home visits we review the children’s school work and model positive feedback and involvement for the parents. We give the parents advice on how to work with their children on their schoolwork, even if they don’t have much education themselves. We show them how to review the children’s work, how to encourage them and motivate them.
When obstacles arise we facilitate them in finding solutions. Once the foundation of trust is there, the families often seek the staff out for a variety of issues and the staff either helps the directly or refers them to a partner NGO or public institution.
Since it often is still an economic hardship for the children to go to school (the children often work themselves or take care of household chores or their younger siblings so the parents can work). We really emphasize the value of this long-term investment versus the short-term every day needs.
How do you encourage communities to take ownership of the program?
One of our main beliefs is that we need to give hand ups not hand outs. For us this means, very little is for free. Our parents pay a small fee for each child to participate in our program and receive school materials. When an obstacle within the program arises, we ask the families and or students for ideas on how to overcome the situation. It is our policy to not offer solutions but help others find them.
Our secondary students that are in technical school or college preparatory school tutor younger peers one hour a day in return for their tuition. These same students are often in the center much longer and enjoy helping in a variety of other ways as well.
What other organizations do you partner with?
They provide medical treatment and medication. We purchase tickets at a cost of $2 each (the required co-payment). We provide tickets only to children in the program.
Give a Kid a Backpack
They have supplied all school supplies one year and packs another year.
Hotel con Corazon
In addition to them offering us a monthly contribution, we share program information with them since they have their own education program. In addition, we exhibit photos our photography students took in their hotel.
The helped us start up our libraries in each of our communities.
The Giving Lens
A for profit organization we partner with to provide amazing photography workshops alongside with our child photographers.
A discount is provided for all our students we place in this school.
Up until what grade do you support children?
We work with kids until they reach the education level they desire. For some this means a trade school after primary school. Others finish high school or tech school. Others go on to the university and we now have a university program.
In Nicaragua 50% of the kids that start 1st grade never make it to 5th grade. It is our goal to make this percentage drop significantly. Our recent study (June 2012) showed 87% of all school age children were in school. We are fairly convinced in about 3 years this will increase even more. Now the question is how to continue to bring our model to other communities.