Since my arrival in Nicaragua a month ago, I’ve been struck by two opposing realities. On one hand, Nicaragua has a long way to go. According to the CIA World Factbook, “Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America, has widespread underemployment and poverty.” The global economic crisis has hit Nicaragua particularly hard. Corruption is common and Nicaragua is still struggling to establish a clean democracy. Less than 9% of the population earns a college diploma, but even more alarming is that only about 50% of children actually make it through primary school (Unicef). The problems facing Nicaraguans can feel endless. Truly, it is an uphill battle.*
The other reality I’m faced with every day is that the students I’ve met through Vittana are the ones who will, I believe, help pull Nicaragua up that hill and fight the battle. Over the past month, I’ve had the joy of getting to know many Vittana students. On the surface, they are quite different: I’ve met young students eager to earn their first job, mothers who have gone back to school, fathers in the prime of their career who have decided never to stop learning and growing professionally. They are pharmacists, civil engineers, tour guides, teachers and lawyers and they all have different dreams for the future. Despite their differences, however, there are attributes that all Vittana students share.
Vittana students are usually the first in their family to go to college. Erick (above) and Rolando (side) share a similar background. No one in their families had attended college and it was assumed that they would work construction like their fathers. Erick and Rolando started working in construction at 13, but never lost the drive to go to college. For Erick, his day came in the form of a computer course he took at a technical school which inspired him to pursue (and complete!) a degree in computer engineering. Rolando discovered his future career in customs through a program at a local technical school. After his practicum ends in September, he will have a degree–and a job– in customs administration. (Their stories offer yet another argument for vocational training). Both Erick and Rolando are the first in their respective families to obtain a college degree.
Vittana students are busy, motivated and hard-working. Almost every Vittana student I meet works multiple jobs, pursues multiple degrees and has a variety of outside interests, from travel to philosophy. They are driven and will do whatever it takes to provide for their families. In addition to attending school full time and working full time as a dentist, Isidro is also a pastor of a church, and helps his wife run a school. Not content to waste a single opportunity, Scarlett works full time as a doctor, travels to visit her rural patients a couple times a week, takes English classes on Saturdays and attends university for a specialization in pharmacy on Sundays. Did I mention she’s also the mother of two children and helps to support her husband who is also studying a second degree?
Vittana students are committed to improving the lives of their fellow Nicaraguans. I have to mention Scarlett again. During her residency in medicine, she was shocked by the poor healthcare for women giving birth. She discovered a Dutch NGO and together they trained the local curanderos (medicine men/women) and parteras (midwives) in basic first aid and family planning.
Vittana students have big plans for the future. Erick, Rolando, Scarlett and Isidro and are not alone in their big plans for the future. Every student I have ever talked to is not afraid to dream big: starting their own business, open up a financial and law consultation firm, provide a free walk-in clinic and health education classes for the poor, build a school, etc. The thing is, Vittana students back up their dreams with concrete actions, doing their research, getting the necessary degrees and making the right connections.
Nicaragua is a beautiful country, but I am constantly reminded of—and almost paralyzed by—the extreme poverty and challenges Nicaraguans face on a daily basis. Vittana students, however, are not passive bystanders. I am confident they have the qualities to make a positive impact in the world around them.
If you would like make a loan to other students like Erick, Rolando, Scarlett and Isidro, click here.
*If you would like to read more about Nicaragua, Victoria Kabak, a former Kiva fellow, wrote a great post about its history and current issues.
Photo Credit: Shared Interest