16 year old Nicaraguan student Roger Conrado is not your typical teenager. Although he’s only a sophomore in high school, Roger is the visionary behind the Nicaragua Education Foundation, a student led and managed nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform the lives of children of Nicaragua by investing in their education.
The Nicaragua Education Foundation believes that through community involvement and support, every Nicaraguan student will have the opportunity to achieve his/her highest potential and contribute to the development of their country.
For Roger, his sister Maria Alejandra, and their two cousins Chiara Luna and Giancarlo (the four founding members of the foundation), the idea to start a nonprofit emerged after seeing Nicaragua suffer through a tremendous social-political conflict that began in April 2018. Since the start of the crisis, 40,000 people have had to leave the country, and over 400,000 are unemployed.
Roger remembers, “The whole conflict started with university students protesting against a government reform. I was shocked at what was happening. I thought it was going to be over in a few months. But April passed, then May, then June… finally it was August, and it was still happening. I couldn’t just sit back and watch anymore. I wanted to do something to help these people.”
“So I started doing research, and found that one of the biggest impacts of the crisis was that a lot of schools were shutting down. And that actually, most of the schools shutting down were public schools where many poor and underprivileged kids go for their education. And so I wanted to do something to help these kids.”
He goes on, “Education has always been a problem in Nicaragua, even before the social-political crisis started. It’s not like it’s a new issue that suddenly emerged. So when I first thought of starting a nonprofit to help, I thought that it was probably going to be pretty complicated for us to make the kind of impact we wanted to make right from the start. There are other organizations that are also helping this community, but they have years more experience and lots more resources than us.”
So, what could be done? Roger explains, “We— my sister and two cousins and I, who started the nonprofit— still really wanted to do something to help, even though we didn’t have much experience in this. So we thought that, instead of making our own project directly, why don’t we help another organization who is helping children?”
That’s where the partnership aspect of the Nicaragua Education Foundation comes in. One of the Foundation’s major projects is to raise funds for an organization called Arms of Love International. Arms of Love International is an orphanage and community center in the small town of Jinotepe, Nicaragua that provides abandoned children with a home, an education and community support. The students of the Nicaragua Education Foundation chose Arms of Love as their first project because of the impact education is making in these children’s lives.
“Arms of Love is a wonderful institution,” says Roger. “They give homes to children who live on the streets in miserable conditions. They adopt children and give them a proper education. They actually have to try to find and talk to the parents of these abandoned children, and try to get parents to contribute to the project. They have a farm, and they put kids to work learning real skills. It’s just a really safe environment, and kids of all ages live there. They literally rescue kids off the streets and give them a new chance at life.”
In November of 2018, Roger went to the Arms of Love center in Jinotepe and spoke with some of the local children. He reflects, “I realized that all of these kids who have suffered a lot— they have dreams. They have big goals they want to achieve in life. That really motivated me to push myself in this endeavor.”
The Nicaragua Education Foundation has designed a peer to peer fundraising campaign for Arms of Love to encourage people to help make a change. Individuals can donate to their cause or become an ambassador by helping fundraise as an individual or as a team. “Anybody can donate.” Roger says. “And if you can’t donate, you can help advocate. We’re trying to make “teams” (like through schools and companies) to motivate people to donate more. We’re setting up goals for each team, so that more people get involved and help spread the word.”
When reflecting on the biggest challenge that Roger and his peers faced as they started their nonprofit, Roger emphasizes the importance of showing donors their impact. “People have said to me, ‘in order to be successful as a nonprofit, you have to make the donor really feel the impact you’re making.’ That’s an issue I have to constantly try to solve. As a nonprofit, you have to make the donor really feel something. So we’re trying to work on showing donors the progress of each child that they help. It can be pretty difficult to do this at such a detailed level, but it’s important to tell impact stories so that donors keep on giving.”
As the Nicaragua Education Foundation grows, they hope to expand to other projects with more organizations that tackle educational problems in Nicaragua. Roger shares, “As we grow, we want to make sure that all of the money we are fundraising goes directly to the kids. Our big goal is to raise $100,000 for children’s education by December of 2020. We’re going around talking to other schools and universities in Nicaragua, trying to open up branches of after-school clubs to help, and researching companies that support organizations like us.”
Although it hasn’t always been easy, starting the Nicaragua Education Foundation has been a rewarding endeavor for Roger and the other students involved in the organization. “This experience definitely has helped me understand what most Nicaraguan people go through. The hardship that these people face… it’s a pretty common experience. It has really opened my eyes and made me appreciate what I have," Roger says. "I think that’s shaped me a lot. It makes me more involved in my community, and motivates me push myself to expand to more programs and more organizations that are helping kids.”