More Than a Project: A New Outlook on Life
The Youth Uplift Challenge is supporting Save the Children's youth opportunity programs in Nicaragua and Indonesia. We're excited to bring you to these countries to meet a few inspiring students finding success! In this blog post, meet a few young women and girls in Nicaragua who are finding community, teamwork, and their dreams through Save the Children's “Cup of Excellence with Young Entrepreneurs.”
By Dayana Escorcia
Nine young women and girls ages 13-24 are waiting for us at a school in Valle de la Isla about 100 miles from Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua. It is cold and it’s starting to rain, but this is a great opportunity to enter into the warmth of a good conversation. We’re here to learn what the members of this group have in common.
All these women and girls are different. Some are mothers carrying children, some are students and some work at home or on their own small farmsteads. Today, however, they have come to discuss Save the Children’s “Cup of Excellence with Young Entrepreneurs” being run in Matagalpa and Jinotega with support from Students Rebuild and the Youth Uplift Challenge. All nine of them participate in the project.
We sit in a circle in a classrooms, and give voice to their thoughts about the project. They all agree that it has been beneficial. “The thing I’ve liked the most are the deep conversations, because we’ve been learning about gender equity,” says 24-year-old Claudia Mendoza. One of the aims of the project is for the participants to reflect on sexual and reproductive rights, family planning and children’s rights, while also learning about issues that contribute to their personal growth and efficacy.
They also discuss their livelihoods. Most of them work with their families because they cannot study or get formal work in their community. “At home, there’s a little bit of income from coffee because it’s harvesting season at the moment, so we live off that,” says 13-year-old Cándida Gámez. “But, in the ‘quiet time’ – April to June, when there is no coffee picking -- my older brothers look for other work to help out.”
Cándida is one of the youngest in the group and one of the few still in school. She is currently in the fourth year of her secondary education in the same school where we are meeting, because the other regular schools are a long way from where she lives. “As you know, the economic possibilities are very limited,” she explains with a shrug, “I study here because it’s less expensive.”
Most young women and girls cannot continue their education after high school because of the costs involved in travelling to the municipal capital or other municipalities where there are institutes of higher learning. Many have not even completed elementary school. Heyling Mendoza is the exception. “My dad is helping me and I’m dedicating myself to studying,” she says with a smile. “I’m about to start my second year of vocational studies in agronomy. I have a scholarship in from ODESAR (Save the Children’s partner in livelihoods program).” Heyling is 21 and a single mother, like so many other young women and girls in her community.
In addition to training young people and helping them improve their income through coffee production, the “Cup of Excellence with Young Entrepreneurs” project is also funding start-up investments of business initiatives owned and led by youth in their communities. The goal is to give young people an alternative way to earn money in their communities, if continuing their education is not an option.
Cándida says, “It’s seems very important to me because it helps families with limited resources, like mine, and can enable us to do something new in our community.”
So far, two business initiatives have been implemented in Valle de la Isla: raising pigs for meat commercialization and egg-laying hens. Each is being administered by a group of three of these women and girls. The girls who decided to raise pigs received funding to buy and raise two pigs in order to sell the meat. “I wanted to raise pigs because I like making nacatamals (a typical dish of corn with pork, vegetables and rice, among other ingredients, wrapped up in a plantain leaf and boiled in water),” Heyling explains. Her group sold the meat from the first 2 pigs and used the money they made to buy two more pigs. “We’ve butchered four pigs in total,” she adds.
Meanwhile, the egg-laying hen initiative has 50 hens that are kept in a coop at the home of one of the young women in the group. This activity requires a little more work and care, fostering collective participation and team work, which is another of the project’s aims.
“It’s been really interesting for me,” states 22-year-old Noemí Herrera, who is part of the chicken group and also a project promoter. “Learning to working in a group has helped me a lot, which is important thing because I found it difficult in the past.
For 20-year-old Ana Yubelka Ramos, the experience of working in a team has also been rewarding and has encouraged her to remain in the project. “We feel we’re doing well,” she comments, “because when we offer people eggs they say ‘Yes, bring us some,’ and we haven’t let anyone down.”
Each of the three girls looks after the coop for a week. “I live a bit far away, a fifteen-minute walk,” says a happy Cándida as she puts chicken feed into one of the containers in the coop. “I come at six in the morning, clean out the coop, feed the hens and give them water. Then I come back later, at about 10 am, to give them more water. They get more food at about 3pm.”
These three young women put a lot of effort into their work. “Sometimes it’s hard because you have to get up at about 5am to come here,” says Cándida. “Of course, I’m used to that because I get up early when I go out to pick coffee.” However, her interest and diligence have paid off as the group has already sold around 900 eggs in their community and now have four local stores and a farm as regular customers.
This happy group of entrepreneurs views the project as a source of hope and an opportunity to progress on the path to self-reliance. “We won’t stop when the project ends; we want to continue with what we already have, creating other initiatives that are maybe even bigger,” Noemí insists. “That’s the idea: not to be satisfied with the little we have, but rather to expand.”
The process that this group is going through could also act as a springboard for achieving personal goals. Ana Yubelka is quite clear about this: “Let’s see what the girls think, because when the project ends I’m thinking about reinvesting my earnings in another initiative and following my dream of being a seamstress.” The “Cup of Excellence with Young Entrepreneurs” project in the community of Valle de la Isla in El Tuma–La Dalia is definitely changing the lives of these young people for the better.
For every hand you make and send in from now until May 8, 2017, the Bezos Family Foundation will donate $1.90—up to $500,000—to Save the Children’s programs empowering youth in Nicaragua and Indonesia to rise into a life they dream for themselves. Take the Youth Uplift Challenge now!