The Change Makers Spotlight is a weekly blog highlighting some of the best non-profits, businesses and individuals working to make the world a better place.
In our inaugural Change Markers Spotlight blog we talk with Monica Lovely the Executive Director of Education Plus Nicaragua, a nonprofit in the impoverished barrio Pantanal that provides children with education, nutrition and health care. It works to keep children off the streets and provide them a safe educational environment to hopefully end the cycle of poverty.
1. What is Education Plus Nicaragua? Education Plus Nicaragua is a community youth organization that provides the children of Pantanal, Nicaragua with food, education, and activities in order to eliminate malnutrition, instill core values, and provide children with opportunities that keep them off the streets and into education.
2. How/why did you start EPN? EPN was started to break the cycle of poverty in a community through changing the lives of its youth.
3. Did you go to Nicaragua with the idea of starting something like this? No we did not go into it with the idea of starting a non-profit. It was basically seeing a need, addressing it, and then it grew and grew.
4. What are the biggest challenges of running EPN? Funding and going up against the difficult home situations that the children live in.
5. What had been the most surprising? Most inspiring? Most surprising was how many children want to change their lives, and how, given our rigorous rules, how many children step up to the plate. It is also surprising that it is usually the children themselves, not the parents, that come to us at enrollment time. The most inspiring thing is seeing the children come back day after day year after year and changing before your eyes, growing into fine young men and women. It is worth stepping back from time to time and seeing where they are now versus where they were when we started. I also love that in the country with the highest teen pregnancy in Latin America, none of our female students have ever gotten pregnant, and I attribute that to the fact that these girls WANT to study and to go somewhere in their lives, and they just needed a way, a path, to follow their dreams, to be able to stay on that path. Before EPM, there was really only one path for the girls to follow. Now there are two, and there are some very amazing girls that have chosen the path of EPN.
6. What is new with EPN? We just started Sponsor- A-Child where a sponsor pays the tuition for a child or children to attend our program at no cost to that child. When you sponsor a child, you are providing a scholarship for that child. It is what allows us to support individual children in their quest to learn and grow, and what will allow us to grow and expand our services as our child sponsorship grow. It is also a cool way to form a bond between a child and their champion. Most of the kids (I would say all of them 7 or above) are aware of what a sponsorship means, what it provides, and who their sponsors are. Some of the kids even have their sponsors birthdays memorized
7. What piece of advice would you give someone who want to use their talents to give back, but don’t know where to start? I would say that if you have the time and money, make the jump and volunteer. Just know what you are getting into beforehand - a place like Ed+ provides you with a volunteer experience where you can really make an impact, but the conditions (heat, dire poverty, a culture of domestic abuse, lack of resources) are not easy and so not for everyone. There are other volunteer positions where you may not make as big of an impact, but are more manageable commitments. Regardless, whatever type of volunteer position you choose, make a commitment and stick to it. If you do have the funds, definitely support an organization and cause you believe in through sharing part of your wealth, whether that means $5 or $5,000. And go by the impact your donation makes, not necessarily what percentage goes to this and what to that. But mostly, you need to believe in the cause and see your donation as an investment, not a gift.