Born in an impoverished barrio on the outskirts of Granada, 21-year-old Rafael always dreamed of being an artist. Thanks to Empowerment International (EI), an extraordinary NGO working in Nicaragua since 2004, he began studying photography three years ago in EI’s photography program that develops and nurtures children’s artistic talents while teaching skills enabling them to break the cycle of poverty.
By Katharine Stevens
Once a struggling student on the verge of dropping out of school, Rafael is graduating from high school this year. He is also a proud and accomplished photographer. And with the ongoing support of EI he is entering university next year to study graphic design and photography. “Photography has changed me as a person,” he says quietly. “Without EI, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”
Photography is just one component of the comprehensive network of community-based programs that EI provides to children and their families in two disadvantaged Granada communities—Villa Esperanza and Santa Ana—all designed to keep children in school by removing barriers to their education. Since its inception with 76 children nine years ago, Empowerment International has grown to include 350 children and youth from ages 4 to 23, many of whom have been with the program for years. In 2012, 95% of EI’s participants stayed in school, and in EI’s first community, Villa Esperanza, almost 90% of school-age children now attend school up from only 53% when the program began.
Me and my camera
The secret to EI’s success is an intensive, hands-on approach that prevents children from falling through the cracks by giving individualized attention to each child and family, and building strong, long-term relationships with children, families, and the community. EI staff members visit each child’s home regularly to provide ongoing encouragement and mentoring to the child and family, and help solve problems that could interrupt school attendance. Medical care is provided to children, and psychological counseling is available to both individuals and families. An Activities Center, open daily from 8:00am to 8:00pm, offers a computer lab with internet, educational games, a children’s library, reference books, and a safe place to play. Primary school children needing extra help receive tutoring from the program’s teenage participants who volunteer their time at the Center. The Center also provides a weekly youth group run by a psychologist, monthly classes and workshops for parents, English classes, dance lessons, and sports activities.
Rafael is graduating from high school this year. He is also a proud and accomplished photographer. And with the ongoing support of EI he is entering university next year to study graphic design and photography. “Photography has changed me as a person,” he says quietly.
Students with grades of 75% and above receive scholarships to private secondary schools, provided by sponsors from the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and through EI’s University Program, students receive tutoring for entrance exams and academic scholarships. Scholarships and internship placements are also provided for technical, pharmacy, and hospitality careers; one former student is now on staff at Hotel Dario after completing her internship there.
“Our goal is to motivate children to believe in themselves and their futures,” says founder and director Kathy Adams. “We help each child find their path, and provide the tools that empower them to follow it.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED:
- Visit the “Mi Camera, Mi Mundo” Gallery to see the children’s photos and to purchase prints, notecards, and calendars. All proceeds support the project. Open Monday to Friday from 8am-5pm (closed for lunch from 12-1pm) at 519 Calle La Libertad.
- Donate at www.razoo.com/story/Empowerment-International. Digital SLR cameras and lenses, and SD and CF memory cards are also needed
- Sponsor a child: A $30/month sponsorship enables a child to participate in EI. Sponsors receive information about the child, updates, and letters from the child. Visits are also welcomed and coordinated by program staff. Click on “Sponsor a Child” at empowermentinternational.org and also see www.razoo.com/story/Sponsorship and www.razoo.com/story/Empowerment-International. Or stop by the Gallery for more information.
- Volunteer to teach English, computers, photography, or other activities. A minimum of two months is recommended.
For more information: See the project’s website at http://empowermentinternational.org/ or stop by the office at 519 Calle La Libertad.