San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Program helps Granadinos attend university

GRANADA – The end of the 2010 academic year marked a significant milestone in the lives of two young Nicaraguan students who are set to become the first third-level graduates from an innovative program which helps children from poor families attend university.

To qualify for the program, students must have completed high school and be prepared to help other impoverished children with their education during their five years of third-level studies.

The University Scholarship program, launched by the La Esperanza Granada non-profit organization in early 2008, allows students to earn a stipend of $80 per month. In return, they engage in voluntary work with children in poor rural communities outside Granada five days a week.

The successful students, or “ayudantes” (assistants), then attend university on the weekends. Fees are included in the scholarship.

New graduates Lourdes García  and Dimas Ulloa were already being sponsored through university when they joined the ayudantes program two years ago, and their success in completing their third-level courses has been a source of joy in their communities.

The ayudantes serve as a link between a team of 30 to 40 European and North American volunteers and the rural schools they work in for La Esperanza Granada.

After five years of study, García is set to graduate as an architect at the end of the month, while Ulloa has already qualified as

a civil engineer. García said she is only the third person from her barrio, La Prusia, to get a chance to attend university.

“It would have been very difficult for my parents to send me to university otherwise,” she says. “There are some university grants based on performance, but very few. Very few from my barrio have made it to university, maybe three at a maximum, because we are very poor.

“I would like to keep studying now. I have applied for a post-graduate course. After that, who knows? If I had a chance to work in Costa Rica, for example, I would take it because there are so few opportunities here in Nicaragua,” she said.

García is hugely grateful to the sponsors who gave her the chance to become an architect. For her, the ayudante program is a great opportunity to give children something to aim for in the poorer communities outside Granada.

“I love working with the children in the schools, because they are such good fun,” she says. “They like to tell me that they want to be architects, too. There has been a lot of study and I don’t have much free time, but it has been worth it!”

My life will not be the same again. I’m going to be sad to say goodbye.”

Ulloa has brought more than 500 children from eight schools on dental visits as part of his role as an ayudante over the past two years. He is looking forward to working as a civil engineer.

“I have sent my CV to different companies and I would not mind working anywhere,” he says. “I am relieved that the five years of study are over and that I will have more time on my hands.”

For the past couple of years he has worked with the children in the rural communities from Monday to Friday, while attending university in Granada from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every Saturday.

His achievement in attending university has ensured that this quiet-spoken young man from a poor family is seen as something as a role model in his impoverished part of Granada.

“I love working with the children, the way they embrace you and make a big fuss when we come to the school,” he says. “I love organizing activities such as playing football.”

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