Merry Christmas to you and your family! I'm honored to wrap up our special 12 Days of Christmas series by highlighting a gift I received from participating in the inaugural graduation ceremony at Emprendedora Technical High School, which was founded in 2012 in Granada, Nicaragua, a country where more than 48 percent of children never reach the sixth grade.
Founded in 2012, the high school is part of Opportunity International’s Community Economic Development (CED) strategy to build on the local assets in a community to grow the local economy through the development of small and medium enterprises. Opportunity’s initiatives in Nicaragua are based on self-identified community needs. We then partner with the community to help them achieve their goals whether it’s building a school, repairing a church, creating new roads, or ensuring clean water through a new aqueduct system.
The school was founded with just two classrooms and 60 students under the leadership of donors David and Donna Allman, who in 2007 challenged us to think big about a new CED model that would help lift an entire community out of poverty.
Dave and Donna brought in development expert Geralyn Sheehan to help launch the program, including the high school. In partnership with Opportunity International, these three individuals helped put kids in the classroom, create jobs, improve access to health services and expand community entrepreneurs’ businesses.
This year, the Emprendedora High School reached full capacity with 300 students in grades 7 through 11. It’s one of the only schools accredited by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education (MINED) and the Technology National Institute (INATEC) which enables students to receive a technical degree in sustainable tourism or agriculture in addition to their high school diploma. The school is also accredited by Agriculture Best Practices (BPA) which promotes sustainable agriculture.
The school has transformed the entire communityand runs several small agricultural and tourism businesses to give students real-world experience selling goods and services to cover the school’s operational costs.
Being a speaker during the high school graduation ceremony was much more emotional than I had anticipated. I wanted to make sure I left the students with some kernel of wisdom about how life is not a straight line and it’s certainly not always easy. That life is sometimes difficult but each challenge brings growth and opportunities and that ultimately, their measure of success will be what they think and how they define success.
Then I sang the students part of a song. There is a popular song from the Broadway musical Rent called “Seasons of Love.” It goes:
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?
I challenged the class to think about how they’ll measure their life. I asked them to think about the qualitative part like love, friendship, family, and faith—and giving back to Nicaragua, to make it a better place.
One member of the class of 2016 is Roger Ruiz, pictured here. Four years ago, Roger had been expelled from a nearby school and without access to education was destined to be trapped in poverty. Roger’s mother asked Opportunity to enroll him in our technical school and against all odds, Roger thrived; he was elected class president by his peers and graduated. During his studies at Emprendedora, he discovered he had a talent and passion for sales. I was humbled after meeting him and following his success over the past four years. In speaking with him at the ceremony he intends to implement his business plan to raise and sell sheep meat.
Roger, is a reminder of the basic aphorism of life today: talent is universal, but opportunity is not. The greatest untapped resource in poor countries isn’t oil or gold; it’s people like Roger, who is going to change the world because in working together he now has the opportunity to succeed.
So, I raise my eggnog to toast Roger, his classmates and all our supporters promoting education and creating opportunity around the world.
One of my greatest gifts this holiday season is being with Roger and the class of 2016 at Emprendedora High School. There’s nothing better than helping renew the human spirit of a nation and bringing hope and happiness to families and communities that lack things most of us take for granted, like quality schools for our children.
Thank you for your support in 2016 and best wishes to you and your family for a safe and joyous holiday season. We’re looking forward to continuing our work together in 2017 to help even more clients break the cycle of poverty, transform their lives and strengthen their families and communities.