Why Opportunity International Offers an Education and a Brighter Future for Nicaraguan Girls
Posted on August 23, 2012, by Malin Akerman, Actress and Ambassador, Opportunity International
In late July, I took a whirlwind, one-day trip to Granada, Nicaragua. I arrived in this poverty-stricken country and we spent one full day visiting Opportunity International’s community development projects and meeting just a few of the clients and staff there. Opportunity is a nonprofit that offers financial tools — microloans, access to savings, microinsurance, training — to people in the developing world to help break the cycle of chronic poverty. Our guide for our short trip was Geralyn Sheehan, Opportunity Nicaragua’s Program Director, who took us to meet yucca farmers; community leaders improving roads, roofs and running water; local artisans; and the Emprendedora School.
Emprendedora is a technical school that opened last February and offers a really unique educational opportunity. The students will get a traditional high school diploma plus hands-on training in agriculture and tourism, two of the region’s strongest industries. The school buildings were clean and they sat on lots of land — fields of yucca. Right now the school houses only seventh grade, but they plan to add a new class every year and expect to add eighth grade by next January or February.
In a country where 46 percent of the kids never make it past sixth grade, a school like Emprendedora is crucial. Not only can it give students a diploma, but they get firsthand experience and job-skills training with agriculture in the yucca fields and tourism in the on-campus ecotourism hotel.
Malin Akerman learns alongside students of Opportunity International’s Emprendedora School in Nicaragua (Photo courtesy Opportunity International)
I’ve always been a big supporter of education, and I know that it can be the key to greater equality for women. When a girl drops out of school at age 11 or 12, they’re more likely to have babies and start families much younger, meaning that they have to try to feed their children and survive with almost no education and no decent job prospects. It’s a never-ending cycle.
One of Opportunity’s key strategies at the school is to ensure that students’ families are 100 percent the forces behind their education. Opportunity can offer access, but without a family’s support, it will be next to impossible for kids to succeed. That’s why school staff builds close relationships with the parents to help solve any issues or barriers to their education. As we walked around the school grounds we saw the kids tending gardens and interacting in their classrooms — kids just being students. They were so respectful and polite, and you could just see the pride on their faces. They felt so privileged to be there; they’re finally getting a chance and they’re taking it.
Emprendedora, like Opportunity Nicaragua’s other community-based projects, is more than microfinance — it’s creating leaders and self-sustainability, and it builds up local communities from the grassroots level. This is what I love about Opportunity. It’s making it possible for the community to get in there and say, “OK, what needs to be done?” And then they’re doing it.
I’m inspired by the women, the children and the families’ drive to survive, and I want to learn from schools that Opportunity started. There’s an end in sight to the tough times, and this is a solution that is self-sustainable. It can cure a lot of problems and educate a lot of kids. This will work.
I cannot wait to go back to Nicaragua. I definitely will be there early next year when they add the new eighth grade classroom, but I want to visit before then too to talk to more of the kids and the teachers, and to bring my husband who’s a drummer and wants to drum with them! This school is a future and way out for kids, especially girls, who might not have had a chance before. That’s why I got involved.
Malin Akerman is an actress. Read more of her blog posts about Opportunity International, learn more about Opportunity International's work and connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.