Learn a bit about what their experience has been like as they collect important data in Nicaragua! Click the video to watch.
We are excited to have broken ground on a water and latrine project in the community of Mancera Central, returning to that community after collaborating to build a new school building in 2019. As its name suggests, it is the center of a group of smaller villages, with a high school and a health clinic that serves all of those surrounding villages. In these rural communities, high school occurs every Saturday and students take their homework for the rest of the week, to complete after they finish their chores. Going to high school is quite a commitment, walking or riding a horse for hours from the smaller villages to get to school. It was eye-opening and heart-warming to see the influx of teens that Saturday of our visit. Many of the girls were accompanied by moms or older brothers, for safety. It takes at least 5 years for them to graduate from high school, going only once a week as they do.
In 2019 the community mobilized to build a new school to serve as the primary school during the week, and the high school on Saturdays, just as they are now mobilizing to build a water system to provide safe drinking water for their families. It was the fastest school we’ve seen come together and that energy is continuing on the water project.
We are so very grateful for the support of The Burdine Johnson Foundation for financially supporting the Mancera Central water project. Their sustaining support over the years has brought safe water to hundreds of families.
We are also grateful and thrilled to report winning our second Rotary International Global Grant! This grant will pay for the water and latrine project in the community of Bilampi, which we will break ground on in early summer 2021. We’re excited to share an interview, below, of KC Cerny, the driving force behind these complex grant applications. In designing this system, our water engineer reported this community having the worst water quality he had ever seen. The families in Bilampi cannot wait to get started. They should have clean water in their homes by the end of the year!
And, in between these 2 water projects, we will collaborate in the community of Malakawas to build a new school, after finishing a water project there last year. In our survey work leading up to commencing this project, we’ve seen the highest level of adult continuing education of all of the communities we’ve worked in previously. It is great to see parents just as eager to continue their education as the children, and they cannot wait to have a new school building in which to study.
Your support makes all these projects possible. We invite you to one of our upcoming ‘Crash Courses’ to learn more about 2021 projects and the communities where we’ve put your investment to work. I hope to see you there and bring a friend or two to help us spread the word. It would be a huge gift.
Clean water is flowing in Mancera, Nicaragua. The forty families in this small community have been working since December to harness a high elevation spring to bring water to their homes.
They’ve finished the spring capture process and clean water is flowing downhill through pipes they are currently working to bury in a 2-mile trench to the site of a future storage tank. Once that first section of the main conduction line is complete, they can start building the 45,000-gallon storage tank that will provide water to their homes.
This is back-breaking work and this particular spring capture was more difficult than average. Sometimes the springs are easily accessible and not located far from the community they will serve, but in Mancera, the spring is two miles up a formidable mountain accessible only via narrow trails. All the cement, sand, gravel, and pvc had to be carried on horses, mules, and by hand in the hot sun and, sometimes simultaneously, through deep mud.
I’m continually amazed at the persistence and sheer physical fortitude of the communities we work with. They spend month after month carrying supplies, digging trenches by hand, and laboring in challenging conditions to get water to their families. This project is slated to be complete by August of 2021.
Director of Operations
In describing the work of the West Austin Rotary Club, KC Cerny highlights the service organization’s motto: “Service above Self. ” Over the past few years, KC has truly lived this motto by working tirelessly with Rotary International to help secure two of the largest grants in Project Schoolhouse’s history. Combined, these Rotary International grants funded water projects in three communities.
Projects in El Aulo and Nueva Jerusalem were completed in 2020 and the third project in Bilampi will break ground in early 2021. KC has been an active Rotarian since 1990 and is currently the President of the West Austin Rotary Club. KC and the sponsorship of the West Austin Rotary Club were instrumental Project Schoolhouse winning these grants.
In a recent conversation with KC, he explained Rotary International is a significant funder of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects around the world and has a long history of advancing efforts to further peace and understanding. Rotary International, founded in 1905, quickly spread around the globe, with clubs in Europe, Asia and South and Central America. In fact, one requirement for securing this global grant was establishing a partnership with a Rotary Club in Nicaragua, which we did in Matagalpa. The global grant funds for the projects are distributed through the bank accounts of the local Matagalpa Rotary Club. As KC explains, “Rotary International doesn’t just fund these types of projects, but they get highly involved in them as well.”
In describing his personal connections to the work of Project Schoolhouse, KC reflected on his experiences as a camper. “If you have ever been camping, you know how important it is to find clean water.” That’s why when Tab gave a Project Schoolhouse presentation to the West Austin Rotary Club a few years ago he was intrigued. But KC was not the only West Austin Rotarian who was intrigued by Tab’s presentation: “Several [Rotarians] had positions with major corporations in South America…and they were intrigued by what Tab was talking about.” KC and the other Rotarians connected to the notion of just how vital it is to have clean, running water. They connected to the hardships related to having children walk for miles every day to fill buckets of water from the river or other water sources, how these children miss school and often get sick from drinking unsanitary water. KC and the other Rotarians were also attracted to Project Schoolhouse’s mission to create low-cost and effective water systems that could be installed and maintained by folks living in these rural communities.
As KC explains, “from a Rotary International standpoint what this means is you’ve got a project that delivers clean water, meaning the disease incidence goes down, the kids get to go to school and people aren’t spending hours just hauling water up the hillside. You know, you can actually be out working in your fields or gardens…The point here is, it is economically viable and it helps promote the health of the community. And health has been something that Rotary International has been focused on for decades.” KC continues, “and having Tab visit Nicaragua on a regular basis is very important to Rotary International for purposes of funding the Global Grant.”
When asked about future collaborations between the West Austin Rotary Club and Project Schoolhouse, KC extended a warm invitation to members of the greater Project Schoolhouse family to attend future Rotary Meetings and consider joining the organization. And KC expressed excitement about visiting Nicaragua. Prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, KC planned to visit the sites funded by the Rotary International Grant. After securing public health clearance, KC and his wife plan to lead a team of Rotarians to visit the three villages in the Spring of 2022–”fingers crossed.”
Written by Ana Valente and Kris Sloan
No matter which continent you live on, you try to do your best with what you have. In rural Nicaragua, many parents don’t have much extra. In fact, most don’t even have the basics.
Instead of having the convenience of a tap in or near their home, families in rural Nicaragua walk to a nearby stream multiple times a day to gather water. Most families will spend nearly 2 hours per day just gathering water. They get up before the sun in order to fetch the water that will be used to prepare breakfast. The walk is often a half mile or more, and the return journey feels longer when carrying full jugs of water.
They have to work hard to gather water, and that water isn’t clean. You can often see sediment or insects floating around. However, it is the only option. Without water, they would die from dehydration. But the diseases caused by drinking unclean water can be just as deadly.
Meet Berlina. She has 3 children, and her only source of water was a stream shared by the entire community as well as the livestock and forest wildlife. Because the water they had access to was contaminated, her family faced serious health issues.
Unsafe water creates other economic issues as well. When children get sick, they miss school and their parents have to stay home from work. In communities where most people are subsistence farmers, time away from work can also translate to food scarcity.
The factors of environmental dangers, increased disease, time away from school and work, and food scarcity put these vulnerable communities at even more risk. One solution can minimize all of them: clean water in their home.
In Berlina’s community of Rio Lindo, Project Schoolhouse collaborated with residents to build a spring-fed gravity-flow water system. The families trenched all 7 kilometers (about 4 miles) by hand and laid the distribution pipes themselves. The community’s involvement translates to a sense of ownership. The skills and knowledge that they gained during the project means that they won’t have to rely on outside organizations or the local government to maintain the water system. They can rely on themselves, which is a point of pride.
These days, instead of spending hours walking along a risky path to find a basic necessity, Berlina and her neighbors can access clean water by simply turning a spigot. Each family that chooses to participate in the project gets a water tap installed at their home. Having easy access to clean water has made a world of difference. They don’t get sick as often, and the children’s education doesn’t get interrupted as much. Berlina and her community feel much more hopeful for the future.
Written by Heather Heiss
We Need Your Help
With tremendous gratitude for her many years of generosity and service, we want to thank Cheryl Barker for her service on the Board of Directors for Project Schoolhouse since its inception in 2004. She has been a dedicated supporter of the organization throughout her tenure and we appreciate her dedication by naming her as our first Board Member Emeritus.
Many residents of Sheridan, Wyoming will have enjoyed the fruits of her labor at the almost annual Sod Farm Festival held in her driveway from 2011 till 2018. With up to 500 attendees per year, the event was a significant fundraiser for Project Schoolhouse and couldn’t have been possible without her support. She’s operated Green Carpet Sod in Sheridan Wyoming for over 45 years and it was a perfect place to host that event.
In 2008 she traveled to Nicaragua to attend the inauguration of our very first school project. The community we stayed in was so taken by her that they named the elementary school in El Aulo, Nicaragua after her. Finally, in 2020, we succeeded in completing a community water system in that community after all those years.
We want to wish her the very best in all her future endeavors and thank her for supporting this one for so long.
Thank you Cheryl!
Jasmina’s belief in the power of education gives her the perseverance to continue her studies despite enormous challenges.
The scholarship she receives has propelled her on a journey towards becoming a teacher and making a lasting impact on future generations of students in her community.
Imagine that you are in a crowded school room and are trying to concentrate on an important lesson, but heavy rains transform the simple dirt floor of the schoolhouse to mud. Then the leaks from the roof splash across your textbooks. Other times, you don’t even go to school because drinking the water from the local stream causes you to suffer from stomach cramps and diarrhea. Your family doesn’t have a toilet, so you have to walk far away from the house to relieve yourself. The only water that is available to clean up with is the same unclean water that made you sick. This is the reality for many families in rural Nicaraguan communities, such as Kiwaska.
Meet Jasmina. Project Schoolhouse first collaborated with her community in 2007 to build an elementary school.
Then an enthusiastic 9-year-old, Jasmina’s curiosity was ignited through the experience of going to school. She advocated for herself in order to attend high school and became one of the few people in her community to graduate from high school.
It wasn’t an easy path. Even with Project Schoolhouse providing financial support, she often had to remind her family of how important education was to her future. In these rural communities, high school is on Saturdays only and students take their homework for the rest of the week. The nearest high school was in a distant town. To get there, she would ride her family’s horse 2 hours and then cross the river Tuma. When she decided to pursue college, she continued to take that trip…and then hopped on a bus for 2 more hours. The time commitment kept increasing, and yet so did Jasmina’s perseverance.
She remains dedicated to completing school; it’s her dream.
Not only does she want to push herself to graduate, but she also wants to become a teacher so that she can give back to the community where she grew up.
The challenges that Jasmina faced don’t have to continue being problems for future generations of Nicaraguans. They need partners who share the vision, and the willingness to make it a reality.
Written by Heather Heiss
We Need Your Help
Derlin Activates Community Spirit
Derlin Activates Community Spirit
Because of the local geography, the walk to school was often unpredictable and unsafe for half the children of San Antonio. Parents took matters into their own hands and built a permanent pedestrian bridge across a river that was dividing the community in two. The bridge is a great source of pride, providing children a safe, reliable path to school, and the entire community consistent accessibility that sparked capital investment and growing economic opportunity.
What kind of memories do you have of being a kid and exploring the neighborhood? Was it going to your friend’s houses? Or being grown up enough to walk to school all by yourself? In the rural community of San Antonio, the children on the opposite side of the river from the school could see the school from their homes, but would walk an hour in the opposite direction to a different school because often times the river was too high to cross safely.
Meet Derlin. When the community was in discussions with Project Schoolhouse to collaborate on building a school, they decided it was important to make sure children on both sides would be able to have equal, safe, and convenient access to the school. When the residents voiced this need and asked Project Schoolhouse to collaborate on building a pedestrian bridge, Project Schoolhouse was happy to respond to the request.
Derlin is a local father who stepped in as a community organizer. His easy smile and approachable nature contribute to his ability to bring people together to pursue a common goal. While Project Schoolhouse paid for the materials, engineering plans, and skilled labor, the community volunteered all of the manual labor to bring this project to fruition.
The roughly 35 families of San Antonio volunteered 3 days a week to excavate and build a school and bridge. Derlin reflects, “It’s really worth dedicating this time to work. It doesn’t matter if we have to dedicate a year or more to work because it’s an effort that we as parents can do so that our children can achieve more opportunities, so that they can have their school, have water, so that they can feel safe and happy.” Derlin kept everyone energized and engaged throughout the project with his positive attitude and reminders of why the work is important.
The people of San Antonio truly demonstrated their capacity to organize and work collectively. With a Project Schoolhouse master builder directing them, the families volunteered countless hours to get the job done. They collected 5,000 boulders from the river and then excavated the riverbed using 5-gallon buckets. They dug pits, built pillars, and even learned how to weld! They did everything by hand…including lifting and placing the giant metal beams. It took 9 months of hard labor, but the 100-meter bridge that now exists enables all children a quick and safe walk to school.
The bridge has also contributed to a great deal of community pride in San Antonio. Because they built it with their own hands, the bridge has a special meaning. Having this key piece of infrastructure has also contributed to economic activity since it provides consistent, easy to access the community. We see residents investing in their homes and farms thanks to the stability this infrastructure lends to the community. The bridge has united the community and set them up for growth and prosperity. It is an example of why Project Schoolhouse takes great care to listen and respond to voiced need, the bedrock of how we work.
Written by Heather Heiss