Discovering the Definition of Sustainable Development

Project Schoolhouse Interviews, Real Life Story, Testimonial Leave a Comment

How 5 Rice Freshmen Solved Big Problems in Our Communities

There’s no doubt that Project Schoolhouse has been increasingly successful at building schools and water systems in the Rio Blanco region of Nicaragua. However, as our projects evolve we are continuously improving our approach and the design of our structures.

A recent challenge our schoolhouses were facing were the windows. The existing windows were failing due to humidity, leaving the classroom with limited light and ventilation.  Because of this Executive Director, Tab Barker and Board Member, Selina Serna decided to embark on a unique partnership with a group of Freshmen participants in Rice University’s Design Kitchen.

Shruthi Velidi, Molly Reilly, Tolunimi Oyeleye, Yun Qui Wong, and Morgan Glose were the five students tasked with solving this unique problem. The group, who named themselves ‘No Pane, No Gain’, designed a window system that was implemented in a Nicaraguan elementary school in 2015.

Shruthi Velidi shared a little about the group’s apprehension before departing to Nicaragua to see their design. “Honestly we were a little worried before going down there. We were like ‘What if it didn’t help?’ ‘What if it wasn’t as successful as we thought it might be?’ ‘What if our design was faulty?’

But as soon as they met the communities, they were relieved that their hard work and engineering paid off. The communities thankfulness and excitement for something as simple as a window was especially touching to Velidi.


“Sustainable development is a buzz-word,” Velidi explains. “You always hear it, and you think you know what it means, but after traveling to Nicaragua we really discovered the definition”

“There’s a lot of people who come in and just stick an engineering project in a rural community, without any real thought about the workers or the parents or the children, the family members, all of the community members. Seeing how the communities live truly opened our eyes. We learned what it meant to have a sustainable structure, to live in a sustainable community, and understand that the communities themselves know the best way they can thrive.”

From a group of apprehensive freshman, to a knowledgeable group of young adults, these five students’ work will continue to make an impact on our schools for generations to come.

“The best way to help someone is by talking to them first and figuring out what they need.” Velidi said in closing, “And that’s a big part of Project Schoolhouse’s mission. Which we truly understand now, it’s the concept of voiced need that will change communities for the better.”

In 2016 another group of Rice University students, calling themselves ‘Nothing Can Divide Us’ will tackle the development of a superior movable wall divider for Project Schoolhouse classrooms in Nicaragua.  Wish them luck as they work to innovate a new way for Project Schoolhouse to build a movable wall between our classrooms that will improve the flexibility and usefulness of our classrooms in Nicaragua.

Project Schoolhouse would like to thank Rice University, Matthew Wettergreen, Ann Saterbak, No Pane No Gain, Nothing Can Divide Us, and everyone else at the Design Kitchen for their valuable contributions to our projects in Nicaragua as well to the people who build and use them.

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