I’ve lost count of how many trips I’ve made to Central America and I’ve seen many examples of programs that work to improve the lives of people there but none has impressed me more than NicaPhoto. The name comes from its beginning as an idea to teach photography classes to kids in the town of Nagarote but the director soon realized that the kids needed a much more complete program and she set out to build it. 15 years later, the results are pretty amazing. There’s a small patch of land next to the highway which includes not only classrooms but also fruit trees, a large biointensive garden and an aquaponics system that produces both tilapia and tomatoes which all help feed the kids a varied and healthy diet.

Public schools in Nicaragua are typically only half day with some kids going for a few hours in the morning and others in the afternoon. NicaPhoto is open all day and provides a variety of enrichment programs for kids who aren’t in class. It’s a supplement not a replacement. One of their strengths is that they coordinate and cooperate with other local institutions to maximize results.

On a typical day the first kids arrive around 6am to work in the garden and people are hanging around as late as 5pm or later. Every kid is served a free nutritious lunch. If you come in early to work on the garden you also get breakfast.

The first thing that really impressed me about NicaPhoto was how comprehensive the programming is. There are some star programs that are easy to rave about like the robotics classes for girls. There are classes in everything from English and Math to Arts and Kung fu, but I think what first made me “get it” about what was going on there was seeing the boys and girls clubs. These clubs teach all kinds of life skills and provide a support group for kids at critical ages. Many of these kids come from backgrounds that lack more than just access to technology or better education but also need stability, positive examples, and encouragement to develop to their full potential.

I’ve seen other programs which cater to a specific age group but NicaPhoto works with kids up to high school and beyond even offering some college scholarships.

Some of these kids come back to be part of the staff at NicaPhoto, and several of the current staff of about 20 people are part of the earliest cohorts. They make great role models for the kids and good examples like this are often hard for them to find in the communities where they live. All of the staff members are impressive members of the community. I got to meet them all at a large dinner where it was clear they all had a special bond to the program, each other and to the kids that they serve.

NicaPhoto has built all of this in a place where even basic tasks can be hard to accomplish and they do it all with an underlying commitment to sustainability and the environment which is often lacking in the wider community. As one example, often farmers in these regions are hesitant to give up using chemical fertilizers and pesticides due to the risk of the unknown. Farming anywhere is precarious and risking your family’s food on something new and unknown can be really difficult to get people to consider. The NicaPhoto kids grow up with more knowledge about sustainable organic farming than many of the local farmers and can carry this vision with them.

NicaPhoto itself works to be as independent as possible with its knowledge and systems. They have local staff trained to teach the technology classes and operate and maintain the more complex parts of the project such as the aquaponics system. All the money they raise gets spent inside the project to grow its capabilities and self sufficiency and they are producing these same qualities in the kids.






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