A SparkFun Community Partner introduces Makey Makeys, soldering stations and maker technology to students and teachers at a vocational center overseas.
Guest post by Amalia Liogas, Nicaragua Project Coordinator for The Study
I wanted to start off by thanking the SparkFun community for their generous support of our Nicaragua initiative. The project began in 2009 when a ninth grade student proposed that we adopt a sister school in a rural village in Diria, Nicaragua. Since then, what has become known as The Study has expanded to include three key elements: a community service trip, annual school upgrades and a scholarship program.
Our community service trip currently runs every two years. This year we brought 18 students and four teachers to our sister school, the Diria Institute in Nicaragua. Our students teach at our sister school, meet all of our scholarship winners and work in the community. The teachers from The Study conduct professional development not only for the teachers at our sister school but for teachers in the area. By adopting a school this way, we have been very fortunate to witness the evolution of the school and the positive impact that we have been able to have on the community. Since we began this program, 85 students from The Study have been fortunate to partake in our community service trip.
Each year we pledge to improve some part of the school. The decision regarding what we will do is established by The Study students, based on recommendations/requests that come from faculty and staff at the Diria Institute. Some of our initiatives have included: funding the building of a water tower, providing funds to build and furnish a science lab, providing the school with a class set of books for each subject matter taught, outfitting the school with technology, providing the school with musical instruments and sports equipment, and providing the poorest students with shoes so that they can attend school. This year we were able to provide 85 pairs of shoes, as well as 20 self-adjustable eyeglasses to students in need.
This coming year we are undertaking a school improvement project that will take at least five years to complete. We plan on creating a vocational center. Our scholarship program has been extremely successful, but the reality is not many of the students have the luxury of being able to go to university. Our goal is to be able to offer vocational studies to the student body in hopes that we can reach more students and have an even greater impact on the community. We want to change the lives of the students who work 10 hours a day for $2. The inspiration for this latest initiative was meeting a Nicaraguan woman named Elsa, who has had a profound impact on our students. She was the first person in her family to complete elementary school, learn how to read and write, and learn the art of pottery making. An NGO supported her and taught her how to start a business. All of these skills gave her the opportunity to earn enough to send her four children to university and upgrade her home from garbage bags and tin to brick and mud. It is this entrepreneurial spirit that inspired our students to establish our proposed project.
The vocational project officially kicked off in tandem with our 2018 community service trip. To begin this project, the Diria Institute identified a class that was transformed into the vocational center. Between 2018 and 2023, we will establish the following sections: sewing, cooking, gardening, woodworking and electronics. We are also very proud to have received the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools Moulton Grant of $1,000. Winning this international competition has given us the funds to kick-start our new initiative.
On our trip this year, we met two sisters named Jadeth and Rayza. School had started three weeks prior to our arrival, and we found out that they were not able to go to school because they could not afford shoes or the school uniform that is required for all students to attend school. We made them a promise that if they attend school, The Study would provide shoes, a uniform and school supplies until they graduate high school. Now that we have officially inaugurated the sewing section of our vocational center, we bought the material that is used for the school uniform so that no child in the area has to face the same situation.
During our 2014 community service trip to our sister school, our school improvement aim was to supply the Diria Institute with much-needed technology. At that time, we brought down 12 laptops, a projector, a printer and several e-readers. We also taught the students how to use Scratch.
In 2016 we supplied our sister school with LEDs, battery holders, resistors, motors, alligator clips, single throw switches, buzzers, a Makey Makey and six iPads. During our community service trip, we taught students how to create simple circuits and how to interface the Makey Makey with Scratch.
In 2017, students from the Diria Institute programmed a labyrinth in Scratch and created an interface to the program with the Makey Makey they had. The students competed in the municipal and regional Coding & Circuits Competition and won third place at the regional level. With the iPads they were given, they started an online newspaper, which was featured on two Nicaraguan national television channels. One of the students was even offered an internship after the television interview.
Inspired by what we saw happening with the technology we brought down to the Diria Institute, this year we were able to bring the following to our sister school: 22 iPads, 12 laptops, three LEGO® robotics kits and a generous Community Partnership Program donation from SparkFun.
The SparkFun donation allowed us to kick-start our electronics section of the vocational center with much-needed supplies like soldering stations, third hands, soldering vacuums, multimeters and assorted tools. We also received Makey Makeys in order to help the Diria Institute expand their teaching of programming. Concrete results from this donation will be forthcoming in the next year or so. Our focus for this trip was to teach the teachers how to use the equipment. As the Director of IT at The Study, I spent most of my week teaching the computer science and math teacher how to use an Arduino and how to build and program the circuits. I also was showing the teachers how to use the iPads in connection with a Rachel.
We offer a full scholarship to a graduating female student of the Diria Institute to go to university. The scholarship is for $5,000 and covers their five-year undergraduate degree including tuition, transportation, books and lunches. Students at The Study are responsible to raise the funds needed to send these girls to school and to choose the recipient of the yearly scholarship award.
A qualitative and quantitative approach is taken on three categories: academic promise, community service and degree of poverty. The applicants submit a written application and answer specific questions, which are then read by the student selection committee. We are very proud to say that since the inception of the scholarship program we have had five graduates in medicine, nursing, economics, nutrition and banking/finance. Currently we have seven students we are sponsoring. We are also very proud of the fact that all five of our graduates have found employment.
I look forward to sharing more news from our sister school. This type of community partnership affects hundreds of students who would otherwise never have been exposed to the concepts of making and creating. Thanks, SparkFun!
Do you have a great cause, a great need and a great story? Apply for our Community Partnership Program today!