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Hands across the hemisphere: Students helping students

Gracey Dodd, Ben Singer and Aanchal Chaudhary
Gracey Dodd, Ben Singer and Aanchal Chaudhary
(Ellen Sullivan)

With the belief that empowering girls in developing countries is one of the most effective ways to promote environmentally-sustainable economic development, local high school students have created a program to support Escuela Vera Angelita (EVA), a new nonprofit boarding school for girls in Nicaragua. Gracey Dodd and Aanchal Chaudhary, students at High Bluff Academy (HBA), a small college prep school in Rancho Santa Fe, have founded the Hands Across the Hemisphere Club. The club at HBA is raising funds for the $5,000 annual tuition for Tatiana Leonor, an eighth grader who aspires to be a teacher, to attend EVA.

“It is very important for girls to get an education. We’d like to think we’ve progressed farther than we actually have. Around the world there are still places where girls have few to no rights, and it’s important to give them the resources to pursue their dreams,” said Chaudhary, a senior at High Bluff Academy.

The club at HBA
The club at HBA is raising funds for the $5,000 annual tuition for Tatiana Leonor, an eighth grader who aspires to be a teacher, to attend EVA.
(Rita Szczotka)

EVA, an initiative of the U.S.-based nonprofit organization Visions Global Empowerment in partnership with philanthropist Robert D. Friedman, is an environmentally sustainable boarding school for girls in grades 5-12 who come from underserved and vulnerable communities. The campus lies on 437 acres in the community of La Grecia in San Ramón, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. When the project broke ground in 2019, it employed 600 construction workers from the surrounding towns and cities, thereby helping the local economy and families who struggle for their livelihoods. EVA opened its doors to students in January 2022 with an inaugural class of 82 and 170 full-time faculty and staff.

“It has been a dream come true for me to witness Escuela Vera Angelita progress from a mere vision to a reality. This high-tech, beautifully-constructed school not only breaks the cycle of poverty by providing education and resources, it enhances the local community and fulfills all 17 of the UN Sustainability Goals. I am grateful to Rob Friedman for his generosity and vision, and Greg Buie for his leadership, and I am honored to serve as board chair for this outstanding humanitarian nonprofit,” said Tamara Lafarga, president of the Board of Directors of Visions Global Empowerment, and Rancho Santa Fe resident.

Educating girls can be a powerful weapon to break the chain of poverty. According to UNICEF, “girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families.”

Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere with a population of 6.6 million people – about twice the size of San Diego County. UNWomen estimates that in Nicaragua 35 percent of women are married or in a union before age 18, and nearly 10 percent before age 15.

Educating girls has a broader impact on societies as well. Data from multiple development sources demonstrates that educated women strengthen economies and reduce inequalities, contributing to more stable societies that give all citizens, including boys and men, the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Likewise, failing to promote education of girls has consequences: A study conducted by the World Bank in 2018 states that the “limited educational opportunities for girls, and barriers to completing 12 years of education, cost countries between US $15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.”

Educating girls is also key to protecting the environment. Nestled between the Caribbean and the Pacific, Honduras and Costa Rica, Nicaragua is considered the “second lung of the Americas.” Home to 24 volcanoes, 70 unique ecosystems, and rain and cloud forests, preservation of Nicaragua’s environment is essential not only to the nation but to the Americas, and ultimately the world.

“The fact that EVA has a focus on eco-education is awesome. It is so important for our generation to learn how to protect the environment, which is something we talk a lot about here in California, but has to happen everywhere. Supporting the girls at EVA won’t just help them, it will help us, too,” said Dodd, a junior at High Bluff Academy.

Not only is eco-education and environmentally sustainable development a focal point of EVA’s curriculum, the girls will actually live it. EVA’s unique campus has the capability to harvest its own water, energy, and food, and to process much of its waste onsite. Ongoing efforts to restore the watershed and primary reforestation have had an impact already on the resurgence of plant and animal life. Great attention was given during the design process of the campus to protecting the natural environment and minimizing its long-term ecological footprint. EVA is also on track to become the first LEED-certified school project in Nicaragua.

HBA students hope to encourage other schools to support the unparalleled efforts of EVA by starting their own Hands Across the Hemisphere clubs. There are still girls in need of sponsorship, and in the not-too-distant future, EVA hopes to provide internship opportunities and experiential service trips for American students on its campus.

If interested in starting your own Hands Across the Hemisphere Club to support the girls at Escuela Vera Angelita, HBA’s student leaders would be happy to help. For more information, please email ellen@highbluffacademy.com.

To support the HBA Hands Across the Hemisphere Club’s efforts to raise funds for Tatiana, make a donation through High Bluff Academy’s gofundme.com page. For donations of $50 or more, you’ll receive a T-shirt. — Ellen Sullivan is a teacher at High Bluff Academy


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