'Project Nicaragua' funds college students

by Astrid Bradley | 5/10/07 2:20am

Karen Castaneda, the Nicaraguan student whose college career is being financed by a volunteer group at Dartmouth.
by Courtesy of Colleen Kinneen / The Dartmouth

"I knew it was definitely possible, Kinneen said. "I knew it would be a lot of energy and a lot of work, but I thought how could I not do it."

Project Nicaragua is attempting to raise the complete $2,600 to fund Nicaraguan student Karen Veronica Castaneda's entire five-year college education at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua.

The idea for the scholarship came during Kinneen's time volunteering in Nicaragua with the Foundation for Sustainable Development, an eight-week program that hosts eight interns, placing them in volunteer positions in Nicaraguan communities. During this time, Kinneen and three other interns -- inspired by hard-working students such as Castaneda -- spoke to a director of the foundation, Maria de Jesus, about starting a scholarsip.

Kinneen first met Castaneda while coaching a girls' basketball team. Even though she did not play on the team, Castaneda attended practice to support her cousin who did.

"To [Castaneda], the most important thing is to reach out to those around you," Kinneen said.

Kinneen said that Castaneda was incredibly open and friendly, giving interns tours of the city and sharing her personal poetry. Kinneen said that Castaneda's ambition to learn English made her stand out from the rest.

"As our time progressed we realized that even though she was at the top of her class and exteremly intelligent, she probably wouldn't be able to go to college, because she couldn't afford it."

In order to apply for the scholarship the students were required to submit report cards and financial documents to prove that they were truly motivated and high achieving students with financial need, Kinneen said. The students were also asked to go through an interview process conducted by de Jesus. Even Castaneda -- the reason the program was created -- had to be interviewed.

In addition to her schooling, Castaneda carves out two hours of every day to tutor children in line with the stipulations of her award. De Jesus decided that a community service component needed to be added to the scholarship, because she felt that recipients should also give back.

The remainder of the original four interns who decided to start Project Nicaragua have all lost contact with de Jesus, leaving several other Nicaraguan students waiting for funding, Kinneen said.

When Castaneda started school in March, Kinneen found out that Castaneda was struggling academically, even more than the average student transitioning to college. The problems were rooted in Castaneda's home life. She is without a bed to sleep on, a fan for her to sleep comfortably and sometimes without enough food to eat.

"To me it is just a reminder that while it is amazing that we can try to offer her an education, it doesn't get at the root of the problem," Kinneen said.

The group hopes to raise an additional $300 to buy her clothes, a bed and a fan.

Kinneen acknowledges that such donations are only a dent in the nationwide problem of poverty.

"There is definitely more need than we have the means [to accomodate]," Kinneen said.

Project Nicaragua has raised approximately $2,300 of their original goal through a combination of bake sales at Novack Cafe and the Co-op, selling grilled cheese on frat row and tabling with Nicaraguan goods in Thayer Dining Hall.

The group will be holding a bake sale at the Co-op this weekend to raise the remainig funds. The project will aslo hold another campus bake sale if they feel it is necessary.

Project Nicaragua hopes to finish Castaneda's fundraiser by the end of the term, and possibly fund a new student next year.

And as for Castaneda, Kinneen said the appreciation is visible.

"She's so grateful," Kinneen said. "She is just blown away."

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