Bringing Education Closer to Home

Bringing Education Closer to Home

Nicaraguan Youth Creating New Educational Opportunities

Youth Commission member
“Contributing to the welfare of our community.” The Youth Commission of Muelle de los Bueyes has brought young people together to address issues important to them including expanding educational opportunities.

Muelle de los Bueyes is like the Texas of Nicaragua — not only is it the heart of Nicaraguan cattle country, but also because the communities there are known for their strong sense of tradition and conservative values. Muelle de los Bueyes literally translates to the “wharf of the oxen,” a confusing name since it is nowhere near the coast. The wharf actually refers to a boat dock on the Mico River which runs through the municipality. Generations ago, Muelle de los Bueyes was a bustling port for the shipment of rubber and other agricultural products from inland Nicaragua to the Caribbean coast. Today, with new highways and roads, the importance of the wharf has declined, but Muelle de los Bueyes remains an important cattle ranching center and serves as the administrative seat of the region.

Yet despite its commercial importance, there is a dearth of economic and educational opportunities for young people. Until recently, there was no post-secondary education options offered in the region. Upon finishing high school, students who wanted to continue studying had to move to the capital Managua or one of the other urban centers in the country. As with many rural communities around the world, this contributed to a “brain drain,” with young people leaving for college and not returning. But many young people, especially those from very rural areas and low-income households, found themselves unable to afford the cost of going away to college. For years families struggled with this dilemma, while parents and local leaders lobbied various universities in Nicaragua to open a distance learning program, without success. Earlier this year, however, 110 students began taking the first university-level courses ever offered in Muelle de los Bueyes. After years of trying, the young people of Muelle de los Bueyes succeeded where the adults had failed.

Youth Commission members
Representatives of the Youth Commission: (from left to right) Mery Gonzalez, Francisco Ortega, Zuleidy Jarquin, Yeldin Oporto and Esthersita Flores.

The Youth Commission of Muelle de los Bueyes consists of 150 members from the municipality and the surrounding region. In 2015, Global Communities, APRODER and the Municipal Development Committee of Muelle de los Bueyes started working with Youth Commission members to strengthen their capacity to support initiatives that would benefit young people. They focused their efforts in four areas: sports, culture, environment and education, but they all agreed that education was the most pressing issue.

They developed a proposal for a university program in the region so that students wouldn’t need to leave Muelle de los Bueyes to earn a degree. The Youth Commission presented a proposal to the Municipal Council requesting funding from the 2017 municipal budget that would co-finance a field program with the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) to develop courses for degrees in Sustainable Rural Development and Nursing.

As part of the proposal, the Youth Commission interviewed 325 youth from four different schools in the region to determine what careers were most in demand. They also met with representatives from local leaders to obtain their support, and last December, the Council approved their request for C$600,000 (approximately USD $20,000) to launch the new Universidad en el Campo (University in the Countryside).

The first class consisted of 110 students, which represents 40% of the students who graduated in the municipality in 2016. Already the availability of this program is changing their lives in significant ways. Francisco Ortega is President of the Youth Commission and is also one of the students enrolled in the new program. He speaks from experience when he says that, as someone from a poor family, he did not have the resources to attend university in Managua. But now with the ability to earn a degree in Sustainable Rural Development, he can remain in his community and when he completes his degree he can contribute to his community with technical skills and knowledge that he could not get in high school, or elsewhere.

As much as this program opens up opportunities for young men like Francisco, it is even more significant for young women in the region. Muelle de los Bueyes retains a sense of the pioneering culture that prizes rugged individualism, strong family ties and patriarchy. As a result, some families are reluctant to let their daughters move away to attend university. Big cities like Managua are viewed as suspicious and dangerous places, and unless young people have trusted family members that they can live with, some parents refuse to let their daughters go. But now, many young women can earn a degree while living at home.

Hosting radio show
The Youth Commission hosts a local radio show where they discuss various topics that are important to the community’s young people.

Zuleidy Jarquin explains that before she became involved with the Youth Commission, her parents were very strict and would not let her participate in activities outside of school. But because she is a leader in the Youth Commission, her parents have begun giving her more freedom and independence. Being part of the Youth Commission has exposed her to new ideas and people, and she hopes to take advantage of the university courses offered next year to study rural development.

What makes the university courses even more accessible to students is that the classes are conducted on Sundays. This allows students to continue working during the week which many of them do. It also means students from rural areas only need to travel into Muelle de los Bueyes once a week.

Francisco is proud that his efforts are not just benefiting his future, but improving the lives of young people across the region. The skills that he and his fellow students are learning will be in high demand as more than 70% of the population is employed in cattle ranching. Currently, many farmers have to rely of technical specialists from other parts of the country. He explains that whether people apply their new skills to improve their own farms or to work on the farms of others, the skills they learn and apply will benefit the entire community. He is excited that young people are now able to contribute the development of their community in such a meaningful and lasting way.

Global Communities is working in Nicaragua through the USAID Local Governance Program which strengthens citizen participation and the capacity of civil society organizations in order to improve local governance and development.