A Passionate Cry for Help
The letters are wrinkled now.
The perfect penmanship written in blue ink is darker on some, more faded on others. One or two pages have bright, colorful borders drawn around them and bright stickers stuck to the page to decorate them. Each one starts a little differently, but each one of these handwritten notes from a group of nine high school and college students from the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe sooner or later gets to the same exact string of passionate, clear words: “I am writing you to ask you to help me stay in school.”
After receiving these letters in late 2009, it was this line, repeated over and over again, that got the attention of Boy With a Ball staff members and tipped off a miraculous string of events that will make sure each of these brilliant young students gets to continue their studies.
Meeting the Initial Students In Need of Help
Ometepe is a precarious place to grow up. The island is formed by two volcanoes which rise up out of Lake Managua near the southern border of the country above Costa Rica. Growing up on the side of an active volcano may seem like an exotic, high-risk predicament, but the crushing poverty families on the island are forced to live under is the greater danger.
2009 was particularly difficult for the families of the nine students who made contact late last year with Boy With a Ball’s Regional Director Josue Garcia. Difficult weather left them without the crops they needed to survive and, as a result, trying to feed each person in the house became their central challenge. Keeping kids in school had to fall by the wayside.
In late February of 2010, in response to receiving another set of letters from these same students, Boy With a Ball Executive Director Jamie Johnson traveled by bus, taxi and ferry with Josue to arrive at the island around 7 pm on a Sunday evening. As the two men arrived at a local pastor’s house in the dark, they walked onto a porch where the students had been waiting for several hours. Jamie asked them to each tell about where they were in their studies, what their dreams were and what kind of help was necessary to help them stay in school and graduate. One by one, the students laid out their cases, each one speaking with sincerity and passion. Each one refusing to settle for quitting.
In the end, Jamie and Josue offered the group a deal: Boy With a Ball would head back to look for the finances necessary for these students to go to school in exchange for the students returning to the island once a month to be trained as a Boy With a Ball team that could turn and help other Nicaraguan young people. The students agreed without flinching.
Prayers Answered, Futures Unlocked
On Monday night, April 19th, 2010, Western Union Foundation’s Program Director, Tony Tapia, sent an email giving us the news. They were giving us the money we would need to help the students. They could go to school.
This amazing story has served as the beginning of what has gone on to be one of Boy With a Ball’s most exciting and impactful teams. El Nino y la Bola Nicaragua now provides scholarships for twenty two high school and university students and has a team presence on Ometepe as well as in Managua in and around the country’s largest university. These leaders are progressing through their studies while turning to reach at-risk youth in slums close to the university. The organization is now led by Executive Director Esmeralda Lopez.
The team now works extensively to implement Boy With a Ball’s Transformative Community Building program within Barrio Morales and surrounding communities just up the hill from UNAN-Managua. More than fifty team members and volunteers provide community walkthroughs and a high-impact tutoring center each week. Additionally mentoring relationships and small groups are being developed across these communities, helping young people and their families to grow.