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September 30, 2013

Checking In With Holly Beck

I’ve been living in a remote village in northern Nicaragua for the past three and a half years. I drive on narrow, rocky dirt roads, only one vehicle wide, past thatch-roofed shacks walled with plastic sheeting, and dirty happy kids that look way too young to be riding horses, herding cows, or carrying water for laundry. They never seem to be in school. The caretaker I’ve hired to keep my lot free of weeds and care for my horses can’t read or write. Neither can his son who has spent only 1 of his 12 years of life in a classroom. The culture of education is significantly different to the one I grew up with. Illiterate parents are much less likely to encourage their kids to learn, particularly since they are much more useful helping out with a machete or planting corn.

A couple of years ago I was invited to participate in a voluntourism surf trip to El Salvador with a non-profit called Surf For Life. SFL takes groups of volunteers on surf trips where the primary focus is giving back by building schools. At the time, I had never been to El Salvador and was super excited to join in, check out the waves, and help spread the word of what they’re trying to do. [This is the video from that trip: http://youtu.be/PoDNGKdDSzQ

After the trip I returned to Nicaragua completely inspired and started thinking that it would be amazing to build a High School in our community as well. Currently the only educational opportunity available for a kid who is past grade 6 is to attend school just one day a week or travel at least an hour by bus to the main city of Chinandega. The result is that most kids stop learning after sixth grade (if they even make it that far).

There are tons of well-meaning volunteers coming down to places like Nicaragua regularly to try to help the local people by bringing religion, water filters, old clothes, sports equipment, etc. All that is great and definitely helps, but what the community really needs in order to help itself are educational opportunities. Fortunately, some friends of mine founded a non-profit called Waves Of Hope and are working to fix up the existing schools. We added a new classroom to a local elementary school which immediately resulted in a 300% increase in enrollment. That showed us that simply by creating a place for kids to learn, more kids will attend, which in the future will make them better able to get jobs and help their families. Waves of Hope is also helping to change the culture by rewarding kids who attend school regularly with the use of surfboards (but only outside of school hours). They have also offered scholarships for continued education to young adults, provided that they tutor the younger kids, which creates successful mentors in the community and encourages school attendance.

After my trip with Surf For Life and coming back to Nicaragua to witness the impact that just one new classroom could make, I started getting really excited about building a high school in the area. I connected my friends at Surf For Life with Waves of Hope and we began the planning process. Interestingly, the biggest hassle turned out to be convincing the local government to approve the school. It seems that local officials are just too lazy to take on new projects. They argued that there weren’t enough kids to support a high school, choosing to ignore our meticulous survey of the area that proved the opposite. After nearly a year of cutting through red tape, our new school was finally approved! We’ve spent the last year fundraising and we now have five classrooms, a library, and a greenhouse nearing completion. We hope to finish it in time for the start of the new school year in February.

A couple weeks ago a special team of Surf For Life members came down to lend their energy to the project as well as film some surfing in order to make a documentary called “The Next Step” that will aid in raising awareness and funding for future projects. I was honored to surf and work alongside incredible humans such as Xavier Rudd, Chad Konig, and Andy Olive, along with the rest of the Surf For Life team.

For more information on how you can get involved : http://www.surfforlife.org, http://www.waves-of-hope.org

–Holly Beck–

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