Teach A Man To Fish’s ‘education that pays for itself’ model is for schools to set up rural enterprises to provide free education to students from low income families and to teach students valuable and practical entrepreneurial skills that they can use to set up their own businesses later on. Field worker Rebecca Dadzie works with a community in La Bastilla, Nicaragua. She explains how the project in the region will help to increase self sufficiency and provide a better future for the children there.

Rebecca Dadzie is a Field Project Officer for Teach A Man To Fish in Nicaragua

It is hard to believe that ten months have flown past since I joined Teach A Man To Fish as Field Project Officer at La Bastilla Agricultural Technical School in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

The educational programme at La Bastilla was launched in 2005 by La Bastilla Coffee Estates as part of their corporate social responsibility scheme, in Jinotega, one of the poorest departments in the country.  Initially the project began with just one multi-grade classroom with only one teacher to provide an education for the children of the coffee workers.  However, the school gradually expanded to include children from the local community, Las Colinas, and since then a complete primary and secondary school has developed, with over two hundred students enrolled today.

Agriculture is the most important sector of Nicaragua’s economy.  According to a 2004 joint World Bank and IMF report  the significant reduction in poverty in Nicaragua observed between 1993 and 2001 is widely attributed to the broad-based growth within the agricultural sector over the same period.  Agriculture represents the main source of employment and income in the department of Jinotega, also referred to as the coffee capital of Nicaragua – coffee being the country’s most important export crop.  Despite the vital role it plays for the local and national economy, no schools existed that offered agricultural teaching in Jinotega.  Wanting to rectify this and provide an education relevant for the rural context within the which La Bastilla’s educational programme was based, in 2008 the coffee estate decided to create a non-profit organisation, la Fundación de Educación y Emprendedurismo Rural (Foundation for Rural Education and Entrepreneurship) – FEER, to take over the educational programme and establish La Bastilla Agricultural Technical school at the beginning of 2009.  FEER sought Teach A Man To Fish to become involved in the project to draw from their experience working with la Fundación Paraguaya who pioneered and so successfully developed the financially self-sufficient education model with their agricultural school, San Francisco.

Teach A Man To Fish’s ‘education that pays for itself’ model is for schools to set up rural enterprises a) to generate income to provide free education to students between the ages of 14 and 21 from low income families, and b) to teach students valuable and practical entrepreneurial skills that they can use to set up their own businesses in the future.  La Bastilla Agricultural technical school runs eight businesses: eggs, dairy products, honey, pig-rearing, fruit and vegetable garden, coffee and reforestation plants, a bakery and an eco-lodge, with the objective that within the five year period till 2014 the school will become 100% financially self-sufficient.  The educational methodology is based on ‘learning-by-doing’ and ‘learning for earning’ whereby the students spend 30% of their time in theoretical classes and the remaining 70% rotating in all the business areas getting practical work experience ranging from caring for animals and planting crops, to record keeping and promoting the eco-lodge at tourism fairs.

In addition to the technical school, Teach A Man To Fish and FEER have attempted to incorporate elements of the financially self-sufficient philosophy in the primary school through a Community Building project launched in late 2009.  Business committees involving the parents of the pupils have been trained and established, with the objective of investing 10% of their profits in the primary school, and for the families in this resource-poor local community being able to supplement their household incomes.

The project in Nicaragua is ambitious, given that the idea of financial self-sufficiency within education is a new concept in Nicaragua (and for that matter across the globe) in which a culture of handouts has developed over the decades due to patriarchal governments.  Problems with external financial dependence are also observed at the broader economic level, demonstrated by the country’s large dependency on foreign aid, which financed a quarter of the national budget in 2006 .  The rationale for financial self-sufficiency of any development project is all the more relevant during the current global economic crisis in which governments and households in donor countries are tightening their purse strings.  For instance, Bank of America Merrill Lynch  report that charitable giving between 2007 and 2009 by American families declined by over a third and the World Bank  estimate that 2010 aid levels are falling short by approximately 20% of what was promised.  Whilst initial funds are required to initiate development projects, including La Bastilla Agricultural Technical School, the Teach A Man To Fish model advocates offering hand ups in the form of local capacity building and empowerment rather than continuous, unsustainable handouts.

The essence of my role as Field Project Officer at the technical school involves supporting and training the local project team in order to increase FEER’s administrative and organisational capacity to efficiently implement and manage the school businesses and the overall financially self-sufficient education project.  This can consist of assisting the staff with regards to developing business plans, budgets, project strategies, monitoring and evaluating progress, and designing an institutional business curriculum to teach the students.  Whilst my job is to provide support to Teach A Man To Fish’s local partner, FEER, I am extremely conscious that it is not my job to manage the project or tell local staff what to do, but rather help them to help themselves.  It is absolutely essential that all ideas originate from the local people and are fully owned by them in order to ensure continuity of the project.

I have had a few admin-based voluntary positions where I have questioned whether the work I am doing is making a difference.  Now that my time at La Bastilla is coming to an end I am able to reflect on the past year and am certain that the work I have carried out in Jinotega with Teach A Man To Fish and FEER has been worthwhile.  Whilst progress is gradual, one of the benefits of working on a relatively small project at grass roots level, rather than a large national or institutional project, is that developments can be observed more easily, which is rewarding.  For instance, at the end of my first full month here in February 2010, the technical school’s financial self-sufficiency rate was 18%, whereas it increased dramatically to 55% at the end of last month (October 2010).  Whilst the rate fluctuates from month to month and overall has been 27% for the year, I am fully confident that the school will reach its goal of 100% financial self-sufficiency by 2014.  Similarly, when I arrived the technical school did not have any infrastructure of its own, therefore, had to rely on limited space and facilities generously loaned for free by the coffee estate which had not been designed as an educational centre. Today builders are putting the finishing touches on a large educational complex comprising classrooms, laboratory, library, a boarding house, dining room, kitchen, a staff room, security area, and a sports court.  By far the most significant achievement of the project has been in terms of its students.  With the recognition of a few facts such as theirs being the only technical school in the country to have its own website and its own, independently managed and fully functioning businesses on site, the students, especially the first ever group graduating in December 2010, are noticeably becoming increasingly proud to be a part of the first financially self-sufficient school for rural entrepreneurs in Nicaragua.  I am certainly proud to be associated with the project.

TeachAManToFish works to support schools and education programs in developing countries to broaden the poor’s access to a high quality education, combining vocational training and entrepreneurship to increase financial self-sufficiency. 

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