I never imagined I would quit my job to help children get access to schools in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but an encounter with a young stranger changed my life.
In 2014, I began a research fellowship to support sustainable farming practices in the coffeelands. While there, I met Ana, a twelve year old who grew up living and working on coffee farms in the campo, the isolated, rural heart of the country’s rugged central highlands.
Ana confidently tugged on my shirt and asked, "Hola profesora, when do classes begin?" Drawn to her curiosity and courage, I told her I wasn't a profesora but would try my best as a tutor. In the end we promised to meet outside the community well where she collected water each morning at 5:30 a.m. We met every day for two months to color or jump rope and I learned she never really had a childhood. She attended school for only two years, dropping out in second grade because her family needed her to look after her younger brother.
My thoughts continued to return to Ana and what she had taught me about community. I spent the following months investigating the causes and consequences of poverty in coffee producing regions, and twice returned to her communinty to learn more from farmers, families, coffee buyers and academics. Ana is one of over 320,000 children in Nicaragua that work instead of attending school. In many areas, with no schools or safe sources of child care, parents have little choice but to bring their children to work alongside them in the coffee fields.
"Ana is one of over 300,000 children in Nicaragua
that work instead of attending school."
I never imagined I would quit my job to help children get access to schools in Nicaragua, until I realized I had to. The time with Ana changed who I thought I was. Her influence lead me out of statistics and into stories, out of my head and into my heart. I followed my gut, “jumped off the cliff” and created Project Alianza to provide opportunities for children like Ana, who remain beyond the reach of the education system.
Alianza in English means Alliance which lies at the core of who we are. We are a global community that works together to improve access to education for children like Ana in the most remote coffee-growing communities in Nicaragua. We collaborate with estate farms to build and develop schools and engage families in high-quality education that can change lives and uplift communities. We have witnessed the impact of our efforts in a short time because of generous contributions and acts of kindness from people all over the world. We've seen children read their first words, proudly wear their first school uniform, and celebrate their first commencement. We've seen kids master word games on a tablet that have never owned their own notebook or pencil. We've seen possibility where there once was none. Although we face challenges along the way, we are inspired by the children and families we serve to continue to grow and learn and improve every day.
We believe that through our innovative, and collaborative approach, we can play a crucial role in the eradication of child labor in coffee production in Nicaragua and beyond. With your help, we will continue to work tirelessly every day to do what we do best: transform lives through the power of education. Thank you for your support.
Kristin Van Busum, Founder