Fundacion Juanita – A Scholarship Program for Girls
Fundacion Juanita provides scholarships for girls to attend public high school (grades 8-12) in the farming town of Malpaisillo, Nicaragua. Awards are made on the basis of economic need and academic promise and are provided in the form of school supplies and clothing, all purchased locally in Nicaragua.
In many of the poorer families, limited money for education is spent on boys, and many well-qualified girls are denied the opportunity to further their education past seventh grade.
Fundacion Juanita was created in 1999 as an outgrowth of the Columbia County, NY – Malpaisillo Sister-City Exchange. The sister-city project lost its guiding force, energy, and spirit when Joani ” Juanita” Unger died of cancer at age 47. As a memorial, the Nicaraguan volunteer sister-city committee suggested establishing a scholarship project that would allow girls from low-income families to to attend high school and would also be a tribute to Joani, who was a committed activist for women’s rights and education.
Five girls were selected to receive scholarships the first year. The project has now grown to include 20 girls each year, but there is a great need for the project to expand.
PROTOCOL FOR SELECTING SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS
Fundacion Juanita is administered in Malpaisillo by a volunteer committee of four dedicated citizens, who developed a multi-faceted protocol to select the scholarship recipients. First, an announcement goes out to the community via local media and word of mouth, advertising the availability of the scholarships. Parents are asked to submit a photocopy of their daughter’s report card and a letter explaining the economic status of the family and why their daughter requires a scholarship. The committee then visits the family’s home to interview the parent(s) and verify the need. They then check with school officials to verify academic credentials and prospects for future success in school.
Once a girl is selected to receive a scholarship, the parents sign a contract with the committee promising that their daughter will attend classes, be punctual and respectful, do her homework assignments, and perform her classwork at her highest possible level. They also promise to submit the girl’s report cards to the committee each semester.
SCHOOL SUPPLIES PURCHASED
Supplies purchased for the girls include notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, compasses, calculators, drawing supplies and cases, and backpacks. They also receive white socks and yards of cloth, from which the mothers fabricate school uniforms. The family also receives a cash amount to purchase a pair of shoes for school.
In the 14 years since the program has been in full operation, over 50 scholarship girls have graduated from the public high school in Malpaisillo, and many have gone on to higher education. Presently, Fundacion Juanita graduates are in universities and technical schools studying medicine, business administration, nursing, laboratory technology, psychology, Spanish, and law. Others have graduated from their post-high-school courses of study and are employed as economists, executive secretaries, nurses, teachers (one is teaching in the high school in Malpaisillo), technicians, and in various business positions. One great success story is that of Aleyda, an orphan raised by a neighbor family, who, with the help of Fundacion Juanita, graduated at the top of her high school class and was accepted in a program to study medicine in Cuba. She received a medical degree and is now working as a physician on the east coast of Nicaragua as part of her government service.
GOALS FOR THE FUTURE
This project was started on a small scale with limited funding sources. It has now grown over 400%, but there is an immediate need for at least ten more scholarships for qualified girls.