New Canaan residents visit Nicaragua
New Canaan residents Priscilla and John Woyke recently visited the Norwalk/Nagarote, Nicaragua, Sister City Project in Nicaragua for the third time in the several years that they have served as volunteers, board members and donors of the organization.
Priscilla brings her considerable pre-school educational training to the project. As such, she has conducted numerous pre-school trainings for teachers and parents in the Sister City's Nicaraguan schools. She has also served as the chairperson for the nonprofit's springtime festive gala and auction, and John helped with his computer program for the checkout of auction items and many other technical jobs. They both have been involved with fundraising and the organization's capital campaign for the construction of a new community center in Nagarote. John is also treasurer of the organization. Their dedication is a reason that the Sister-City Project has been so successful.
At the age of 88, Virginia Auster of Norwalk was the oldest and, some say, the most energetic member of the Norwalk/Nagarote, Nicaragua, Sister-City Project delegation. She has visited Nagarote many times in her 26 years on the Sister-City Board, and if she no longer bounds off airplanes and out of mini-vans, she still exudes amazing enthusiasm and influence with Nagarote's children and their parents.
Tish Biggs, also of Norwalk, has been a navigator for the Sister City Project, serving in many capacities. Her skills have been at the core of the success of this organization, especially over the past 12 years when she served as the nonprofit's executive director. Over several decades, she and the board and volunteers were responsible for the completion of both a school and community center, vocational/technical and after-school programs, as well as the establishment of an organic farm, the growth of health-enhancing foods and a sustainable home gardening project. The group's scholarship program has supported hundreds of children through their younger school years, and many have gone on to college.
The 14 delegates, ranging in age from 14 to 88, traveled from Fairfield, Ridgefield, Westport, New Canaan, Norwalk, and as far as New York City and the Carolinas arrived in Nicaragua in February for a five-day stay. The travel could be demanding. While delegations of the past stayed with host families, a hotel was built in the city a few years ago. The Hotel Jerusalem, the only hotel in Nagarote, has no hot water. Most often the delegates traipsed on foot from point to point in the city, but on several occasions, upward of 18 people -- delegates and Nagarote staff members -- packed into a minivan designed to hold 11. They occasionally helped the economy by using bicycle-driven pedicabs.
The project's new Community Center opened in August and has quickly become a second home to many children of the barrio. In this safe and nurturing environment, they learn practical skills, such as sewing, hairdressing, tailoring, cooking and baking, and computer technology. English and theater arts (including dance and music) are two additional classes that the Project hopes to make available to the families of Nagarote.
A preschool has grown from four to 45 students. An after-school program boasts 185 at-risk disadvantaged teens. There are 82 students, grade one through university, currently receiving scholarships from the Sister City Project. Almost all of the scholarship students finish high school and continue on to college or technical school, a strong contrast with their parents, most of whom never completed sixth grade. But the program is not all academics. Youngsters grow fresh produce for their families in the organic community garden, about to expand into a model organic farm as a result of a $10,000 grant from the International Foundation.
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Later in the week, the excursion to the new botanical garden in nearby Leon was a great learning experience, followed by a picnic lunch and ice cream. The youngsters got together after lunch with the delegation visitors and shared their thoughts on the project and detailed a wish list that included sewing machines, English classes, a mixer for the kitchen, first aid kits for the preschool and classes in music and dance. All will be incorporated into the Sister City Project's Giving Tree at its annual Fiesta Celebration and Auction scheduled for May 4 at Quattro Pazzi in Norwalk.
The Norwalk/Nagarote Sister City Project works closely with students from area schools and colleges and in collaboration with other nonprofit groups. Volunteers, donors and grant funders are needed and encouraged to contact Carol Way at 203-293-3111 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about such opportunities. Visit www.sistercityproject.org.