Graduate’s hometown dream becomes reality

Ana Paulina Villanueva (’12) joined SIFE hoping to make a difference. Her hopes were realized when a new school opened in her home village of Chinandega, Nicaragua, on Sept. 1.

Villanueva headed up the project ADVANCE Nicaragua from early 2010 to last April. Originally, she just wanted to provide school supplies for the floundering preschool in Chinandega. Later goals included providing food for the students, and eventually, a building. When the project began, the preschool was severely underfunded, and met outside rain or shine.

Villanueva and the ADVANCE Nicaragua team worked hard nailing down the details and contacting donors. “The donors saw their passion and their drive. It was contagious,” said Brandon Knight, former president of SIFE. During the summer, Villanueva spent her time talking to the parents, community, and local government to gain support for the project. In late spring of 2011, they were able to acquire a small piece of land for a school building.

“I knew that a school was one of our ultimate goals, but I had no idea we’d get there so quickly,” said sophomore Lauren Miller, current leader of ADVANCE Nicaragua.

In early 2012, the project raised enough money for a building, and construction began that spring.

“This happened so incredibly fast that it could only be a direct blessing from the Lord,” said Miller.

Construction ended late in August. Miller, Knight, along with a few others including Joe Walenciak, associate dean of the College of Business, flew to Nicaragua for the building’s dedication. There they reunited with Villanueva for the ceremony one Saturday morning.

Many Chinandega residents came to the ceremony, where the name of the school was revealed: Milagro de Dios, which means Miracle of God.

“To actually see and touch the building was indescribable,” said Walenciak.

“It was really neat to see how important the dedication of the school was to the kids, their parents and the community,” said Knight.

Now that Villanueva has graduated, Miller is eager to continue her work. “We want to look ahead and see how we can make the school sustainable,” Miller said. Future goals include teacher training and further provision of school supplies, especially chairs.

Miller expressed her amazement at the success of the project. “We all have the ability to have ideas…to make [ideas] happen is unique, but it’s doable.”

Walenciak agreed with Miller, calling ADVANCE Nicaragua a “practical example” of how anyone can make a difference. “The day we say ‘I can do that’ is a great moment,” he said.