Why Nicaraguan Youth?
Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. 53% of the population is under 18 years of age.
Forty percent of young Nicaraguans (ages 18-29) are unemployed or work in the informal sector while 50% percent live in poverty. Nearly a million adolescents and young adults, about half of the total population of young Nicaraguans, are disadvantaged in terms of education, health, employment, and living conditions (United Nations Development Program).
Girls ages 10-19 contributed to 27.5%of all births in Nicaragua, one of the highest adolescent fertility rates in the world. An astonishing 47% of these pregnancies are of girls between the ages of 10-14 (United Nations Development Program).
Families living in extreme poverty are often unable to provide support for their children and are forced to abandon them. While parents leave their communities to search for work, their children are either left with relatives or put into shelters (“hogares”) where they receive minimal food and necessities. Often, children and adolescents are left with elder, physically or mentally ill family members who are unable to provide the guidance needed for students to stay in school and make healthy choices. Other children are separated from their parents by government social agencies because they are abused, or have parents who are addicts or incarcerated.
Barriers to Education
In the communities of Leon where NCFC serves, students commonly drop out of the educational system before fifth grade because they have no way to pay the basic educational expenses or afford clothing and shoes necessary to go to school.
Many families rely on their children from as young as ten years old to support themselves economically, preventing them from going to school. These children work on farms, or as vendors on city streets scavenge in garbage dumps and search for recyclable bottles to sell. Young girls of elementary school age are often relied upon to take care of siblings and do other domestic chores while their mothers work.
If children have the privilege to attend school, they find themselves in overcrowded classrooms with little to no resources and technology. The barriers for university students are great, with lack of technology access or well lighted places to study in homes. Students struggle to pay for transportation to schools, meals at school, books and materials.
Drug related crimes are increasing dramatically in the communities in which we serve. According to the local police captain of Reparto Carlos Fonseca, the number of persons incarcerated for drug offenses jumped from 55 in 2005 to 450 in 2015. The increase in arrests is also due to greater enforcement of domestic abuse cases.
Adolescents are prone to sniffing glue, a gateway drug, as a form of escape from their daily lives. Unpaved streets and poor street lighting in Leon contribute to the high rate of assaults on women and robberies.
“The poverty I saw during visits to the students’ homes stayed with me during my trip, and even today I can’t stop thinking about it”, said Dr. Carol Langbort (Professor Emeritus, SF State School of Education) and NCFC Board member about her March 2015 visit to Leon.