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Meet some of the students of the Free High School and Free Technical School!

Meet Jordan, FHS student and foreman on the campus construction project

Those of you who watched our 2015 trip video may remember Jordan Marin, who works with our general contractor Austin Drill on the construction of the campus and also attends the Free High School on Saturdays. (If you missed the video, we’re making it easy for you to watch it below!)

Jordan started out life as a poor farmer’s son, and for a long time he seemed set to follow in his father’s footsteps. After finishing fourth grade at age 13, he was forced to leave school so that he could work — first with his father in their fields north of San Juan del Sur, then as a sugar cane cutter when he would rise at 2 am every day and work until 7 pm, after which he would be too exhausted to do anything but eat, sleep, and start all over again at 2 am. Reflecting on those days, he can only say, “I lost four years of my life.”

Unwilling to spend the rest of his years like that, Jordan decided to move closer to San Juan del Sur to find construction work and pursue his life-long dream of studying. That decision turned his life around. Within a year he learned masonry. He also enrolled in a night school in Rivas and finished both fifth and sixth grades in one year. His teacher must have seen promise in him, because when the weather made roads impassible, she helped him over the telephone with the material he missed.

Austin and Michelle Drill moved to San Juan del Sur seven years ago and started Casa de Tierra, which specializes in green construction, and they hired Jordan for his masonry skills. He also became Austin’s Spanish teacher, and in return Austin taught Jordan English as well as many green building techniques. “I feel really happy with my skills,” he says. “I can do everything: concrete, earth bags, straw bale, bamboo, stucco.”

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Jordan has Saturdays off and he thought, “I should do something with that extra day.” So he started at the Free High School. Already past his mid 20s at that point, he was worried about being too old, but a professor assured him it would be okay. He has since found the school to be life-transforming. “The way I spoke was rough,” he explains. “I learned how to express myself. I see a future.”

Now Jordan is 29 and in the ninth grade at the Free High School — his third year. For the last two years he has been the first in his class. “People work, some of them on Saturdays, and can’t study. Women who work and have children also can’t study. People have no choices. But sometimes they think they have no choices when they do. I found room [in my life] to study.”

On weekdays, he still works with Austin at Casa de Tierra. Jordan is the foreman on the Free High School construction project, and he continuously pours his sweat and love into building a campus for students like himself. He saved himself from a lifetime of poverty through education, found a good job, and lives comfortably with his partner and 4-year-old son in a beautiful house he helped build. With Random Acts and all of you backing him and the Free High School, Jordan is now able to help give other students the opportunity to turn their lives around as well.

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A 2014 graduate: Lisbeth

Lisbeth Guzman Perez

Not all of the Free High School students attend only because regular high schools aren’t an option for them. Lisbeth Guzman Perez could have attended the large daily Mongalo High School, but she didn’t like the party atmosphere there. She chose instead to attend the Free High School which has older and more dedicated students, and thus an atmosphere more conducive to serious learning.

It was the right decision. After starting at the Free High School, Lisbeth’s motivation to learn soared. “I decided to do much better, to improve my grades, to beat my own record,” she says. Her favorite subjects were English, Spanish, and biology.

At seventeen, Lisbeth is among the youngest of the 2014 graduates, and yet she had the third highest average in the entire graduating class of 67 students. Also in that class were three other members of her family: her brothers Gabriel and Jonatan, as well as a cousin — all wearing gowns in the photograph. The four of them, all in their senior year, took an interest in the perceptions of sexism and worked together on a monograph on this subject.

Lisbeth and her co-grads

Lisbeth’s sister and another cousin also attend the Free High School. Their father is a night-watchman who had never attended much high school, and their mother is a housewife. How did the two of these largely uneducated parents raise a whole family so interested in education? “We told them to get up early and do well,” they said.

Now, Lisbeth has moved on to study Tourism and Hospitality at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua in Rivas, thanks to a scholarship from the Brugger Foundation. We’re sure she’ll do well and continue to be a great example of the type of young adults the Free High School cultivates!

Disa Fonseca, a Free High School graduate

There are many reasons students end up having to drop out of regular high school. Disa’s reason was that her grandmother became ill, so she had to go from her home in rural Las Delicias to her grandmother’s house in town every day to take care of her. She also started working 12 hours a day — from 7 am to 7 pm — to run a laundromat set up in her grandmother’s house. Like many in her generation, Disa was raised by her grandmother, Santo Lacayo, pictured below with Disa and little Sebastian.

Disa Fonseca

After her grandmother recovered, Disa started going to the Free High School. She was determined to finish school even after she became pregnant. Disa didn’t miss a single day during her pregnancy, despite the long hours trying to squeeze herself and her growing belly into the pupitres (hard wooden chairs with a desk attached to one arm) which were meant for younger (and less pregnant!) students. They were uncomfortable, but she managed by swinging herself sideways in the chair.

Sebastian was born shortly after Disa’s fourth year ended, and he was only two months old when her fifth and final year was set to begin. Dropping out wasn’t an option for Disa this time. When asked about it, she would only mention that other women had it worse. “Maria del los Angeles came back when her baby was only two weeks old. And she had to bring him to class.” Disa was luckier: Her mother-in-law lived nearby and took care of the baby on Saturdays, but Disa had to spend her lunch hour walking over there to nurse him. She didn’t miss a single day that year either.

Disa finished her senior monograph on Sandinista Youth (a political group), which involved some traveling with her team to interview members, and she graduated in 2014 at age 28.

Despite the fact that Disa and Santo are both working on weekdays, between the two of them, they keep an eye on Sebastian. For now Disa is still at the laundromat, but when asked how valuable the degree is to her, she only raises her eyebrows. Its value is unquestionable. When Sebastian is older, Disa plans to go to the university in nearby Rivas to study graphic design. We wish her the best of luck!

Another Free High School graduate: Yeseling

This is Yeseling Ariana Solis, 23 years old, in the restaurant where she cooks.

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Yeseling Ariana is married and lives outside of town. She had a baby boy following a high-risk pregnancy during her fourth year of high school, but there was no one at home to take care of him. Yeseling, determined to finish school come hell or high water, got through her senior year in 2014 by walking into town with her baby, Yerik, early every Saturday morning and caring for him throughout the day in the classrooms. “If I had to take him out, I did. He wasn’t the only disturbance. Other students make noise too and talk to each other.”

Yeseling had been a victim of domestic violence as a child. Her parents separated when she was six-years old and her grandmother raised her in a house where there was never enough money. After she got her sixth-grade diploma at thirteen, she went to work washing clothes in the houses of strangers. When she was 17 she met the man who she would later marry, and he supported her in that he was willing to buy her notebooks and clothes so she could go back to school on Saturdays. On weekdays she was a street vendor, selling pretzels, powdered cornmeal, and pinol (a rural drink) that she made herself. After Yerik was born, she continued to do this while pushing him around in a carriage.

Two months after graduation, Yeseling started working six days a week cooking at a fast-food place in San Juan del Sur and was finally able to give up street vending. She aspires to run such a business someday, and her new boss encourages her and plans to give her more responsibility. She would also like to study drawing. In the meantime, Yeseling is repairing her small family home in Rivas by taking out micro-loans from the government. “Although drowning in difficulties,” a Free High School administrator said, “she sees our center as a life raft because it permitted her to receive an education and graduate.”

Without the Free High School, Yeseling might still be washing clothes or selling snacks on the streets. Now she is educated, has a decent job, and is progressing down a rewarding career path. Most importantly, she is empowered. This is the kind of difference in people’s lives that we’ll be making by supporting the school. Thanks for being part of that difference.

Welcome to the blog! And meet Belkis, a Free High School graduate.

Welcome, and thank you for stopping by! We’re so excited to be embarking on a new major destination project, and we’re even more excited to have you along for the journey! This blog will contain campaign and project updates, stories of some of the people we’re helping, and of course the trip itself in November. I’m sure some of our fundraisers and volunteers will share their experiences as well.

It’s been less than three weeks since the official campaign launch, and we’ve already raised $45,000 and had four people qualify for the trip! We at Random Acts were always confident we’d be able to rally support, but this is even more successful so far than what we could have wished for. Thank you so much to all of our fundraisers and donors!

BelkisToday we want to share another success as well: Pictured is Belkis Guillen Espinoza, aged 30, receiving her English course certificate from the Keiser International Language Institute. Belkis was the top graduate of the Free High School in 2012. While studying there, she started a successful cooperative of women jam-makers in El Carrizal, the rural area where she grew up. She found a donor to build a kitchen for the community women, and she herself goes around selling the jams in local stores. The business is a true economic advance for many, and they make delicious gifts for visitors to bring home to family and friends.

Belkis has also applied her great energy and initiative to furthering her education and career. She currently works as a broker at a realty agency, while at the same time pursuing a bachelor degree in accounting at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua in Managua on a scholarship from the A. Jean Brugger Foundation. She plans to become a CPA after that. Going on every Saturday, this will take seven years.

All of this began with the Free High School, and Random Acts is so happy to be able to support such a great organization and be a part of more success stories like this one. We hope you are too!

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