Sister City Project still going strong

While non-profit organizations across the country are barely surviving the recession, the New Haven-León Sister City Project is riding out the storm with relative ease, the organization’s program director says.

A local non-profit that conducts educational relief work in León, Nicaragua, the Sister City Project also works to educate city residents about Nicaragua and the effects of United States foreign policy on the Latin American country.

Sam Purdy '10 spent six weeks at a school in Nicaragua
Sam Purdy
Sam Purdy '10 spent six weeks at a school in Nicaragua
Sam Purdy '10 spent six weeks at a school in Nicaragua
Sam Purdy
Sam Purdy '10 spent six weeks at a school in Nicaragua

“Our vision is more about supporting Nicaraguans in creating a better world for themselves,” said Chris Schweitzer, the organization’s program director.

The organization raises most of its revenue from program fees and donations, Schweitzer said, and currently receives enough funding to sustain its work in Nicaragua. The project has so far had no difficulty paying its employees and does not plan to increase its fundraising efforts.

The Sister City Project has three part-time employees at its New Haven office and four full-time and five part-time employees at its León office. Schweitzer said that all of Sister City’s León staff members are Nicaraguan.

He explained the organization had been faring relatively well because it receives approximately $140,000 each year from a very dedicated core group of donors. That money, he said, is used mainly for staff salaries; the organization’s mission work in Nicaragua is funded primarily by program fees. As a result, the recession has hardly made a dent in the budget and what the organization really needs is more people to volunteer in New Haven and León, he said.

Given that no significant financial hurdles lie ahead, Schweitzer said the project’s current focus is on recruiting volunteers. This year the organization has been targeting its efforts at New Haven’s university students. Since the organization was founded in 1984, Yale students volunteering with the organization have performed educational reform and relief work in the rural village of Goyena, Nicaragua, which is an hour from León.

In July and August, Sam Purdy ’10 traveled independently under the organization to Goyena. He said that during his stay he spent six weeks at a school with no running water, electricity or textbooks. He also taught a first-grade class English and started a chess club while in Goyena.

He emphasized that the environment was not conducive to the pursuit of an education and that often parents did not see the value of sending their children to school when there was work to be done at home.

“Education is an immediate sacrifice for them,” he said, “It was very sobering to realize that.”

Recent projects the organization has undertaken in Goyena include improving the quality of local preschool teachers, organizing nutritional assistance for the students and establishing a daily after-school program for elementary school children.

Meanwhile, in New Haven, the Sister City Project has recently launched “Earthathon,” which focuses on initiating sustainable climate change.

The organization sponsored a pro-environmental march along the Long Wharf Pier on Oct. 3rd. This month, staff members are organizing a similar movement for the International Day of Action for Climate Change on Oct. 24th, Schweitzer said.

Yale graduate Alan Wright GRD ’80 co-founded the New Haven-León Sister City project to promote educational reform in the country and strengthen ties between Nicaragua and the United States. In a phone interview, Wright said he founded the organization because at the time, tensions between the Nicaraguan and U.S. governments were strained. Back then, the organization’s primary focus was on diplomacy through friendship, he said.

Wright left the Sister City Project in 1999 when he moved to Pennsylvania, and subsequently founded SosteNica, a sustainable development fund that issues microcredit loans to Nicaraguans, he said.

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