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Service Project Leads to Fundraiser for Children in Nicaragua

RELEASED: April 30, 2008

Joseph Mullenberg with children from El Fortin
Joeseph Muellenberg and some of the children from El Fortín.

EAU CLAIRE — A group of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students has organized a run/walk to raise money for children in a small village in Nicaragua, where the university students spent time while studying abroad.

The 5K charity run/walk will begin at 9 a.m. May 10 by the Nursing Building at UW-Eau Claire. Registration is $12 in advance or $15 the day of the event.

All proceeds from the event will be given as scholarships to children in El Fortín so they can purchase school uniforms, shoes and supplies.

For two years, UW-Eau Claire students studying in Nicaragua have worked with CEIDEPRO, an international community development program. The students have spent two weeks working on a service-learning project in El Fortín. The students lived in the community, staying with local families, while building a greenhouse so the community can raise herbs to sell.

During the project, the university students have become aware of the needs of the people, particularly the need to educate the children.

"The poverty is so great in El Fortín that most people cannot afford to buy the uniform or supplies necessary for their children to attend school," said Joe Muellenberg, a senior psychology major who visited Nicaragua in November 2007. "When we got back, a lot of us felt a conflict coming back to so much privilege. We decided to do something to help the children of El Fortín and we came up with the run/walk."

The students understand they cannot solve all the proble msof El Fortín — they understand that what the community needs is empowerment to solve their own problems, said Marielos Calvo, director of CEIDEPRO.

"The students have gone beyond imagination and come up with a way to put into practice what they believed to be important," said Calvo. "They believe in the potential of the children of El Fortín."

Students who traveled to Nicaragua in 2006 began some simple fundraising, raising about $1,200 by selling photographs a student took of the village and accepting donations from a church. When Muellenberg and his group visited in 2007 they brought the money to the village and took the children shopping for school supplies in Granada, the nearest city. When the second group returned, the 2006 and 2007 groups united and brainstormed additional fundraising ideas.

To raise money, the group — which calls itself LA-SED for Latin American Sustainability, Education and Development —organized bake sales and the walk/run. Group members raised around $600 from the bake sales and hope the walk/run will increase that amount. LA-SED also has applied to become a student organization.

"This is an excellent example of how a study abroad experience, with an emphasis on cultural immersion and structured interaction with the members of the host community, becomes a life-changing event for our students," said Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education.

This was the first time many of these students were exposed to extreme poverty, said Sarah Holm, a senior social work student who traveled to El Fortín in 2006.

"It was a humbling experience," said Holm. "You hear about poverty and I knew that Nicaragua was the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere. But it is really a different experience when the poor people have names you know and faces you recognize and are people you've ate and worked beside."

Muellenberg and Holm hope that future students traveling to E l Fortín will continue the mission to help the village. In addition to helping school children, Muellenberg said the village needs a bridge to make it easier to travel to Granada for trade.

"If the group could help raise funds, the students could provide the free labor to build the bridge," Muellenberg said. "But right now we want to help the children because education will help them help their community in the future."

For more information, to register for the run/walk or to make a contribution, contact Muellenberg by calling 606-769-7126 or by e-mail at muelleje@uwec.edu.

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KH

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