In 2010, Flintridge Preparatory School’s Nicaragua Initiative was envisioned as a typical summer exchange program, with five Spanish students travelling to Managua. The passionate involvement of one participant — rising senior Naomi Hatanaka — provided inspiration that continues today, says Spanish teacher Manuel Nuñez, who oversees the program.
“I didn’t have an awareness of what a ‘developing’ country in the Global South actually was,” says Naomi. “I was excited to experience a new culture and practice Spanish. After visiting La Mascota Public Children’s Hospital, I saw there was a lack of access to capital and basic necessities for poorer families. There’s no reason children shouldn’t get treatment because they don’t have access to transportation or the funds to get there.” In 2011, for her senior independent study project, she created and still directs A World of One’s Own (AWOOO) a non-profit that supports patients at La Mascota.
Prep’s expanded Initiative now takes 14 students to Colegio Bilinguë de St. Mary each year, along with at least five faculty members who help the school with technology, coaching techniques, or pedagogy. Students continue to work at the hospital each summer; there are year-round faculty and staff exchanges, language lessons on Skype, and athletics programs for Nicaraguan coaches and students. “It’s life-changing and transformative,” says Sr. Nuñez, “on both sides of the exchange.”
It was for Naomi, now a senior at UC-Berkeley majoring in social entrepreneurship. She visits La Mascota annually, and is partnering with a friend to launch a coffee company that will donate part of its proceeds to AWOO and local NGOs in the countries they source from.