LATIN AMERICA

Seeing a need, creating a solution

Ever wanted to make a difference but you just weren’t sure how to go about it? I know I have had that feeling many times. While studying abroad in Costa Rica last semester with Sol Education Abroad, we took a weekend excursion to Nicaragua that made me think a lot differently about how to fight poverty and change lives. I want to spread the word about this amazing place located in Granada, Nicaragua. 

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Café de las Sonrisas (Smiles Coffee) is a café staffed entirely by deaf people. Tio Antonio, the founder, saw a need in his community and created a solution. It’s very difficult for people with hearing disabilities to find work in Nicaragua and many must resort to begging in the street to support their families. Tio Antonio created a restaurant with picture menus and dishes with few ingredients that are listed simply so you can just point at the dish you want and point to any ingredients you don’t want. This provides stable employment for the hearing disabled serving and kitchen staff.

Tio Antonio has also developed a program in the same building where teenage boys who have few skills and are unable to find employment are trained to weave high quality hammocks, keeping them off the streets and teaching them a useful skill. He is developing another project to provide single mothers who have no form of childcare a way to work from home by weaving purses and backpacks that will be sold at his shop for a fair price. This man has truly made a difference in his community with these simple, ingenious ideas.

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If you have the opportunity to visit Granada, a charming city with beautiful architecture on the edge of Lake Nicaragua, your heart will be touched by the poverty you see. Many children beg on the street for food or money. It’s tempting to give them some money and clear your conscience. This is our go-to solution, but this only feeds them for a day and it ensures they will be back on the street tomorrow hoping for another donation. That’s no stable way to live. By supporting programs like Tio Antonio’s, you can help build a permanent solution to their poverty. 

I encourage anyone traveling to Nicaragua to stop in and have a delicious meal at Tio Antonios. And if you don’t have the opportunity to actually go there, be inspired by his ideas and challenge yourself to make a difference here in Kentucky by thinking of creative, functional solutions. You can also make a donation or purchase a hammock or bag online and have them shipped to you! Check out the website at http://www.tioantonio.org/web/ (click the flag in the top right corner to translate the site to English)

Thanks to the awesome directors, Janiva Cifuentes and Jessenia Saborio at Sol Education Abroad for including Tio Antonios and this mind opening experience in their program! And if you’re interested in learning Spanish as well as learning a new perspective of thinking, consider the SOL Spanish Immersion program in Costa Rica!

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Michaela Wade is a senior at The University of Kentucky studying Integrated Strategic Communications and MAT. She participated in the Sol Education Abroad, Latin University of Costa Rica program in Fall 2015.