Building schools in Nicaragua

Building schools in Nicaragua

Education is free in Nicaragua and if there is a school, the government will provide the teachers. But try building a proper school in a remote jungle village a 10-hour boat trip up river. Such a challenge no longer daunts the Samenscholen Foundation, which builds a new school every year.

In 2011 the ‘Samenscholen Foundation’ built a small school in the remote village of El Naranjal. The previous year the foundation built a primary school in the city of Puerto Cabezas. And preparations are well underway for the 2012 project, a regional school for children with disabilities who are cared for by the local organization Los Pipitos. The ‘Samenscholen Foundation’ was set up by sociologist Kristel de Krijger. As part of her studies, she lived for some time on the east coast of Nicaragua. She fell in love with the country and its people. In 2007 this region was devastated by hurricane Felix. “World news suddenly became very personal. Everyone I knew in Nicaragua was affected. The family where I lived was ok, but their home had been destroyed. Dead bodies were washed ashore on the beach for days on end. It was terrible.”

Cash management

De Krijger decided to get involved by building schools. In this way she could offer children in the affected area the prospect of a better future. Since then she has devoted a large part of her life to the foundation. With her persuasive enthusiasm she has been able to mobilize an ever-expanding team of volunteers over the past few years. Treasury and finance consultant Judith Wissink was persuaded by De Krijger to become the foundation’s treasurer.

Wissink professionalized the bookkeeping and cash management and made sure that the foundation had access to information about income and expenditure flows at all times. And that is no luxury, because serious amounts of money are involved. Building a school costs around EUR 100,000. Wissink also developed a method of keeping tabs on expenses locally in Nicaragua, something that saves the team weeks of checking and calculating. “Compared with what we do at Zanders it’s all quite straightforward. But it’s wonderful to see how with something relatively simple you can make a major contribution. You’re helping people. With a little time and knowledge you can add a lot of value. That’s very gratifying. And you’re working with wonderful people, which is just as important.”

Made to measure

Building schools is unlikely to be routine. “Every school is different”, explains Wissink. De Krijger adds: “You can’t make a template. The environment varies and so do the requirements. In the jungle you can’t use the same materials that you would in a city, such as bricks and concrete. In the jungle the main resource is wood so our jungle school is made of wood cut to our specifications. Additionally, we plant a new tree for every tree we cut down.”

The ‘Samenscholen Foundation’ does not do all the work. Local people have to help with the carpentry and bricklaying. “Many people doubted that we could motivate and involve the local people. But the opposite is true. We get a huge amount of cooperation. Perhaps because we do our best not just to build, but also to transfer knowledge and pass on tricks of the trade, such as how to make a building storm-proof by reinforcing it with wind braces, or how to protect a home by painting it at regular intervals. The Dutch people who help us do the building work have years of experience in the construction industry, and they also have a wonderful time. Not least because they’re forced to go back to the essence of their trade.”

Building together, helping out, thinking ahead Building schools is teamwork.

That is why the ‘Samenscholen Foundation’ needs support. If you are looking for a way to turn the principle of corporate social responsibility into practice, or are trying to formulate a special company objective for 2012, then why not consider the ‘Samenscholen Foundation’. Wissink says: “A school costs around EUR 100,000 to build. So we need financial support. But what we also need at least as much is knowledge and experience. We welcome people with specific skills who want to put their time into this project or help us out in other ways.” If you want to join the ‘Samenscholen Foundation’ in making a lasting contribution to the future of young children in Nicaragua, then please contact the director, Kristel de Krijger, on +31 6 5106 1167 or send an email to

Sleepless nights

De Krijger suffered many sleepless nights during the preparations for the first school. By now the new projects are tackled with almost military precision. Everything is drawn, worked out and modeled. For instance, architecture students drew the jungle village school in the previous project. The same group of students, now graduated, drew the regional school for children with disabilities which will be built in 2012. Engineers analyzed all the constructions. Once the scaffolding has been put up, the construction team gets on the plane to Nicaragua. Wissink says: “All volunteers pay their own tickets. They do this because they want to.” These days the focus of the projects is wider than just building. The next project also includes physiotherapists and occupational therapists who will transfer their knowledge, for instance.”

Inevitably, some close ties develop. The foundation’s full-time Dutch carpenter met the love of his life in Nicaragua and has now settled there. He acts as the foundation’s local representative. De Krijger herself still gets deep satisfaction from her project. “You create a bond with all these people. When we left this year, lots of people seeing us off on the river bank had tears in their eyes. They knew we had to go back to our families. ‘But’, they said, ‘don’t forget you now have a big new family here.’ Try to keep dry-eyed when people tell you that.”

For more information about the 'Samenscholen Foundation', please visit

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