In Nicaragua, there is a tiny village called Luz de Cristo. In this village, 45 children, ranging from grades K-6, attend school together in a single classroom of 517 square feet. A partition is set up in the middle of the classroom, to divide the students into two separate groups. Each group is taught by one teacher. Some of the students are even taken out on the porch to engage in their studies. Due to the limitations in space, the school has struggled with attendance rates, along with all of the distractions that come with crowding students together.
However, in the village of Luz de Cristo, positive changes are afoot.
Back in June of this year, Russ Williams, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Milpitas, went to a division council meeting put on by the organization. It was there where he saw Robert Freeman from The Global Uplift Project (TGUP) speak about his vision to bring clusters of clubs together to do amazing things in the world.
“What he said really connected with me,” said Williams.
TGUP works to nurture tangible projects that will make a tremendous impact on the developing world. Think along the lines of: building classrooms, water systems, science labs, and medical clinics. They’ve spent the past 14 years dedicated to enhancing the lives of people across the world’s most poverty-stricken communities.
Inspired by Freeman’s presentation, Williams just knew he had to be involved.
He ended up rallying all of the division 12 Kiwanis clubs in the Silicon Valley together – all 13 of them, including his own here in Milpitas. And within a few months, they raised just about enough money to start the process of building a 660-square foot classroom, complete with a steel frame on a concrete foundation.
This classroom will provide the children with extra space, so that they can learn, evolve, and grow in a more welcoming environment. Not having to crowd into one small classroom will help to improve student performance, limit distractions, and divide children more easily in accordance with ages and grade levels.
“Each club determined how they wanted to try and raise funds for the project,” said Williams, who is on the Board of Directors for both the Kiwanis Club of Milpitas and their foundation.
The goal was to raise $15,024. And since the money started coming together quickly, they even added stretch goals: an extra $1,421 for building a small playground, another $719 for installing solar panels. Williams mentioned that they might even add a computer lab or something else of that nature, if they continue to raise even more money. 100% of the money raised goes into construction costs.
Back in 2017, Marsha Grilli, also a member of the Kiwanis Club of Milpitas, visited Nicaragua during a vacation with her husband. She was overwhelmed by the severe level of poverty and the lack of education available to children. For her, being involved in raising money for the school was a no-brainer. She was President of the Kiwanis Club during the time when they took on the project.
“I’m just really proud of our club, and our participation in making such an impact in a country where families are struggling,” said Grilli. “Even though we have families struggling here, it’s not to the extent that it is in Nicaragua.”
The Kiwanis Club here in Milpitas has been a consistent force for good in the community. They partner with the Milpitas Food Pantry and the Milpitas Fire Department to provide food and toys for children in need during Christmastime. They also organize the Kohl’s Cares for Kids event before school starts each year, working with the Milpitas Unified School District, Milpitas High School Key Club, Milpitas Police Department, Milpitas Fire Department, and Spring Valley Fire Department. At this event, MUSD students in need are selected by the district to come to Kohl’s to shop for back-to-school attire. The Milpitas Kiwanis Club provides them with gift cards, and volunteer chaperones escort the children through the store, helping them to pick things out.
The Kiwanis Club members here in Milpitas also take part in the Turnaround Scholars Program.
“What we do is select kids who have gone through the most adversity, yet have still graduated from high school, and want to improve their life,” said Williams. “And we are working with MHS and Cal Hills who help select the children most in need.”
The children selected receive a $1,500-a-year scholarship for 4 years.
“Currently, we’re supporting about 18 children,” said Williams.
The Kiwanis Club of Milpitas also puts on a big fundraiser each year, which many locals know and love. It’s the Annual Crabfeed and Auction; they do it in partnership with MUSD every February. It’s hosted at the Milpitas Community Center. And tickets to the event always sell out.
Williams and the rest of the members of Milpitas’ Kiwanis Club, along with other clubs across their Silicon Valley division, will work to raise the rest of the funds while tracking the construction process that began on October 5 in Luz de Cristo. Children and adults in the small village are involved in the building process, and their excitement is palpable in the many photos up on TGUP’s site.
The Global Uplift Project has already completed 198 projects, like this one, in 18 of the poorest countries in the world.
“This year, we’ll have done 50 projects,” Freeman told The Beat in an interview. “They’re all small scale, low cost, and high impact. And in these villages, these projects are raising their capacity for self-development; they’re raising their capacity to take care of themselves.”
When Freeman initially started on the path of mounting these projects in developing countries, he heard from so many people that it just wasn’t possible, that he’d never be able to make it happen. But he decided to push forward anyhow. And now, 14 years later, people like Russ Williams and his fellow Kiwanis Club members are taking the initiative and joining forces with Freeman and his organization to make a lasting impact on the world.
“We never imagined that we’d be able to raise the funds this quickly,” said Williams. “But it came together. Everyone got excited. When we started pulling the efforts, we saw that this was going to happen. And it happened fast. The change this will make to these kids’ lives is just incalculable.”
The classroom in Luz de Cristo is near completion and will have its Grand Opening next week.
Go here to learn more about the Kiwanis Club of Milpitas: