BY RODOLFO ROMAN
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
An avid walker, Julio Zelaya, 18, walked 14 miles on Friday, but not just to exercise.
Instead, Zelaya, who was raised in Nicaragua, laced up his sneakers to walk in honor of children living under poor conditions in Chacraseca, Nicaragua.
The chemical engineering major was one of 400 students who walked 1,080 person-miles at the Miami-Dade College Kendall campus’ track, 11011 SW 104th St., at the first annual Walk2Nicaragua event hosted by Imagination Federation Organization, a non-profit. The distance between Miami and Chacraseca is about 1,080 miles.
The event was in an effort to raise awareness and funds for children studying at the Chacraseca school, Hermandad de Maryknoll. Chacraseca is a rural village of 8,000 people in the northwest of the Central American country. Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Zelaya, who was born in Houston, knows first-hand the poor conditions Chacraseca residents live in.
“I know what these people go through,” he said. “Those people pretty much don’t live in poverty, but it is misery. This is a key to help them progress.”
Three years ago, Miami Dade College English professors Carlos Gonzalez Morales, Alex Salinas and Emily Sendin started Imagination Federation Organization, which is a chapter of Friends of Students for 60,000, a non-profit dedicated to assisting the poor.
As part of their mission, professors and students travel to Nicaragua at least three times a year to interact, teach and assist children. Airfare and hospitality are paid for by volunteers. With funds raised, houses, schools, classrooms and latrines have been built and rebuilt. Also, uniforms, school supplies, teacher’s salaries and lunch have been provided by monetary funds. The project also includes planting organic gardens and working with students from UNAN-León, a public university. Plans to open a secondary school are in the works.
Morales said about 80 percent of students drop out of school by the fifth grade in the village. The effort will serve as a launching pad for Nicaraguan students to better their lives, Morales said.
“By giving these students the opportunity to go to high school, we hope to make a positive impact on the community as a whole,” he said. “These youngsters could serve as role models for the younger generations who would also want to go to school and earn a secondary and college education.”
At the walk, Miami-Dade college students sold Nicaraguan organic coffee, baked goods, ceramic ornaments and raffles in order to collect funds. Walkers individually raised monetary funds, as well. Each student and faculty member walked about 4 miles. Other fundraising events like bake sales are held throughout the year.
Friends and family sponsored Bertha Campos’ walk with $100. Campos, who is 20 and was born in Cuba, said she would like to share her educational opportunities.
“As a university student I have been fortunate to have my studies paid for through the honors college,” she said. “So I know what it is to fulfill your dreams through school.”
Although the small rural village lives in poverty, residents want to move forward, said Sendin.
“This community is unique in that they have a strong desire to better themselves; they eagerly search for the tools that will help them empower themselves and break cycles of poverty,” she said.
Salinas, a Nicaraguan, said it takes a group effort to help those in need.
“We are all related. We are all Miamians. We are all Latinos and we are all human beings,” he said. “We are coming together as a community that does not worry about nationality, race or language.”
For information on the mission visit imaginationfederation.org