Boston Entrepreneur Paves Educational Path for Central American Kids

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In 2014, Kristin Van Busum traded her comfortable life in Boston’s Back Bay for a Fulbright scholarship expedition to Nicaragua, with the aim to study how small farmers could market their coffee to global markets. Her journey, however, took a life-altering turn in a remote village approximately 140 miles from the capital city Managua, when a 12-year-old girl named Ana, intrigued by Van Busum, asked her if she was a teacher. Van Busum’s affirmative response led to the formation of a reading circle that soon attracted dozens of children from neighboring farms and villages, some walking for over an hour to participate.

This unexpected encounter not only transformed the lives of the children but also reshaped Van Busum’s life trajectory. After spending four years in Nicaragua, she returned to Boston in 2018 and established the non-profit organization, Project Alianza, to foster literacy in the poorest, most remote regions of Central America. Inspired by the unwavering determination of Ana and the other children, Van Busum felt compelled to contribute more than just returning to her comfortable life in Boston. Since its inception, Project Alianza has built 16 schools, trained 200 educators, and over 160,000 children have been taught to read and write in the past five years.

Project Alianza: Pioneering Literacy In Central America

In 2014, Kristin Van Busum, a Boston-based Fulbright scholar, embarked on a journey to Nicaragua to explore how small-scale farmers could tap into global coffee markets. However, her mission soon took a turn when she found herself teaching a young girl to read. This encounter marked the start of a mission that would change the lives of thousands of children and lead to the creation of a transformative non-profit, Project Alianza.

The Birth of Project Alianza

Van Busum’s casual teaching encounter sparked a wave of enthusiasm among local children, leading to a growing reading circle and ultimately, a life-altering decision for Van Busum. After spending four years in Nicaragua, she returned to Boston in 2018 and founded Project Alianza. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting literacy in some of the poorest and most remote regions of Central America.

Van Busum’s dedication to her cause is tangible. She has since made frequent visits back to Central America, enduring grueling flights and challenging conditions to oversee the work of Project Alianza. In just five years, the non-profit has built 16 schools, trained 200 educators and helped over 160,000 children learn to read and write.

A Sustainable Model for Education

Project Alianza’s success is rooted in its sustainable approach to education. In contrast to simply providing services and supplies, the organization works to build the capacity of local communities to provide the services themselves, a model borrowed from Partners in Health. By grouping students by learning levels and reading ability rather than age or grade, Project Alianza utilizes teaching models that have been empirically proven to work.

The organization’s commendable work has garnered praise from John Floretta, the global deputy executive director of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. He hailed Project Alianza’s approach as an inspiring example of adapting a global evidence base to address local needs.

Overcoming Challenges and Looking Ahead

Despite the impressive strides made, the journey hasn’t been without its challenges. From acquiring books and essential supplies to handling natural disasters, Project Alianza has had to adapt and persist. In 2020, hurricanes Eta and Iota wreaked havoc on the communities Project Alianza serves, leading the organization to temporarily convert one of its schools into a shelter for those affected.

However, Van Busum remains undeterred. Project Alianza is set to launch a free learning app in October to reach even more children. Additionally, plans are underway to train 100 more educators within the next year.

Final Thoughts

Van Busum’s journey from a Fulbright scholar to the founder of a transformative non-profit is truly inspiring. Her undying dedication to advancing education in impoverished communities is a testament to the power of passion and commitment. Her work through Project Alianza serves as a shining example of how targeted, sustainable interventions can make a significant impact on education and poverty reduction. As Van Busum continues her mission, she is creating a reality that she wants for the whole world: more opportunities, more innovation, and addressing challenges that give people purpose.

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