I am delighted to be here today to sign, together with Fr. Idiáquez, the ninth agreement for the College Horizons Outreach Program in Nicaragua.
This week is International Education Week and I can think of no better way to mark this occasion than by celebrating our joint commitment to preparing underserved Nicaraguans for higher education.
I have been in your country for less than two months, but I already know of UCA’s reputation for academic excellence, a diverse student body, and adherence to a long history of Jesuit values. It is clear that we share many of the same values. One of the U.S. Government’s signature programs is the College Horizons Outreach Scholarship to teach English to underserved indigenous and Afro-descendant high school students.
This program actively promotes diversity, prepares students for the rigors of university life, and develops skills for them to achieve success in the workforce. This program is a success because of our excellent partners, students, parents and teachers, all committed to the mission of providing quality education to a historically underserved population.
The College Horizon Program or CHOP, as we call it, only exists in Nicaragua, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. Unlike other U.S. government English language scholarships, CHOP scholarships are offered only to high school students of indigenous or African descent.
Through CHOP, we provide these students with an opportunity to learn English, a skill highly sought after in the labor market. CHOP also teaches leadership and presentation skills and strategies to overcome obstacles. Our hope is that these young people will inspire and lead others in their communities to aspire to higher education to succeed.
I would like to mention just one of the lives changed by this CHOP program. Eneyda Leiva comes from an indigenous community in Sébaco, Matagalpa. She has four siblings. Her mother earns her living by doing laundry and ironing, and her father works in a tire repairshop. Neither of them went to College.
During the two and a half years in the CHOP program, Eneyda got out of bed at 3:30 in the morning every Saturday to commute to Managua to attend her English lessons at UCA. The college environment and her interaction with other students from other areas and walks of life encouraged her so much in both her general school studies and her English learning. She graduated as the top student in her high school and was able to compete for, and win, a full scholarship to study at the Business Administration Faculty at UCA to pursue a major in Accounting. She graduated with honors and currently works in the banking sector.
Today, Eneyda is helping her family, encouraging her siblings and other youth in Sébaco to successfully finish secondary school and change the future of their families and communities. There are so many more stories like Eneyda’s. They are living proof that CHOP scholarships do change individual lives, families, and communities.
Since it began in January 2007, CHOP has benefitted nearly 250 Nicaraguan students and the U.S. government has spent approximately $500,000 on these scholarships. Three groups are currently studying at URACCAN on the Caribbean Coast, UNAN-Managua and UNAN-Leon. UCA has hosted six out of nine cohorts, and in the most recent class, UCA offered full scholarships to 90% of the graduating CHOP students.
Many were the first ever in their family to attend university, and some have gone on to study fields such as medicine, engineering, and economics. This is an extraordinary testament to the program. The students would not have had this chance without CHOP. Your participation in the College Horizons program is so critical, whether you are a teacher, administrator, mentor or family member.
The generosity of UCA through your scholarships for CHOP graduates has been a wonderful outcome for students and their families. Standing here today in the presence of some of these program graduates and students is truly inspiring. We are proud to have the opportunity to partner with UCA in this endeavor.
May the CHOP IX students continue to embody this message of hope, hard work, partnership and diversity, for the benefit of all.