Snacks for Success

Thomaston grad launches program to help nourish, create brighter future for Nicaraguan orphans

Posted:  Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 9:00pm
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Amy Choudhari, of Thomaston, is helping create a brighter future for Latin American girls by ensuring they have the food they need to be successful throughout their school day. Choudhari, 24, has started a campaign called "Snacks for Success" to help girls in a Nicaraguan orphanage access nutritious snacks and supplement their time between meals.

A 2007 graduate of Georges Valley High School, Choudhari pursued a degree in human services at Villanova University. After graduating in 2011, she decided to take time off to travel and volunteer before going to graduate school. Since she had always loved learning Spanish and had traveled to Ecuador a few times in college, she looked for a program where she could serve people and build upon her love of the Latin culture. She decided to start in Central America, an area that she had never been before, and ended up finding a volunteer opportunity working at a girl's home in Granada, Nicaragua, where she worked from January until mid-May.

The orphanage, Hogar de Ninas Madre Albertina, is home to 24 girls between the ages of five and 18. Many of the girls live there due to abuse in the home, deceased parents, no family to care for them, or extreme poverty.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. According to the World Bank, half of the population, or about 2 million people, fall below the poverty line. Forty percent of the poor, or 20 percent of the population, fall below the extreme poverty line and are food poor, meaning they cannot meet the daily minimum caloric requirement even if they were to devote all of their consumption to food.

The home is run by four nuns and has two educators, a psychologist, a social worker, and a part-time teacher. From January to May, Choudhari worked there for six to seven days a week alongside the educators. Her responsibilities varied and included getting the girls ready for school in the morning — braiding their hair, making sure they had brushed their teeth, etc. — to making sure they had all their chores done and had washed their clothes (by hand). She would also help them with homework and studying, which sometimes meant working with seven girls at a time (all with different assignments) since the home was understaffed.

Since many of the girls grew up without parents, Choudhari's role became a mix of an older sister to the teenage girls and somewhat of a mom to the younger girls.

"Despite their circumstances and what they have endured in their young lives, these beautiful girls are extremely resilient and intelligent and have so much potential to succeed," said Choudhari. "Their liveliness is complemented well by their love for dancing, singing, and music. This home provides the girls with the opportunity for a bright future, which they otherwise may have never had the chance at."

While working in the home, Choudhari noticed that, since the home was too poor to afford snacks for the girls, they would sometimes go seven hours between meals without eating anything. She also noticed how many of the girls were struggling in school, with some even failing classes.

"This was due in part to poor attention and behavioral issues, which I feel could be alleviated if the girls were to have some sustenance throughout the school day," said Choudhari. "During my last couple of months at the home, I would buy the girls bananas, crackers, or other snacks for when they returned home after school. They were always appreciative, and I noticed an increase in their energy levels and ability to focus on getting their homework done."

It was after witnessing how this small change was able to make a significant difference that the idea for "Snacks for Success" was born. When she came back to Maine in May, Choudhari started the Snacks for Success campaign with a goal of raising $2,000, which would be enough to provide all 24 girls with two nutritious snacks a day for an entire year. When she went back to the home to visit for a week in July, she used some of the funds already raised to start implementing the program - preparing healthy snacks for the girls such as bananas and peanut butter (which the girls loved as many of them had never had peanut butter before), ants on a log, and trail mix. Choudhari plans to continue the program when she returns to Nicaragua this month for an additional eight-month stay.

So far more than $1,700 dollars has been raised of the $2,000 goal. Contributions of any amount are appreciated and beneficial, since Choudhari notes that even one dollar is enough to buy 25 bananas. Additional funds are welcome as well, because any amount raised over the $2,000 goal will be used to purchase Spanish language children's books for the orphanage. At the present time, the home has a limited library and many of the books are English books, received as donations, which the girls cannot read.

School groups or church organizations interested in helping with the Snacks for Success program are welcome to help by spread the word by doing a collection or even hosting a slideshow presentation. Anyone interested in making a donation or receiving more information about Snacks for Success can visit the program's online fundraising site at youcaring.com/other/snacks-for-success/62487Collection cans are also located at Thomaston Grocery and Harborside Market in Tenants Harbor.

For any additional questions or information, Amy Choudhari can be contacted at amy.choudhari@villanova.edu.