Ginger Williams, associate professor of history, wants her students to understand that learning about poverty in a classroom and understanding its harsh day-to-day reality are two very different things.
"It's one thing to talk about poverty; it's another to see and understand what it means to live on $2 a day," said Williams, who has supervised the Rocha Project in war-torn Nicaragua since 2007. She and several groups of students have worked in the rural areas of Rocha and Tierra Blanca, where there are no paved roads, no automobiles, no electricity and very little modern advertising. The volunteers have completed archaeological digs, provided funding for a schoolroom for local children and collected and delivered much-needed school supplies. The school, named the Winthrop School in honor of the volunteers' efforts, opened in March 2008. Residents and the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education dedicated the school in a May 2008 ceremony with Williams and students in attendance. In 2009, a second room was added to the Winthrop School, which serves about 50 students.
Williams will continue to work in Nicaragua to help with another long-term project: raising the funds to build a rural museum for the pottery shards and pre-Columbian artifacts (from four different periods) found in Tierra Blanca. A museum, she said, could help the area "rediscover its indigenous past" and generate tourism traffic. Williams also wants to bring Winthrop business students to these rural areas to help locals come up with ideas for small businesses to boost the local economy.
The ongoing project will give more students the chance to affect positive change in Rocha and Tierra Blanca – an opportunity, Williams said, that she hopes they will not pass up.
"The students who go have their eyes opened; there's no way not to be affected," she said. "This is a place where small projects can make a big difference."
Last updated: 08/08/2011