Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Caribbean Sea on the east. With lush valleys and rainforests, stunning mountains, lakes and volcanoes, picturesque beaches, and Spanish-colonial towns, Nicaragua is seeing a boom in tourism.

Despite this, Nicaragua is also the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, and its population struggles with poor access to education, employment, clean water and health services.

Around three-quarters of the people here live on less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations, and on average, Nicaraguans complete less than five years of school. This has left nearly 25 percent of the population illiterate, according to UNESCO, and forced 15 percent of children between five and 15 into some sort of child labor.

What We Do

Free The Children has a rich history in Nicaragua dating from the late 1990s. In response to the country’s continued need, Free The Children is now partnering with several communities in the Central Pacific Region to eliminate the obstacles that prevent children from accessing education.

Sustainability is the goal of Adopt a Village. From the very beginning, we work closely with community leaders, families, educators and students to ensure that the local community is empowered and given ownership over each Adopt a Village project, whether that’s a school building, school group, clean water well or alternative income project. Together we:

  • Help children overcome barriers to education.
  • Build schools in communities that don’t have appropriate schoolroom capacity, or have dilapidated school buildings.
  • Contribute to rural community development by putting into service all five pillars of Adopt a Village, including providing clean water and sanitation services, and access to health care and nutritious food.

Here are some of the projects we are proud to partner on in Nicaragua.


While primary school in Nicaragua is free and compulsory, poor children living in remotes part of the country – especially those forced into labor – still face huge barriers to accessing quality education. This is where Free The Children helps by:

  • Building and rehabilitating schools and libraries
  • Outfitting classrooms with furnishings and textbooks

Clean Water and Sanitation

There is huge disparity in access to safe water between urban and rural communities. In rural Nicaragua, somewhere between 63 and 80 percent of people lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation, resulting in the deaths of around 300 children each year, according to Water-related diseases have a huge impact on the health and productivity of children, their parents, and their communities. Women and girls are usually responsible for fetching water, leaving little time for mothers to work or girls to go to school. We help by partnering to provide:

  • Clean water systems
  • Hand-washing stations
  • Latrines
  • Water and sanitation education


Lack of clean water and nutritious food leaves many low-income people in rural Nicaragua in chronically poor health. The country suffers from a high rate of malaria and other parasitic diseases, and malnutrition. Lack of health services for the rural population, coupled with the cost of seeking medical treatment, is a huge barrier to health and wellbeing. According to the World Health Organization, infant and maternal mortality are high in rural and indigenous communities. Children often die of respiratory diseases, malnutrition and diarrhea. We help by partnering to provide health workshops.

  • Health education and outreach
  • Mobile health clinics
  • Construction of anginwadis (local health resource centers)

Agriculture and Food Security

Rapid economic development and deforestation are taking a toll on Nicaragua’s potential for prosperous agriculture programs, and the ability to of rural communities to grow food. We help by building:

  • School gardens
  • Kitchens

Alternative Income and Livelihood

Empowering the people in rural Nicaragua with the tools they need to improve their ability to earn an income is a key Adopt a Village pillar. We help by providing:

  • Financial literacy training
  • Empowerment and leadership skills development
  • Artisans income generating opportunities

Transforming a Community: El Trapiche, Nicaragua

El Trapiche is a very small, rural 100 percent Mestizo community – a term used in Nicaragua to describe people of mixed Latin American and Spanish decent.

Before Free The Children partnered with El Trapiche, the closest school was in a town four kilometers away—a 40 minute walk through a canyon that fills with water up to three meters high during the rainy season from May till November. No surprise: parents stopped sending their young children to school, although they supported the importance of education.

The first priority: building classrooms. Together, Free The Children and the community built the first primary school including a hand-washing station, clean water system, latrines and a school garden. Children are now enrolled in pre-school and grades 1 through 6.

Alternative Income and Livelihood programing followed including the community’s first-ever women’s group formed to create income opportunities for women in the community.

Empowerment In Action

Like many 15-year-olds, Julyssa is eager to grow up. But becoming independent is not her only goal. She wants to finish her studies and find a secure job so she can provide a better life for her parents.

Julyssa comes from the farming community of El Trapiche. Though her parents work hard, the unreliable rainfall has caused many of their crops to fail.

Currently, nearly one in two Nicaraguans lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day and about 80 percent of the rural population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, though it’s rarely lucrative. Families eke out their living with little hope for long-term development.

In El Trapiche, the first-ever women’s group was formed to create income opportunities for women in the community.

During Julyssa’s first meeting with the 11 other group members, she created a plan for an artisan project that has them crafting and selling jewelry. As part of their training, they learned basic design techniques from a professional artisan. The women have also participated in workshops on finance, which allows them to manage their own business expenses and distribute profits equally among the group’s members.

“My life has changed,” Julyssa says. “And really, not only mine, but those of all members. Belonging to this group has helped me realize that if I suggest something, I can achieve it.”

With increased self-confidence, a piece of jewelry that used to take Julyssa an hour and half to make now takes her five to 10 minutes. Women who butted heads have also learned how to resolve conflict tactfully, give constructive feedback and support one another for the benefit of the team.

“There are times when I feel intimidated, but at the same time, I feel very excited when I see customers try on bracelets that I have made or when I can make a new design.”