Microsoft Workers Help Break Cycle of Poverty in Nicaragua

REDMOND, Wash., June 14, 2004 — According to a report released earlier this month by the World Bank, “Extreme poverty in Nicaragua continues to be overwhelmingly rural, where more than 25 percent of the population struggles to survive on less than US$1 per day” (Nicaragua Poverty Assessment, June 2, 2004). This reality makes obtaining an education and acquiring professional skills virtually impossible for the average Nicaraguan child.

Six people who met while working as Microsoft interns last year decided to do something to help children in Nicaragua break the cycle of poverty. The six, all now Microsoft employees, formed the Seattle fundraising committee of the Fabretto Children’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving education in Nicaragua. They held their first fundraiser in May and raised more than US$5,000.

“Only 9 percent of children in [Nicaraguan] rural areas who start first grade will finish primary school,” says Ian Knox, a product manager in Microsoft Developer Marketing, who spent four months in Nicaragua building a Microsoft SQL Server database to track the success of the program. “Children in Nicaragua receive around three years of education, below the four years needed for basic literacy and math skills. The goal is to break the cycle of poverty though education, nutrition, and basic support.”

The Fabretto Children’s Foundation works in conjunction with La Familia Padre Fabretto in Nicaragua and Fundacin Fabretto, based in Spain, to provide schooling, vocational skills, computer training, sports, arts and crafts, and meals to impoverished children living in rural areas of Nicaragua.

In the early 1950s, Fr. Rafael Maria Fabretto, an Italian missionary, founded a group of homes to care for children in the Nicaraguan countryside. Since then, the homes have matured into functioning community centers in Managua, San Jos de Cusmapa, Estel, and Somoto.

“Fabretto has grown from serving 300 children in 1990 to over 2,500 in 2003, with plans for more next year,” says Christian Hernandez Gallardo, who works as a product manager in Microsoft’s Mobile and Embedded Devices Group.

In addition to constructing a database to track program success, Knox also worked with a local telecommunications company to install one of the first microwave links for Internet access in the region. The goal is to enable the five centers to communicate with one another and to enhance the computer-skills training they offer. Two of the centers are equipped with computer rooms, and a third is set to open one in 2005. The Seattle committee is looking to help sponsor the third center, at a total cost of $25,000. At the facilities, the children are taught basic computer skills such as typing and use of Microsoft Windows, Office, Outlook, and Internet Explorer.

“First, teach the children to read and write,” Hernandez says, “then they can learn computing and gain an affinity for technology, something that will give them a competitive edge for the rest of their lives.”

Hernandez explains that in most Central American counties businesses lack information technology, with many companies operating with at most a single personal computer. That makes remaining competitive on a global scale difficult.

“If the younger generation can be taught the tools of technology,” he says, “they will begin to apply them in the workplace, thus becoming productive and benefiting themselves, their companies, and their communities.”

Outside of basic educational needs, most children in rural Nicaragua suffer from poor nutrition and hunger.

“They can’t learn if they are hungry,” Knox says. Children at the Fabretto centers are given meals and uniforms, which make participating in the program a benefit to children and their parents.

Admittance to the Fabretto program is based on recommendations from teachers at the children’s schools. By design, Fabretto wants to reach the kids who are at high risk of dropping out of school.

“It used to be just about getting them a primary education,” Knox says, “but now, students are making it through secondary school. A college-scholarship program is in place to see that kids continue on and break the cycle of poverty.”

Other Microsoft employees active on the committee are Joe Levy, Erikka Arone, Liz Tassey and Yannis Dosios.

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