Alumni Spotlight: Lucas Salzwedel

Lucas, 28, volunteered at La Esperanza Granada between November 12' and January 13'. He is graduate student at the University of Nebraska, where he studies NGO Managment however, he is currently living Los Angeles. He is an active bicyclist, enjoys live music and plays in several Co-Ed leagues.

Why did you decide to volunteer with La Esperanza in Nicaragua?

Children at School in Nicaragua

Lucas: My first step was to find a low cost country that I could volunteer in. I wanted to spend around 3 months volunteering, and Nicaragua was a great option. Food and Lodging are amongst the lowest in the Americas, and it made it affordable for me.

I also wanted to volunteer in a country that would have weekend and side trips for me to do during volunteering. Most travel sites listed many places in Nicaragua as some of the prettiest in Central America, specifically listing Granada as the the most beautiful in Nicaragua.

I narrowed down my search quite a bit because I don't believe in paying 1000's of dollars to help people. La Esperanza asks for a small admin fee, I think 20 dollars, but that is it.

I also wanted an internship that I was going to learn something from and not just bum around for 3 month. I spoke with several organizations, and the Director of La Esperanza Granada seemed to give me the best chance at learning and participating.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Lucas: I arrived in the office around 9AM. I work with the director, doing administration work and having meetings. After lunch, I spend 3 or so hours more, marketing and fundraising. Specifically, I have been trying to encourage our volunteers to leave reviews on websites, good or bad, about the experience with La Esperanza. I also spend time every week adding us to as many website databases for NGOs as possible so we can have more exposure.(people can make their own decisions about La Esperanza Granada. I just want potential volunteers to feel confident that we are a legitimate organization.

What made this experience unique and special?

Nicaragua sunset

Lucas: What made this experience special for me is two-fold. Firstly, as a student, this was a very useful job shadow experience and I learned a lot. Secondly, I am really proud of the work that La Esperanza does, and role I got to play in it. I think it does a more beneficial job than most NGOs. For example, ever single cent the organization makes goes directly to the community. 0% overhead. Also, the organization works with the poor barrios surrounding Granada, but they target those that need the most help. Once graduation rates reach a certain amount for a school, provided the infrastructure is solid, the organization moves to different school.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Lucas: To be perfectly honest with you, it has made me reconsider to what extent I want to manage an NGO in the future. I definitely still want to work in the public sector, but possible for the government, or possible for a philanthropic arm of some huge corporation. La Esperanza, in my opinion is an amazing NGO, and they do so much right. My experience working for them however is that the more you do right, the harder it is to raise money, and fund projects. For example, the board of directors for La Esperanza is really amendment that volunteers should not have to pay money to volunteer.

This is great, and there is value in the experiences that volunteers take away, but the schools are always in need of repairs, don't have enough desks, desperately need security features and the money the organization takes in, simply can't pay for all the issues. The alternative is to charge volunteers money, but in doing you prevent some people from experiencing the life changing experience of volunteering. The trade offs can be so frustrating, it makes me want to get involved in the government, so I can attempt to change the policy that create the barriers.