“I want to be a thief. I want to be a gang member.” This is how most of the kids described their bleak future.
Living next to the former garbage dump, La Chureca, probably didn’t serve as much inspiration either
Yet, if you ask these kids today about their future, they’ll say they want to be a university student, a teacher, or even an actor.
Gerald Martinez is one of these kids. He is an outgoing 12-year-old who dreams about becoming
an actor after he finishes his university studies. I met Gerald and about 30 other children like him
in the Luis Alfonso Velasquez Park one bright Saturday.
These kids and Gerald live in Barrio Acahualinca where they receive performing arts classes. They
were at the park celebrating with a field trip courtesy of Nicaragua Youth Troupe for Community
Transformation (NYT), a project of InnerCHANGE WORKS (ICW).
I met the kids next to the Roberto Clemente mural, a fitting place since Janet Foerster the founder
of ICW has a connection with Clemente. She and her husband, the former President of Pittsburgh’s
Rotary Club, first visited Nicaragua in 2005 to open the Roberto Clemente health clinic in El Limón.
During her visit, Janet was struck by the apparent need of the country and decided to take action
by starting what would be the roots of ICW. In 2007 she secured funding for education and health
projects and in 2009 she founded InnerCHANGE WORKS (ICW). ICW was created as a U.S.-based
non-profit with the goal of building partnerships to help communities create sustainable projects
Janet brought the unique idea of using performing arts as a way to initiate change after a
Broadway actor suggested it. And three years later, the kids in Barrio Acahualinca are performing a
change from within.
Over the past three years, 100 children have benefited from the program. Kids meet every
Saturday with volunteer teachers and university students who serve as mentors. They receive
acting, writing, and leadership workshops and perform for their community.
ICW believes that if given the opportunity and resources, children and communities can be
empowered to make a positive change. But to make this change, you must start with the
When asked about the program, Gerald proudly tells me that, “it shows that we have something in
our hearts and minds. We can think and we have feelings and thoughts and we want to share
An integral part of this project are the university volunteers. Shannon Anderson is a recent
graduate student who worked with this project as part of her master’s program at the University
of Colorado. She’s also celebrating today as she explains that before this program, the kids, “didn´t
really have a pathway to success and didn´t see themselves as university students or as successful
adults”. Now she sees they do.
There are other university students like Shannon who are involved. There is a local connection,
which is an important aspect of this program to make it sustainable. The American University
(UAM) has a partnership and works directly with these kids. UAM requires social outreach credits
for their undergraduates, so students who are studying theater or communications, volunteer to
get experience and credit.
Shannon worked with the UAM students and explains that the university students learned
something about themselves and the kids. “We saw that they’re really not that much different.”
She believes that this relationship helps give the kids the incentive to change their lives and shows
them a path to success.
This strong partnership becomes a “win-win situation” says founder, Janet.
When I asked Janet what is one thing she would like to accomplish with this program, her hope is
evident as she says, “We have older children who have been with us for three years and truly they
have transformed their own lives and have changed who they are. It’s not about acting skills. It’s
about life skills and that’s how they changed. I would dream that our older kids could become
mentors. It’s all about mentorship: from University students to children.” She dreams that this
program can be expanded to other communities.
Helping to expand the program, ICW is now working in partnership with the Fabretto Foundation
in Acahualinca and hopes to expand the NYT program to other Fabretto centers in the country.
Along with acting and performance, students receive workshops on leadership, mentoring,
teamwork, and are asked to think of ways to bring these skills back to their communities.
Gerald is alight with inspiration as he proudly says, “I´m a different person. I have a voice. I feel
free. I can change things in our community, in our country and in the world.”
Janet’s dream is becoming a reality, one child, one community, at a time.
For more information on InnerCHANGE WORKS, or if you want to get involved, contact ICW’s Director of Operations in Nicaragua, Javier Quinto at [email protected] or visitInnerCHANGE WORKS