Two generations of Nicaraguan women took their seats in the Fútbol Sin Fronteras (FSF- Soccer Without Borders) activity center Tres Pisos. Mothers and daughters sat facing new pink and light-blue backpacks filled with materials necessary for a successful year of studying: school uniforms, shoes, notebooks, rulers, and pencils. Greeted by new co-directors Cesar and Veronica, FSF had chosen their 28 daughters as recipients of these backpacks as well as free tuition for a year of studying at any secondary school in Granada.
Now in its second year, the FSF Education Program has advanced the academic potential of Nicaraguan girls by providing secondary school tuition scholarships and school materials to 28 girls for the 2015 school year, including 12 returning recipients. Doubling the number of recipients in a single year would not have been possible without generous support from the Tom Pope Memorial Fund and the Girls' Rights Project. Rather than have participants compete with one another for slots, all who meet the FSF program participation and application requirements can earn a scholarship. This serves as incredible inspiration for our participants and families, and no doubt will lead to continued growth.
As you know, girls in Nicaragua face a tremendous set of educational challenges: only 55.8 percent of students who enter primary school will reach 6th grade, the final year of primary school. The trend continues downward in secondary school, though accurate data is incredibly hard to find. The barriers to completing school are formidable: responsibility for younger siblings and other household responsibilities, lack of financial resources, lack of parent support, and poor health care/frequent absenteeism among others, often prevent girls from pursuing and completing secondary school. In an effort to interrupt this cycle, we provide school uniforms and materials, matriculation and other school fees, daily tutoring services, and regular meetings with academic counselors to scholarship recipients. Nevertheless, girls who do not qualify for scholarships also receive individual support – homework hour with academic advisors and tutors, access to computers for homework help, and the ability to exchange points earned from attending practice for school uniforms and materials.
As we entered the second year of the education program, we used participation records to observe how many of our girls had repeated a primary or secondary school grade in the 2014 school year (note: our youngest/newest team was not included in the report). The results? 86% of FSF girls completed their school year and passed onto the next grade.
While the results were positive compared to the norm, we dug deeper, wanting to understand the causes for the 14%. Not surprisingly, our girls who had not advanced academically faced similar obstacles: family instability, behavior issues and subsequent punishment at school, lack of academic motivation, and leaving school to work. While these obstacles are consistent with norms nationwide, we are determined to address and overcome them. We plan to increase the educational role of coaches and advisors, expanding their support to scholarship and non-scholarship participants. Earlier intervention with parents and school directors will ensure that it is never too late to get back on track.
Thank you so much for following and supporting our efforts to change outcomes for girls in Nicaragua!
 (UNICEF, At a Glance: Nicaragua)