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Opening Doors to Opportunity

By Bob Stodola

Many of the participants in the Learning Centers have learned skills that they would like to use to start a business, but do not have the funds or businessknowledge. The Opening Doors project is intended to give business training plus a small amount of funds to enable them to start a business enterprise. Each participant is expected to repay the loan so that others could be given the same opportunities in the future. 2009, 54 women and 4 men received training and enrolled in the project to begin or make improvements to their businesses. Some of the businesses they invested on were: commercialization of plastic products, clothing, cosmetics and fruits, provide car rental, chair rental, sewing business, establishment of a beauty salon and bookstore, hand crafts making, sale of natural products, book sale, embroidery, bakery, sale of bedding clothes, basic medicine, vegetables, tortilla making, buffet, fruit, CDs and DVD sale, mini bar, drawing classes, perfume sale, sale of school supplies, sale of phone cards and jewelry commercialization. Most of the borrowers did great in their businesses and have paid back their loans. These loans have indeed made a difference in the lives of their families and have allowed them to grow and to have a better financial situation at home.

Below there are a few examples of true stories from some of the people who got loans.

“…when I received the loan from compañeros, I had just given birth to my fifth child. I’m known around the village for making tortillas…” (at this point, all the women in the room voiced their agreement) “…so I decided to use the loan to buy ingredients to make and sell tortillas. I saved the profit I made, and bought an industrial oven, to make even more tortillas. Now, myself, my mother-in-law, and my five children can survive, and eat every day” - Ana Antonia

“Like, Ana Antonia, I am a mother. When I received the loan, I used it to purchase clothes in Managua, (since they are more expensive in Boaco) and sold them in Las Lagunas. I am able to extend credit to other villagers so that they can purchase clothes, and now, myself and all my children have clothes.”

“I used the loan I received to expand my pharmacy. Before I received the loan, I was only able to purchase and sell 15 types of medication. Now that I received the loan, I am able to purchase more than thirty types of medication, at a lower price from an NGO in Managua. I can then charge the villagers lower prices as well. We've expanded to include a program for those with Asthma, and I participate in further medical training every two months. I am also a midwife, and train other midwives. I also give free shots to those who purchase medication that needs to be injected, from my pharmacy.” -Maria

In 2010, W/NP provided projects to 7 Learning Centers, where they can invest in an already established business or create a new one. In November of 2011, 55 women and 5 men from the following eight Learning Centers received business training by the WNP accountant and participated in the program:

  1. Centro Solidaridad y Amistad, Las Lagunas/Boaco
  2. Centro de Aprendizaje Buenos Aires
  3. Centro de Aprendizaje Paraiso del Ticuantepe/Managua
  4. Centro de Aprendizaje Brazos de Amor/Managua
  5. Centro de Aprendizaje Gracias a Dios/ Managua
  6. Centro de Aprendizaje San Gabriel/ Valle Los Aburtos Managua
  7. Centro de Aprendizaje Manos Solidarias/ Rosita Mine, RAAN – North Coast
  8. Centro de Aprendizaje El Piñuelar/ León

Some of the businesses they will invest in include: Clothing & shoe sale, sewing (garment construction), jewelry and hand crafts, bakery, cosmetic sale, food sale, medicine sale (this person is authorized by MINSA to seel certain medications in the community), piñata making and tamales, mini store, beauty, vegetables & fruit sale, groceries, sale of dairy products, and food for cows.

Click here for follow-up stories (attachment Personal Stories)

Click here to view the Opening Doors Project PDF.

Chica Nica Doll Project

Lynda Pracht traveled to Nicaragua in 1998 on a W/NP sponsored Learning Centers Mission. The excellent embroidery and design skills that she was witness to, along with the enthusiasm of the Nicaraguan women, their spirit, and their strong desire to become self-sufficient, inspired her to find a niche market in the doll dress trade.

Women from the Learning Centers are sewing beautiful dresses designed to fit 18" dolls. The dresses pass a rigid quality control review, and the Nicaraguan women are paid for their work before the dresses even leave Nicaragua. The purchase of these lovely dresses provides income to the home, often the only money coming into the household to support the family. The Chica Nica Doll Dresses program allows women to stay in their community, learn a skill, earn an income, and live with dignity.

Tour Dates

Volunteers are welcome to help at any of the events below where Chica Nica Doll Dresses are displayed and sold, currently we do not have anyone to the Altrusa Doll Show in Wausau (please contact WNP or Lynda Pracht if you can help). Also, if there is an event in your community and you would like to represent W/NP, please let know –


Dolls, Teddy Bears Show

Vandais Heights, MN


Portage Co. Cultural Fest

Stevens Point


American Girl Class

New Richmond


Madison Children's Museum Warehouse Sale



Enchanted Doll Club

Eagle River, WI


State Home & Community Education Meeting



Altrusa Doll Show

Bella Vista, AR


Bella Vista Craft Fair



Foreign Language Teachers Conference



Fair Trade Fair

Excelsior, MN


Old Courthouse

Stillwater, MN


Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

New Richmond


The World Jubilee

Colonial Church Edina


Tinsel Trail Craft Show

Stevens Point


Lynda at Courthouse

NIC Market









*Photos are examples of dresses being on display in Nicaragua at the Muebles de Sol Market in Masaya, and also here in the North (Minnesota & Wisconsin)

Learning Centers

Since then, the Sewing Centers have broadened their focus and transitioned into Learning Centers. The training offered now encompasses a wide range of vocational skills such as baking, carpentry, cosmetology, small business management, etc. Participants begin by acquiring the skills necessary to provide them with a sense of dignity, independence, and purpose. They are then afforded the opportunity to utilize a micro-lending program, enabling them to acquire the necessary equipment and supplies to initiate a small business of their own. By building upon the unique skills of the individual members of the community, the community is shaped and fortified, thereby generating further aptitudes and resources.

Thousands of Nicaraguans have thus been mentored through the establishment of the Learning Centers. With each center being coordinated by local women, they are able to cater to the individual needs of each learning center's community.

Learning Center Treks

Each February, Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners of the Americas, Inc. hosts a Learning Center Trek which allows Wisconsin volunteers the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua. Once there, citizens of both countries get to know each other, work to find solutions to common problems, and leverage international and local resources while providing technical training. An average of fifteen to twenty volunteers participate in the annual tour that features hands-on workshops. Translation is provided, although many find it unnecessary in the spontaneous "show and tell" environment.

If you have a commitment to service and cultural exchange, a desire to contribute, a willingness to learn, a taste for new adventure, and a need to share knowledge and expertise, then the Learning Centers Mission may be for you.

Learning Center Videos

Buenos Aires Learning Center - Don Carlos and his wood pile and hand crank water pump.  Both very common in Rural Nicaragua

Buenos Aires Learning Center, Mayra Mendoza. Inside a rural Nicaraguan kitchen and living room....the stove is a former WNP Kitchen Stove Project.

Supporting The Learning Centers

Donation ideas include:

  • soldering kits, tools, and materials for small appliance repair;
  • carpentry tools, supplies, and patterns;
  • computer hardware and software;
  • sewing machines, sergers, fabric, and sewing supplies;
  • knitting, embroidery, quilting, and crocheting supplies;
  • cake decorating tools;
  • seeds appropriate for gardening in "tropical" Nicaragua;
  • volunteer trainers in the identified areas;
  • monetary donations.
  • All materials, supplies, and equipment donated to W/NP will enhance the quality of life for the recipients in Nicaragua, contribute to the educational improvement of community members, and support current W/NP activities.

Bicycle Project

We are very grateful for this exciting opportunity to teach bicycle repair skills and provide bicycles to people who need them. Thanks Larry and Jim!

Creative IdeaChild



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