Kristin Van Busum’s work in Nicaragua wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with children. She was there on a Fulbright to study the problems that small farmers faced in gaining access to food markets. But when a persistent young girl began demanding that Van Busum become her teacher, the Boston-based policy-worker had an awakening. She was surrounded by the children of poor, rural coffee farmers—children who were isolated, uneducated, and essentially invisible.
“I had always thought about social justice in terms of systemic change,” Van Busum says. “But these kids transformed me. They were individuals, and they deserved better lives.” Her Fulbright work never came to fruition, but instead gave way to Project Alianza, an educational initiative that is building schools, hiring teachers, and eliminating learning barriers in the coffee growing communities of Nicaragua, and beyond.
Focusing on literacy, health and hygiene, environmental sustainability, and gender equality, Project Alianza has educated over 2,000 students in 22 communities. Van Busum has received a Global Innovation Grant for her work and given a TEDx talk, raising awareness as Project Alianza prepares to expand throughout Latin America. “The children taught me to let go of my ego,” she says. “I’m not the one who can transform their communities. They are.”