Three years ago, Jean Feist made the decision to move from Highlands Ranch to a neighborhood in Managua, Nicaragua, to work on projects designed to help young people in that country.
“Things are difficult for young Nicaraguans,” she said in an interview in Managua. “Only a minority of children go to or beyond the sixth grade. I feel education is the only thing that will mean a brighter future for young Nicaraguans. The first challenge is having children develop a desire to learn because, for so long, so many Nicaraguans have not valued education.”
She currently works with Fundacion Cristiana Cuenta Conmigo, an organization that has a mission to provide education projects that give young Nicaraguans the tools to build a better life.
Feist currently is working with a number of people to establish an institute to offer secondary education to Nicaraguan students in areas like computer skills, accounting and English, to help them secure meaningful jobs that currently are unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.
She said a successful example of what vocational education can do is the sewing project in the village of El Crucero that she worked on. The program was established to help single mothers with no job or skills develop a way to earn a living.
“We provided day care for the children of the students who attended classes three days a week for three hours per day for eight weeks,” Feist said. “In class, the women learned to maintain the treadle sewing machines and operate them.”
She said 12 students graduated from the program, and now those young women are earning incomes by making good quality baby clothes, handbags and aprons that are sold on the local market to residents as well as to tourists.
Another project supported by families from Highlands Ranch and the Christian Academy in Norfolk, Va., is the Suzie Syke Clinic in El Crucero.
Feist said the clinic provides medical and dental care to the people of the poor village. The clinic also had a feeding program, providing meals for more than 60 children every Saturday.
Helping others isn’t new to Feist, as she worked for many years with Project Cure, a Greenwood Village-based organization supplying medical equipment to developing countries.
She and her husband lived in the Columbine Country Club area until they moved to Highlands Ranch. She was active in the Littleton Rotary Club for about eight years and was the club treasurer for a couple years.
She said volunteers, including a recent group from Virginia and one from Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, came to Nicaragua to assist with the projects helping the local residents.
“I try to help by those who come to us on mission trips by arranging accommodations and meals for them," Feist said. "I also help the group by identifying schools and churches that can use their help making repairs or painting the facility. The members on the mission trips also bring clothes and toys for the children and make up food baskets for needy families.
"The visits accomplish a lot of work but it isn’t all work because we pick up children from orphanages and take them to places like a water park, the zoo or the museum. We end the day with a pizza feast.”