Back in 1998, when Kathy (EI Founder) moved to Costa Rica to work for Intel, she kept in touch via email. She commented on her shock and dismay at the numerous street and working children, begging and selling food or small articles, she met. As she learned Spanish and started to be able to communicate with them, she wanted to help. Frustrated that she could not find a Costa Rican organization that directly addressed the situation of these children, she started helping a few families with her own funds. Over time, she “adopted” an entire community or row of shanties and tried to help them with their most urgent needs, all with her own funds. I had always given to charitable organizations but decided to offer to help with some of the expenses she wanted to cover as she was stretching her personal budget. It started with a pair of glasses for a girl with an eye disease. It was not long before I was helping with the purchase of school uniforms and supplies.
As an engineer and scientist, what appealed to me the most was how she used her engineering skills to analyze, evaluate, and assess the situation before taking action. She visited an organization that worked with street children in all of Central America minus Costa Rica. They suggested she carefully consider what end results she wanted to achieve and to focus only on those. They told her she would always find hunger, abuse, and neglect, but to make real change, one had to focus on the bigger picture and vision. Upon reflection, she decided that the most impactful way to eradicate the plight of the children in the street and eliminate generational poverty was to get to the root of the situation. Education, and removing the barriers that prevented children from accessing it, was her new goal.
The analytic approach EI takes is unique. While not having a preconceived ideologically driven plan, they observe, try new things, measure the results, then adjust, always with the goal of refining the program to achieve the desired result (school retention and graduation rates). One of the best examples of this is Home Visits. Continuous refinement over many years has improved school retention rates dramatically, so much that similar local organizations have copied this program.
I visited Costa Rica several times. Each time we drove up to the long line of shacks, before she could open her car door, kids started running towards us. Within a few minutes, there were dozens of them eagerly circling around her. They were not just there to greet her, but also to show her their prized school work. The simple act of someone caring about their efforts in school turned out to be the most powerful tool of all. This, coupled with positive peer pressure, which came easily due to the close proximity of the houses, shifted the mindset and value of education for most of this tiny community of squatters.
Something powerful was happening here and I remember when she realized it was not due to the gifts of school supplies and uniforms alone, but was actually due to her weekly visits, where she went house to house, talking with each parent and their children. Encouraging them. Talking through their resistances. By helping them find solutions for issues that would otherwise force the kids to drop out, a small revolution was happening.
As a friend of hers, as well as a donor, I know that while this has been her greatest passion, it did not come without personal sacrifice. Regardless, her passion and dedication have never waned. Now she has a 100% local team and they work with over 300 children in 200 families. The entire team shares her passion for the work. I’ve been a consistent supporter, both financially and with my time for over 20 years. No other charitable organization has held my loyalty for as long. This is due to:
- Their Efficiency: EI’s efficient and prudent use of funds. I feel that each dollar I give has a greater impact on the world than if I’d given it somewhere else.
- Their Target: Educating children multiplies efforts and dollars over time. It can change the entire arc of their lives, and their families’ lives, and the lives of their future family members.
- Their Success: Students are graduating from college who come from families and communities where no one has graduated high school before.
- Their Community-Based Approach: Built into the program is a culture of giving back. Older students tutor and lead activity groups for their younger peers. They learn the joy of giving back while also cultivating leadership and life skills. EI works intensely with the parents. With parental buy-in, it’s much easier to take the kids to their fullest potential. Indeed, there was an unexpected result of this work. Some of the parents have returned to school themselves. One single mother had only a third-grade education yet she became so inspired that she is now in her last year of high school.
- The People: I’ve met many of the staff members and they are truly dedicated and passionate about kids and creating opportunities for kids to work to achieve all that they can. It’s catching.
- The Kids: I’ve met them, seen them on FB, and in videos. The kids are eager to learn, eager to improve themselves if given the opportunity. Not a hand-out but a hand up. I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing and impactful organization.
by Charlie Partee, donor, volunteer, and board