(Before becoming the National Director of Casa Alianza Nicaragua in May 2010, Maria Jose Arguello worked her entire life both in formal education and with at-risk youth from the poorest barrios of Managua. She is a widely respected authority in the country on issues affecting children and adolescents, including trafficking, gender discrimination, and alternative approaches for treating trauma.)
Facts & Figures
Casa Alianza Nicaragua
Year Established: 1998
National Director: María José Argüello
The second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere1, Nicaragua is a country of outstanding natural beauty, but one where children and teenagers face grinding poverty, massive societal neglect and where they experience extraordinary obstacles to their development as happy and successful adults.
Casa Alianza Nicaragua was founded in 1998 to meet the needs of homeless kids. Its primary residential center, the Hilton Home, which cares for up to 94 children and teenagers per night who were living on the streets and facing tremendous risks, was constructed in the year 2000, after Casa Alianza won the Conrad H. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, for its work improving the lives of the most disadvantaged. Casa Alianza Nicaragua also operates a home for 25 teen moms and their babies that almost always operates at capacity.
- 46% of the population survive on less than $2 a day, and 15% of the population live in extreme poverty2
- 15% of all children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working on the streets to survive3
- Two thirds of rapes reported between January and August 2011 involved girls under 17 years of age4
- 30% of the total number of pregnancies in young mothers are teenagers5
- Nicaragua has the second highest rate of domestic violence in Latin America, with one in every three women reporting physical abuse.6
- Approximately 500,000 children are outside of the school system, and of those attending school, only 45% complete the 6th grade.7
My name is Maria Jose Argüello, I was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and I am a teacher and theologian by profession. I have been the National Director of Casa Alianza Nicaragua
for a year and a half.
At the age of 18 I started working with young gang members and homeless children in the barrios
of Managua. The experience changed my life and my understanding of how to tackle the problems facing young people. My main discovery was the sheer talent and creativity of these kids and how they manage to survive day after day with bravery, persistence, and a spirit that perseveres in the face of unspeakable adversity. The experience made it clear to me that when children and teens living in risk come looking for support in centers such as Casa Alianza
, we need to help them recognize and unlock these personal resources, providing them with the tools to help develop their skills in a healthy and sustainable way. The experiences I have shared with young people such as these, throughout my career, has helped me understand what it is to be human, to be every day more committed to the work we do, and to be more grateful for everything I have in my life.
Nicaragua remains extremely poor, but is a somewhat safer country than many others in Central America, especially since the 1980s, thanks to the expanded role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Casa Alianza
, working in the barrios
with young people and their families, and building stronger and safer communities to prevent violence, insecurity and organized crime. We have worked in collaboration with governmental institutions, community leaders and NGOs, all of whom have played a vital part in the process.
Sadly, however, the results do not always reflect the great work being done. Increasing poverty and rising inflation mean that young people have less and less opportunity for education and employment every year, and the number of kids forced into living on the streets keeps rising. Despite this, we keep our dream alive, and will keep working to protect and care for as many children and teens as possible.
To run Casa Alianza Nicaragua
involves ensuring that the government of Nicaragua complies with its responsibilities, both domestic and international, and guarantees a full set of rights to children and teens, and especially those living in poverty and facing extraordinary risk. We also feel responsible for keeping alive the flame of hope in a country of very limited possibilities. We need to continue to trust in children and teens, always aware of their talent and creativity and their ability to succeed against all odds.
María José Argüello
Casa Alianza Nicaragua
Programs Unique to Casa Alianza Nicaragua:
1,393 children and teenagers received support services from the Street Outreach Program8
394 boys and girls cared for in Level 1 of our Residential program
130 boys and girls cared for in Level 2 of our Residential program
38 boys and girls cared for in Level 3 of our Residential program
42 teenage Mothers and 44 babies cared for in our Home for Teenage Mothers
87 children and teenagers reintegrated into the formal education system
128 teenagers placed in vocational training courses
11 teenagers found employment placement
461 children and teenagers received medical services
954 medical services were provided
1,129 children and teenagers participated in public education and prevention workshops
1,280 adults participated in public education and prevention workshops9
The Hilton Home
The Hilton Home, based in the center of Managua, cares for up to 94 boys and girls per night, between the ages of 12 and 18. Our residents include boys and girls who have been abandoned to live on the streets, have problems with substance abuse, and/or are victims of extreme poverty, human trafficking, violence, sexual abuse and exploitation.
The staff at our Hilton Home ensure that all kids benefit from our holistic approach to protection and care, which includes social work support, health and medical care, family reintegration services, psychological support, legal services, a substance abuse programs and recreational, cultural and sporting activities.
The Hilton Home has four dormitories, divided between boys and girls and by Level, and separated into areas for kids with addiction problems and children who are victims of exploitation and trafficking. There is also a large communal area for workshops and therapy sessions, a horticultural area where the kids learn about gardening and cultivating crops, a soccer field, and basketball and volleyball courts.
The Hilton Home takes its name from the Conrad H. Hilton Prize for Humanitarian Work, which was won by Casa Alianza
in 2000. The prize money was used for the creation of the current residential center.
The Home for Teenage Mothers
The Home for Teenage Mothers cares for up to 14 teenage Moms and their babies, as well as teenage girls who are pregnant. The majority of residents are victims of commercial sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and many have substance abuse issues.
The staff at this Home provide the same multidisciplinary model of protection and care as in the Hilton Home. In addition, they provide parenting classes for the moms, baby supplies for their children including diapers and formula, and daycare for the infants so that the Moms can continue their education and participate in vocational training classes that include baking, sewing, jewelry making, hairdressing, and other kinds of skills that will help them to obtain gainful employment in the future.
The Home has four separate dormitories where the girls are divided by Level. There is also a clinic, a communal area for workshops and group therapy sessions, as well as a play area with games and toys for the babies.
Casa Alianza Nicaragua
has a long and well-established program of advocacy, specific to the realities faced by children and teenagers in the country.
Some examples of Advocacy work carried out by Casa Alianza Nicaragua include:
- Casa Alianza Nicaragua and the Supreme Court of Justice established a collaboration agreement which provides that select adolescents guilty of minor crimes, instead of being sent to the jail for adult offenders, can be sent to Casa Alianza Nicaragua for rehabilitation.
- In the Permanent Forum of the Parliaments of Central America and the Caribbean, Casa Alianza Nicaragua is leading the initiative to review all Central American national legislation on trafficking, with the goal of either standardizing the legislation or creating new more effective laws across the region.
- In November 2011, National Director Maria Jose Argüello participated in the International General Assembly of ECPAT International, an international NGO dedicated to the elimination of the sexual exploitation of children.
- Over 12,000 citizens have participated in anti-trafficking workshops organized by Casa Alianza Nicaragua
- In 2010, Casa Alianza Nicaragua organized the first national media conference focused on trafficking
Small Business Creation for Mothers
Since extreme poverty is one of the most important reasons for the abandonment of children in Nicaragua, Casa Alianza Nicaragua has taken steps to help family members build futures through employment opportunities.
In 2010, Casa Alianza Nicaragua offered vocational courses in sewing, bakery, jewelry making and small business administration to 15 mothers of teenagers living in our shelters.
After completing the training, 13 of the 15 Moms designed and presented a business plan related to the kind of business they wanted to start. They were then equipped with the necessary materials and supplies to create their own small enterprise. These businesses have included clothing and jewelry making and modest food businesses including one Mom who sells lunch food to the staff and visitors at Casa Alianza. The Mothers have been able to combine the skills gained in the training courses to both create and sell their own products.
Casa Alianza Nicaragua will be providing monitoring and regular support to these Mothers for a period of two years.
Instead of waiting for children to come to their residence, Casa Alianza Nicaragua decided to reach out to some of the nearby barrios where many of our kids come from from to see what they could do to prevent kids from falling into addiction, homelessness and street life.
They began community outreach work in the neighborhood of Santo Domingo, near the Hilton Home, one of many extremely poor and dangerous neighborhoods in Managua where communities are not equipped to be able to support and protect their kids.
Personnel from the Street Team and Addictions Team began by organizing youth into sports leagues and youth groups and by working with the community leaders and parents in the creation of small enterprises that would decrease poverty. We provided training and workshops for teen and parents on a multitude of topics including violence prevention, trafficking, and care for the environment. Today the community still suffers many problems but the gang activity and addictions have been reduced, many more children are in school, and several community members now have small cottage industries.
Based on the success in Santo Domingo, Casa Alianza Nicaragua has initiated a Community Development Program to follow up on the work in Santo Domingo and initiate a similar model in other surrounding barrios.
The Street Kids World Cup
In March 2010, in Durban, South Africa, the first ever Deloitte Street Child World Cup hosted nine national teams of street children from countries around the globe with the purpose of fostering their love of the game as well as staging a platform for heightened awareness and advocacy for the rights of children on the international scale. Through the support of Casa Alianza UK, Casa Alianza Nicaragua was selected to send a team comprised entirely of boys and girls who were a part of our programs.
Running from March 15 through the 22, the competition engaged every team in a variety of activities beyond soccer matches designed to enhance each child's sense of self-worth, to give them a voice through which to tell their story, and to create a new "Street Child Manifesto" which has formed the basis for a new international campaign for street children's rights initiated by the United Nations. Local artists also met with individual teams and created pieces reflective of the children's lives, dreams, and hopes. The artwork has now been unveiled at the Durban Art Gallery.
Team Nicaragua provided an outstanding display of football and discipline, and picked up a very well deserved 3rd place in the competition. After the tournament, the kids were taken on a tour of England and Scotland, seeing the sights and meeting Casa Alianza collaborators.
As described by Santiago, a 12-year old representative of team Nicaragua, who for many years before coming to Casa Alianza was a victim of abuse and violence by his step-dad, the event was a 'dream come true' showing 'the importance of working in a team.'
The project was fully funded by Casa Alianza UK and a plethora of British benefactors.
1US Department of State, Background Note: Nicaragua, August 01, 2011, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1850.htm
2Casa Alianza Nicaragua information document
3UNICEF, Revised Country Program Document, Nicaragua, http://www.unicef.org/about/execboard/files/07-PL47-Nicaragua%281%29.pdf p.2
5Amnesty International, Annual Report 2011, Nicaragua, http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/nicaragua/report-2011
6Casa Alianza Nicaragua informationdocument