Deanna Ford ’03 founded a nonprofit organization that helps children who scavenge plastic and metal from Managua’s dump. (Photo courtesy Deanna Ford ’03)

The trash dump known as La Chureca is one of the harshest places in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. Children as young as preschoolers scavenge discarded plastic and metal, washing the objects in the polluted lake nearby while hoping to sell enough to earn two dollars a day.

Deanna Ford ’03 wants to break that cycle. With NicaHOPE, the nonprofit organization she founded, she is working to bring hundreds of children out of the trash dump and into school and more hopeful working lives.

Ford discovered the dump while working on a project in Nicaragua for her graduate program in international development at Georgetown University.

“I looked around at these people in need,” she says. “Here I was studying international development, but before me was what I needed to do.”

So Ford finished her degree and, after working for three years for the Inter-national Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., returned to La Chureca with the mission of increasing school attendance and teaching the children skills that could keep them away from the dump. Since February 2008, when NicaHOPE launched its programs, the organization has financed school-lunch programs for more than 1,000 students, provided school supplies for indigent children, run classes in computer literacy and repair, and started a jewelry-making program.

“The kids making jewelry have pride. They are not scouring a trash heap for a plastic bottle. Their lives have changed. There is nothing that can substitute for seeing that,” says Ford, who majored in economics.

Today about 20 Nicaraguans work for NicaHOPE. Ford oversees the organization and spends much of her time fundraising. She lives in an apartment nearby, but soon intends to leave most of the day-to-day operation to local residents, particularly since she plans to return to the United States by year’s end. 

“For these things to work full time, they have to [become] integrated [with] the community,” says Ford, who plans to continue fundraising for the organization from the United States. The local residents, she adds, “have to take it on as their own.” 

Robert Strauss is a writer in Haddonfield, N.J.