A few refurbished computers and a little technical assistance from some college-age volunteers have given children in one community in El Salvador a place where they can complete their school assignments.
About a dozen of students in Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Rinker School of Business recently traveled to El Salvador’s capital city of San Salvador to create a new internet café in conjunction with Passion for Purity, a charitable organization in San Salvador that operates an orphanage and school. PBA alumna Nicole Moore and her mother founded the organization.
The student volunteers, members of the University’s Students in Free Enterprise program, helped set up the café and its nine computers in a section of a building that houses the school.
The volunteers arrived with computers and equipment that they had collected from individuals and organizations in the West Palm Beach area, and then refurbished themselves. The project also received funding from the PBA Quality Initiative Student Research Grant program.
"We did the café from the ground up," said John Warner, a senior who is double-majoring in finance and accounting.
Many students in the area don’t have computers at home but are required to use them for their schoolwork, said Nathan Shoemaker, a junior majoring in management who also went on the trip. According to United Nations statistics, only 14 out of 100 people have access to the internet in El Salvador.
The plan is for the café gradually to become a self-sustaining business by offering internet service to tourists and paying customers, the PBA students said.
Shoemaker, who assisted with preparing the computers and setting them up, said he enjoyed being able to put into practice what he has learned in the classroom.
"For me that’s what I’ve always been interested in my whole life, starting up businesses that help people," he said.
The internet café was one of several projects the students undertook to provide opportunities for disadvantaged children.
During the week-long trip, the SIFE students also prepared four plots of ground for a vegetable garden for children in a government-run youth shelter. Afterward, they planted radishes, tomatoes, carrots and salad greens, said Szilvi Gagyi, a sophomore who is majoring in finance.
"We got really dirty at the end of the day," said Gagyi, adding that the garden was established to add variety and nutrition to the children’s diet.
Jeni Chavez, a junior majoring in international business, said that the pre-teen and teenage girls they met in the shelter had gone through difficult experiences and many already had children of their own.
"Working in the garden was a fulfilling experience not just because of the work we were doing, but because the girls were touched by the time we took to hang out and talk to them," Chavez said.
In addition, the PBA students also taught the children skills that they could use to support themselves, such as knitting and crocheting.
PBA’s SIFE team recently made a presentation about its work in El Salvador during the SIFE regional competition in Atlanta, where the team was named a league champion. The team now advances to the national competition May 10-12 in Minneapolis, Minn.