Our beca program

Each year, the Sister Islands Association gives one student from each graduating class on Ometepe a scholarship good for all five years required to obtain most degrees in Nicaragua. If the student is studying medicine, the scholarship covers the required six years.

Bainbridge families, high-school student delegates, and elementary school students who make and sell calendars fund these scholarships. In return, the recipients send regular updates and even their grades to the scholarship sponsors. Lifelong friendships can result.

Scholarship students and sponsor

Mary Ferm, a llongtime member of the Scholarship Committee, visits with beca students, Erwin and Ceneida.

How the program developed

The Bainbridge-Ometepe Scholarship Program began in 1990 in response to a request from faculty at Instituto Ladislau Chwalbinski, the high school in Altagracia, Ometepe. At that time, it was nearly impossible for a high school graduate from Ometepe to study at a university.

Together, we have developed a scholarship program that depends on teamwork among five groups. Each Ometepe high school has a committee that selects students based on academic performance, economic need, and community spirit. The committees collect grades, receipts, and documentation from the students receiving scholarships, and monitor their progress. Parents and guardians attend meetings and support their students. Our Nicaraguan scholarship representative on Ometepe trains committees, collects information from the local committees, meets with students, and sends receipts, grades, letters, and information about students’ progress to the committee on Bainbridge. Our committee recruits sponsors here, meets with committees and students on Ometepe annually, coordinates with the representative on Ometepe, and communicates with sponsors. Sponsors make the program possible by funding scholarships.

100+ college graduates

The number of high schools to graduate their first class of students has increased from two in 1990 to nine in 2007. During that time, the number of scholarships for Ometepe high school graduates has grown from 2 to 48. In 2014, eleven students graduated, bringing the total number of university graduates over the course of the scholarship program to more than 124. There are doctors, nurses, teachers, business people, agronomists, lawyers, systems engineers, architects, psychologists, architects, specialists in sustainable tourism, and more.

Several years ago a very generous person donated a large sum of money to establish the Robert Drew Scholarship Fund. That fund has provided partial scholarships for high school teachers on Ometepe, helping 35 teachers earn their university degrees through weekend classes. The Drew Fund also helps students cover the high cost of graduation seminars and research projects that are required to receive a diploma once regular course work has been completed.

What sponsors provide

A full scholarship is $1200 a year. Although two students share some current scholarships, Ometepe committees will not split new scholarships for full-time students. Your entire donation goes directly to a student. The Sister Islands Association covers the small cost of photocopies and transport for Ometepe’s volunteer committees and the salary for the scholarship coordinator on Ometepe.

How you can help

We need more sponsors. For more information, please contact  Dana Willerford using this form.


In January 2009, Scholarship Committee member Katy Childers conducted a comprehensive program evaluation as part of her graduate school studies. She found that the former scholarship students are making big impacts in their communities. Although some graduates remain in Managua for jobs or because their spouse is in the city, about 60 percent have returned to Ometepe. Among the positions they hold:

two women

Former scholarship student Karla Varela, left, is a psychologist on Ometepe. She worked with our organization to survey the island’s special needs community.

  • High school teachers
  • Municipal Director for the Ministry of Health
  • Doctor
  • Psychologist, private practice and with at-risk youth
  • Obstetric nurse
  • Anesthesiologist
  • Workshop Coordinator, Ometepe Island Civil Organization Network
  • Scholarship Program Coordinator for the Sister Islands Association
  • Catastrophe Manager, Altagracia Mayor’s Office
  • Executive Director, Tourism Commission of Ometepe
  • Cashier, microfinance organization

Not only are former scholarship students working to improve their communities, but many are also volunteering their time on projects.

students with brooms

When they are home on vacation, our scholarship students get together to do service projects in their communities. This group is cleaning a school in San Jose del Sur.

Next Steps

As a result of the study, the Scholarship Committee is working to improve communication between sponsors and the students, both former and current. The students overwhelmingly responded that this communication was incredibly important to them and how much they’d love to meet their sponsors. In addition, we are looking at better ways to prepare students before they get to the university, as well as to facilitate ways for them to become better community leaders once they graduate.

How you can help

student with scholarship sponsors

When Lynn Oliver and Sam Sharar visited Ometepe on a Health Delegation, they were excited to meet their scholarship student.

Anyone familiar with college costs in the United States is likely to be astonished at what it costs for a college education at a public university in Nicaragua. Just $1,000 a year fully funds one of our scholarships, which pays about half of a student’s total costs. Some Bainbridge families team up and jointly sponsor a  scholarship.

Our scholarship students write to their sponsors regularly, and we encourage sponsors to write back. Some sponsors visit Ometepe, and looking up the student is always one of the highlights of the trip. If you don’t know Spanish, that’s no problem since our Scholarship Committee is happy to translate letters, and our staff on Ometepe can help during visits.

Dana Willerford heads the scholarship committee. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a scholarship sponsor, please contact her using this form.

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