University establishes new partnership with UNICEF, Nicaragua

Eric Bellomo

The University recently announced it has entered into a partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, Nicaragua. This partnership, led by Dr. Pritpal Singh, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will give both students and professors the opportunity to participate in projects related to health, telemedicine, entrepreneurship, education and other social programs. Singh also expects other projects to come to fruition as the program evolves.

Singh has been working to establish this relationship since the summer of 2014. It began when he was a technical co-chair for an international humanitarian technology conference at UNICEF’s headquarters. After a number of correspondences with a representative for Nicaragua, the agreement was finalized when Dr. Singh led a group of students on a break trip during the fall break.

UNICEF’s mission is to “build a world where the rights of every child are realized.” More specifically, they endeavor “to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.” Among other objectives, UNICEF promotes a complete primary education for girls and immunization against diseases commonly contracted during childhood—specifically HIV/AIDS.

Furthermore, UNICEF promotes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Millennium Development Goals and the Global Movement for Children. Collectively these goals work to provide peace, stability, and equality—especially for girls and women who often face discrimination.

Singh stated that in the short term the program will focus on assisting UNICEF and their endeavors to alleviate childhood suffering. However, in the long term, he hopes “to initiate some programs, particularly in the educational area, to provide the children of Nicaragua opportunities to improve their welfare as they grow up.”

Most opportunities made available to University students and faculty members, at this stage, will focus primarily on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, a region rife with poverty and a dearth of adequate services. Along the Caribbean Coast, University aid will be sent to Bluefields, the capital of Region Autonoma del Atlantico Sur, Nicaragua, one of the region’s most impoverished areas.

The University will look to improve the region’s shoddy infrastructure by targeting roads, communication and technical support. In addition to the focus placed on infrastructure, the Bluefields region is also in need of more robust business growth and improved health services. To combat these short-comings, the University will work with Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University to provide workshops and mentorship opportunities with the intention of improving the overall level of education, which is an area of particular need in a region that is relatively isolated.

Starting in March of 2015, students and faculty will have the opportunity to travel to Bluefields as part of a spring break service trip. Sophomore Emily Wilson, who went to Nicaragua in Spring of 2014, said her time was “inspiring.” Emily and her group members spent their time in Managua where they helped build a house for a family with the assistance of local community members.

Emily also said that “this is a country of partnership. I am excited to see the Villanova community entering into an age of development and progress that will be profoundly fruitful for both.”

Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health has also signaled an interest in expanding the ’Nova Mobile Health program. This program was developed in 2010 by engineering, business and nursing students and faculty members to make quality healthcare readily available.

By using inexpensive cell phones, community health leaders can communicate patient needs with hospital staff members who, in turn, can send treatment information to the CHLs. In the case of an emergency, CHLs can reach out directly to the Ministry of Health. This program has enjoyed great success to date and looks to build upon their progress by expanding into the Bluefield region.

 Singh concluded by stating that he is both excited for this partnership and hopeful for another UNICEF partnership with Burundi.

He also proudly stated that Villanova students and faculty members can participate in a program “to help…improve the long-term welfare of children growing up in poverty. It is very consistent with the Catholic Augustinian mission of Villanova…”

With spring break trips quickly approaching, the University will be positioned to use its resources and skills to bring relief to a region of need, and continue to fulfill its mission.