Alumni Update: Leandra Merz

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Leandra in front of the girls dormitory during construction
Leandra in front of the girls dormitory during construction

Leandra Merz graduated from the MDP program in 2014. She provided us with this update from Zambia, where she and her husband are co-directing an organization that provides educational access to orphans and other vulnerable children.

IIM International is dedicated to providing increased educational access to orphans and vulnerable children in rural Zambia. Leandra and Aaron Merz were inspired to start this NGO in 2012 in order to further assist the villages they served as Peace Corps Volunteers. The passion for helping these communities led Leandra back to the University of Florida for a Masters in Sustainable Development Practice. She was able to apply much of what she learned to improve the organization, but the most valuable information was related to fundraising and grant-writing. These invaluable skills have allowed IIM International to grow significantly in the past 2 years.

From 12 students in the first school year of 2013, IIM International now sponsors 21 high school students for the 2015 school year. Primary school is free in Zambia and many times uniforms are not even required so most children are able to attend grades 1-8. However, grades 9-12 are $200 a year for tuition alone. For a subsistence farmer (as most rural Zambians are) with an annual salary of $300-$400 a year, it is very difficult to send even one child to high school. We applaud the many families who sacrifice greatly in order to provide their children with an education. Sadly, this system leaves no hope for orphans or vulnerable children to attend high school. There are no government scholarships and very few private scholarships within the district. This is why IIM International has stepped in to offer sponsorships to academically qualified students with great financial need.

Evaluations of the first year of programs revealed that even with sponsorships many students struggle to perform well and to stay on track for graduation. IIM International realized that scholarships were only the beginning of what was needed to transform lives in this community. Poor boarding facilities and lack of support from caregivers were extremely detrimental to our first class of sponsor students. Through extensive fundraising efforts, we raised over $25,000 in order to build a student life center. This includes a male dormitory and a female dormitory with a capacity of 40 students, a kitchen, a house for a full-time caregiver, a borehole for clean water, and basic toilets. In January, the Student Life Center opened its doors to 18 students who now have a safe place to live, 3 nutritious meals a day, clean water, health care, and support from several staff members and volunteers.

We are pleased to report that two of our scholarship recipients, Mbachi and Elizabeth, graduated in December. Mbachi began working as a cook for us in order to save some money and she is now preparing for college. In April, she will begin a nursing program and continue pursuing her life-long dream of becoming a nurse. Mbachi represents the full mission of what IIM International is trying to accomplish in Zambia. Her mother passed away when she was a child and she has been living with her father who supports her and her siblings while working at the local health clinic. Our scholarship allowed her to stay in school and delay the typical process of starting a family and serving as a homemaker. Even if Mbachi chooses that role now, her extra years of education have made her more prepared to carry out that role in a more informed manner, take better care of her children, and properly manage a household budget. But our hopes are that she is able to realize her dream and continue on the path towards a profession in the medical field in order to better support her future family.

Future goals for IIM International include adding poultry, rabbit, and pig facilities as well as kitchen gardens. These livestock and agricultural projects would provide more affordable sources of food, some income generation and an opportunity for students to learn more advanced methods of farming. IIM International also hopes to begin offering vocational and life skills seminars to students and community members. We realize that many people are unable to attend school because of the pressure to generate income. Likewise, many young women who have qualified for secondary school have already found themselves pregnant and have no daycare options that would allow them to attend school full time. We hope that by offering programs designed to improve the quality of life, the business and family management skills of individuals, and instruction in a broad range of income generating activities we are able to impact a larger demographic of the community in which we work. To learn more about IIM International or to donate towards our mission please visit http://www.IIMinternational.com.

Mbachi
Mbachi
Several students in front of the new borehole
Several students in front of the new borehole
Kitchen, with full-time caregiver Regina
Kitchen, with full-time caregiver Regina
A dorm bedroom
A dorm bedroom
Some of the boys in front of their dormitory
Some of the boys in front of their dormitory
Some of the students walking back from after-school clubs
Some of the students walking back from after-school clubs
The Student Life Center during construction
The Student Life Center during construction
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