Blend together plenty of altruism, an abundance of compassion, a heap of dedication, and a whole lot of enthusiasm and what do you get—or rather, who do you get? Nick Smyth.
Now a Harvard Junior studying government, Nick is an alumnus of the July 1999 Peru program. Upon returning to the States after his VISIONS experience, Nick began working to make possible a computer center in Urubamba, Peru.
During his trip, Nick was touched by the Quechua people and very inspired by Linda Ochoa. A former Peace Corps volunteer who married a Peruvian man and stayed in Peru, Linda has dedicated her life to working with the people in Urubamba.
After Nick returned home from his VISIONS program, he wanted to do something mor. Nick chose a computer center as the focus of his efforts because he felt this was the one thing the valley clearly lacked. He said, “I realized the people there have plenty of food and they are healthy, but I remember, as part of our program, we visited a school to meet and talk to the kids. While there, I saw a room with some ancient computers locked away in it. The kids weren’t using them at all, and I remember thinking that is what really separates these kids from our group. [Nearly] every kid on the VISIONS trip has a computer in his/her house and uses it daily. It didn’t seem like it would be all that hard or expensive to get some down there—and it would open up a huge potential for learning and communication.”
With the help of his program director, Rich Webb, and the encouragement of his parents, Nick wrote a grant proposal for the project. He also wrote letters to the parents of his classmates at Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh, PA, for donations. Between foundations and private donations, Nick raised $21,000 at the time and about $31,000 to date.
Rather than just raising the money, Nick wanted to be a part of the whole process and see it through to completion. He also wanted to make sure the money was spent as intended. And so, after his initial trip, Nick visited Urubamba on four more occasions. During his second visit he and Rich met with the Deputy Mayor, Linda Ochoa, and the principal of La Salle School to work out the details and interview staff and teachers. “The hardest part”, Nick explained, “was getting the internet connection, which is very expensive there. The rest sort of just came together. Linda Ochoa knew of a government building that she thought would make an ideal home for the center. She put that whole piece together.” Linda suggested and then oversaw the implementation of changes to the building to make it usable, and she got the renovation funded.
By his third visit in August 2000, Nick witnessed the opening of the ‘Academia Internet de Urubamba’, which offers classes to Urubamba’s school age population as well as adults who seek to learn new life skills. “It was a great feeling and so rewarding to see all my work come to fruition. It changed my outlook on the world.”
Nick says he always believed that any problem is smaller than the whole of humanity—that we can overcome anything if we put our minds to it. Watching his dream actualized so quickly reinforced his beliefs.
Nick enjoyed visiting Academia Internet de Urubamba on his fourth and fifth visits, sitting in on a few classes, and watching the students use the computers. On one trip his family came along, and he especially enjoyed showing them around the valley he had fallen so in love with.
Another of Nick’s dreams for the computer center came true during his senior year of high school, just after the Center opened. He said, “I got tons of e-mails from kids in Peru. I forwarded them on to my Spanish teacher who paired each kid up with a student in my school so they could write to each other in Spanish and English. This was also part of what I intended the center to be used for.”
Other hopes Nick has for the center, which have yet to be fulfilled, are for the Quechua people to use the technology there to develop entrepreneurship. “They make beautiful handcrafted Peruvian goods there—alpaca sweaters, blankets, rugs. I hope that someday they will sell their goods over the internet, and eliminate the middle man.”
“Nick comes from a family dedicated to helping others,” says Rich Webb. “He and his family are some of the warmest people I have ever come across. Nick personally is an uncommonly driven and competent young man who sees opportunities rather than barriers.”
While the Academia Internet de Urubamba is not self-sufficient, it does cover some of its own costs. Nick credits Linda Ochoa with an “ingenious idea that has helped the center to raise funds.” In the evenings, she opens it up to tourists for use as an internet café. Their fees don’t nearly cover all of the center’s costs, which are heavily subsidized by donations, but they certainly help.
Anyone wishing to help keep the center running, can donate through Brother’s Brother Foundation (1200 Galveston Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15233). Please earmark your donation, ‘Peru computer center‘.