A Carleton student is using his design skills to improve the lives of Nicaraguan students.
Parker Armstrong, a third-year Carleton student in architectural conservation and sustainability engineering, spent last summer in the Central American country with SchoolBOX, which is based in nearby Almonte, Ont. The charity is trying to increase the numbers of children in school; in Nicaragua, only 56% of students finish fifth grade, the organization says.
This was Armstrong’s third summer with the organization, and also the one where he took on the most responsibility. His engineering co-op not only included working with the local community, but also making connections with Nicaragua’s ministry of education and other SchoolBOX officials.
“Originally they had a design for [school] bathrooms that used a lot of space, and a lot of materials. It was expensive,” Armstrong said. “I helped redesign it and make it more compact, using fewer materials. I also helped construct three classrooms in two communities, and worked as a translator with volunteer groups.”
SchoolBOX offers many services to improve education. Many students leave school to work on the family farm because education is so expensive, Armstrong said. So SchoolBOX provides a library for students’ books, educational supplies, and also upgrades or builds school facilities to make them safer and more appealing as a community space.
Armstrong first volunteered with the organization in August 2014, and loved it so much that he returned for another month in June 2015. This year, he completed a co-op work term because he wanted something different – something more internationally focused.
Co-op gave him valuable experience to add to his classwork. One of his last duties this year was submitting a report on the social, economic and environmental sustainability of SchoolBOX. His next goal is to take a 16-month co-op in Nicaragua at the end of third year, as part of his studies.
“I used so many skills from different classes, especially the design aspect of architecture classes,” Armstrong said, adding that he found sustainability construction particularly useful when working in Nicaragua. As for speaking the most popular language in the country – Spanish – he said he wishes he had taken some classes at Carleton, but he learned quickly because he was immersed in the language.
Parker describes Nicaragua as a very humid country, with rainforest and lots of diverse wildlife. As for the people, he said he is continually amazed by their generosity. During his first two summers in Nicaragua, he worked with the community. No matter where he was, the people would look out for him and make sure that he was doing well.
“I’m not a white-knight hero; I’m just trying to help,” Armstrong said. His work is only possible, he added, due to the support of the teachers, students and community – not to mention SchoolBOX itself.