University of New Mexico Assistant Professor Matías Fontenla, who teaches economic development, wanted his students to have a hands-on learning experience, so last year he led a group to Nicaragua, the poorest Latin American country. The students were moved by the poverty and decided to do something constructive.

"The project that begins this July will support the construction and improvement of houses for women and their families. Official home titles will be given to the female heads of household, which is tremendously important for so many reasons," Fontenla said.

Fontenla said that the poverty in Nicaragua is pervasive, with women operating on the margins of society and finding it difficult to take control of their lives, especially when they must care for a child.

The UNM branch of Nourish International, and the UNM Latin American Sustainability Association, both run by former and current students, began working together on a housing project.

"Casa de la Mujer addresses the needs of women, not only by constructing safe shelters, but also through legal resources, job training, and other services. Nourish International at UNM will partner with Casa de la Mujer to build homes and provide fresh starts for families in need," he said.

Last summer's experience was worthwhile and even Fontenla didn't know where it would lead.

"They got to learn by seeing and doing. We visited places during the day and talked to people. In the evening I gave lectures. It gave context to theory. What is perhaps most amazing about these students is that many of them are now taking action, participating in development solutions," he said.

Fontenla, who is Argentinian, said that this summer's program will have many returning students as well as some new recruits. The students will pay for their own airfare, room and board. "One-hundred percent of the proceeds they raise go to build the homes," he said.

Interest in the course, Sustainable Development in Central America: Economic Development, Poverty, and Growth in Nicaragua, has grown so that it is now cross-listed with political science, Anderson School of Management, Latin American Studies and sociology. Fontenla's teaching assistant, Ben Waddell, is a sociology graduate student.

"The energy of the students is what's amazing and what's making it work," he said.

Fontenla noted that the group is still several thousand dollars short of their fundraising goal. Donations are tax deductible. Visit the website for more information.

Media contact: Carolyn Gonzales, 277-5920; e-mail: