At just 21 years old, Maria Howard has made a difference in the lives of thousands of children in another part of the world. It all started when she and her two sisters traveled to El Salvador in 2010.
Maria said, "It was an extremely eye opening experience. We saw the poverty that is present throughout much of the developing world and so when we came back we felt strongly that we needed to do something to help the people that we really grew to love and care about and that is how "Art for El Salvador" was born."
"Art for El Salvador" began as a small way to give back. The three sisters would sell art for anything to help, such as hand-made drawings and jewelry.
But then Maria's world drastically changed. A car accident killed her little sister, Sarah.
Maria said, "We stopped the project for about a year just to figure out how to be in the world without Sarah. It was my sister and I that brought up the idea of building a school in El Salvador in Sarah's memory."
It was then that their project wasn't so little anymore. "Art for El Salvador" is now a student organization at the University of Northern Iowa and a full-time nonprofit organization. They host various events where they sell different forms of handmade art. She stressed that you do not need to be a member or an artist to be involved. It has turned into a community-involved project.
So far the organization has raised $27,000 dollars and the school is now completed.
She said, "One of the parents said I don'y have the money but I have my hands, so they worked extremely hard. The parents built the school in just two months."
Yes, that's right, two months to build the school, proving their desire for education.
What started out as three sisters trying to give back, has now changed thousands of children's lives by giving them a place to learn and grow. And through this school, in her sister's name, this will be a memory and a legacy that will last for a very long time.
She said, "You know, they may not know how smart and spunky and brilliant she was, but they do know that she is very loved and that she was a special person so this is a gift for my family too."
The school will have its first class ever on January 18th.