Virginia Tech alumnus Jeff Allison, who earned degrees in finance and English in 1991, said he had little idea what he was getting into when he left his job at Lockheed Martin in Rockville, Md., to move to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, to work with indigenous Miskito Indians on community development projects, including the region’s only orphanage.
“I did not know the language or exactly how I was going to move forward with the development work or helping the children transition to college, job training, or life outside the orphanage. All I knew was that I had a desire and a passion to help.”
Allison first visited the town on Nicaragua’s northeastern coast in January 2007, when his brother invited him along on their church’s mission trip to help build a school addition. “I went for the experience, with no expectations of ever going back,” Allsion said.
One year later, he was on his fourth trip there, traveling some 200 miles up the Rio Coco to bring medicine to villagers who “have never seen a doctor or used electricity, a car, TV, or any other modern convenience.” He realized then he could be of greater service if he lived there for a while and experienced the daily lives of the people.
Allison primarily worked and lived at the orphanage, assisting its 10 staff members and local leaders in developing a transition assistance program for the older children.
His daily activities included helping children with their homework, playing sports with them, or “just praying with individuals who were in need.”
Allison at first worked on his own, sponsored by friends and family.
During his second year, he partnered with Christian Fellowship Church in Ashburn, Va., leading its various initiatives with the Miskito people.
He and his church established a business in Puerto Cabezas that sells high-quality used clothing, the profits of which are being used for micro-financing, scholarship, community outreach programs, and to assist the local church.
“My professional training allowed me to prepare proposals, budgets, and forecasts when working with American aid groups,” Allison said. “I knew what business people were looking for when making decisions about supporting an effort or not. With my training, I was able to work with the local pastor to understand his goals and desires for the community and then translate those ideas into a story that the Americans could understand.”
He also worked with U.S. teams and organizations to help raise funds for the ongoing support of the indigenous church running the orphanage.
After a little over two years in Nicaragua, Allison returned to the U.S. and was rehired as a senior pricing policy analyst at Lockheed Martin in January 2011.
He continues to raise funds for students in Puerto Cabezas who want to go to college and is assisting teams planning mission trips to the area.
“In the U.S., we have so much that we take for granted. Many people think that money and success makes you happy. I was living with some of the poorest people in the world. Yet they live life to the fullest, with lots of laughs and love that money can’t buy.”
Young alumni from the Pamplin College of Business have taken the business skills they learned at Virginia Tech to jobs in nonprofits and work to improve life around the world.