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Project Type

Training Center

Project Location

El Madrono, Nicaragua

Project Partner


Project Start Date


Project Completion Date


Project Team

Sheri Olson - Project Co-Lead

Lynn Gaffney - Project Co-Lead

Matthew Radune

# of AWB Volunteers


KCLU highlighted this project on the radio! Listen to the story!


Architects Without Borders provided pro-bono design services to GOCARE, Inc. for a new Learning Campus in El Madrono, Nicaragua. Opened in 2019, the 7,100-square-foot campus allows the non-profit organization to expand its core mission to help children and young adults to live a self-empowered life through the power of education.


The El Madrono facility offers a new opportunity for the organization to offer certified programs. “Previously we leased space from the government and we were not allowed to charge for our programs. GOCARE purchased this site so that we can offer vocational and advanced programs where the students will earn INATEC (Innovation y Prestigio Tecnologico Nacional) certification,” says Michelle Cekov, GOCARE’s President and CEO. “We will continue to offer the free programs as well as re-open our preschool. The certified programs will allow us to charge for our services on a sliding scale, depending on the students’ ability to pay. This will help immensely with our ability to hire certified instructors and the sustainability of our programs.”


The campus is composed of seven buildings with four classrooms for children, three classrooms for adults, a computer center, a library and administrative offices. The buildings surround a central open courtyard. A plaza and amphitheater steps at the front of the building have access to a kitchen in the vocational classroom and can be used for community gatherings or rented for weddings and other occasions.


Architects Gaffney and Olson’s design creates a series of platforms and structures that step up the hillside. A covered arcade links the separate buildings and engages both the courtyard and sheltered outdoor classrooms. The spaces between classroom buildings allow views and ventilation into the courtyard, hold accessible ramps and are secured with custom wrought iron screens.


“We were lucky to receive such clear requirements and feedback along the way from GOCARE. Their daily experience at their current learning centers has informed all aspects of our design. The topography of the site inspired a dynamic campus that will offer varied spatial experiences and social interaction each time you move through its bounded space,” says Lynn Gaffney, AIA.


The project incorporates local building materials and construction methods. The exterior walls are striated brick with a concrete bond beam. In some areas a random, open-brick arrangement provides ventilation. Corrugated metal-clad clerestory roofs allow daylight to penetrate the center of the classrooms and cane ceilings absorb sound.


“We wanted to find ways to involve local craftspeople and realized that the wrought-iron screens between the buildings are a great opportunity for a variety of artisans to contribute their own designs,” says Sheri Olson, FAIA, “Accent colors on the doors and other elements are drawn from Nicaraguan folk paintings.”


“We are so thankful for this partnership with Architect Without Borders in helping to make our dream facility a reality,” says Cekov.


GOCARE is a non-governmental organization recognized by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education as an exemplary model for youth and adult education courses. To date, the organization has graduated more than 3,800 students from its programs. Its “Come Back To Give Back” philosophy encourages college students to become mentors and leaders within their own Nicaraguan community and help give back by helping people move out of extreme poverty and into a successful future.

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