If you’re in the mood for shopping — and what Canadian isn’t, given our soaring debt levels — consider these items:

  • One Lockheed Martin F-35 jet fighter: $148 million.
  • Fake lake media centre, G20 summit: $1.9 million.
  • School in Nicaragua, funded by volunteers: $11,000.

See a deal? I do. And it’s one that deserves a lot more attention.

Of course, I’m referring to the school in Nicaragua, one of Central America’s poorest countries. It’s being built this summer with money raised by the five University of Guelph students pictured here — (back row) Beth Deer, Martin Straathof and Elyse Nobert, and (front row) Mellonie Truong and Melanie McConnell — who support a non-government organization called SchoolBox.

Tom Affleck, SchoolBox’s founder and a former agricultural communications student of mine, started the organization in 2006, after a trip to Nicaragua. He gave a young girl there a pencil and a notebook; she was ecstatic. “Now,” her father said to her, “you can go to school.”

That was a turning point for Affleck, who launched SchoolBox to provide school supplies and in some cases, build classrooms and schools, in Nicaragua.

In January, the group built its 20th classroom there. The Guelph student-funded project is bigger – it will see a dilapidated one-room school rebuilt into two rooms that are structurally sound, to withstand the wind and hard rain that now flows through the roof and walls. The building itself is considered a hazard, yet it’s the only school around.

Also in January, the five University of Guelph students began looking for a development-oriented educational charity to support, after being inspired by an international development course they took. An Internet search led them to SchoolBox, and despite being swamped with final semester school work, they launched into assorted event- and online fundraising efforts.

Earlier this month they realized their $11,000 goal, just as exams were about to start.  Read about their story in my Urban Cowboy column in the Guelph Mercury.

The students were photographed by Bruce Sargent of SPARK.