The School of Tobacco in Estelí was formed in 2014 as part of an initiative between the ATC, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Work, NGOs, and local cigar companies. Youth come from the city and countryside to learn the trade of rolling cigars in free month-long courses that include not just the theory and practice of how to roll cigars, but also how to present oneself professionally in a work setting, what rights workers are guaranteed, and the basics of union organizing. Upon completion of the course, graduates receive a certification of competency (registered through the government) which helps students find employment in one of Estelí’s 60+ tobacco companies. Rolling cigars in a factory is considered one of the best (although far from perfect) forms of factory work, but it’s very difficult to get a job in a tobacco factory without proper training.
One day, course instructor Juanito was in the local super market, where he happened to encounter one of his former students. The woman exclaimed to Juanito, “Because of my course at the School of Tobacco, I am now able to shop at places like super markets. Thank you so much for helping me improve my livelihood.” To date, approximately 85% of the school’s graduates have found gainful employment in local cigar factories.