The Peace Project

Sarah Dobson works with a student in Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua in March 2012. The Catonsville native is a director of The Peace Project, an organization she and two friends from the University of Maryland founded. (Submitted photo / June 14, 2012)

Eating beans and rice twice a day for the past year has left Sarah Dobson craving the variety of flavors back home in Catonsville.

Missing Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July left her homesick during those quintessential American holidays.

Still, the 2007 Catonsville High School graduate isn't ready to leave Laguna de Apoyo, a nature reserve in Nicaragua where she teaches children English and art and lessons about computers and environmental conservation.

She arrived at the small, rural community near a volcanic crater on Aug. 13 of last year.

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And before she leaves in January, Dobson, 22, said she intends to create a better life for the people of Laguna de Apoyo.

"The community here doesn't have a whole lot of resources, but they have a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm and potential," Dobson said.

Dobson created a program called The Peace Project with two of her classmates from the University of Maryland after they graduated in 2011.

Their goal was to teach basic skills and peaceful conflict resolution to residents of the area, which is a nature reserve that is a popular tourist destination thanks to its huge lake and protected forest.

"It was our idea to get started," Dobson said. "The community told us the direction to go.

"My goal is for the community to be able to support themselves and live comfortably," she said.

The seed of philanthropy

Though Dobson, a sociology major who earned a minor in international development and conflict management, credits a college class called "Alternatives to Violence" for setting her on the path of helping people resolve conflicts peacefully, her mother sees it differently.

Linda Dobson said her daughter, who graduated magna cum laude from Maryland, has shown a willingness to help people both in her community and far away since entering high school.

"It seemed to start in high school," Linda Dobson said of her daughter's philanthropy. "She has always felt concern that people should be treated equally and fairly."

For example, the younger Dobson participated in the Student Sharing Coalition, which volunteered at various homeless shelters and soup kitchens in Baltimore, throughout high school.

Two years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Sarah Dobson helped organize a a group of 59 students and 14 adults to travel to the Gulf Coast to help reconstruction efforts in the devastated area.

"I don't know what planted that seed in her, but it's really blossomed since high school," Linda Dobson said.

That determination to help others has continued to grow.

Sarah Dobson made a surprise trip home for her mother's birthday in June.

The day after celebrating the birthday, the younger Dobson went from restaurant to restaurant in Catonsville and Ellicott City in an attempt to organize a fundraiser.