Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
Majors: Spanish, English
Off-Campus Experiences (internships, study abroad):
Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant? I applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant because I desired to explore how NGO's function in a Latin-American country versus how they operate in the United States. The Shepherd Alliance provided me with the perfect opportunity to explore the connections between NGO work and international poverty. I also hoped to gauge my ability to work in an international non-profit setting. Both of these elements were preparatory steps to see if my interest in doing international humanitarian work (specifically with UNICEF one day!) will ultimately evolve into a career, and allow me to use my skills and talents to further goals of economic justice and equitable access to education, resources, etc. for the world's most vulnerable populations.
How does your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L? As a Spanish and English major, my studies revolve around texts and literature. Although on the surface the world of literature seems completely unrelated to alleviating poverty and engaging in effective non-profit work, I believe that I have been equipped with skills of imaginative thinking, the ability to draw connections between the superficial and the profound, etc. Thus, if literature is the "study of the human condition" as it is often times believed to be, the Johnson Opportunity Grant allowed me to bridge my academic background and skills with the reality of international poverty, all within the context of studying the human condition. In the process, I was able to move from observing the human condition in a literary sense, and begin to see it, learn about it and interact with it on a daily basis.
What has been the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience so far? I think the personal growth that I underwent was the most unexpected aspect of my experience. Initially, I came to my organization with typed project plans, personal and academic knowledge, etc., but I came to realize that what I did was of lesser importance than what I was in the eyes of the beneficiaries. I learned that in the end, it was more important to be rather than do: The time I spent with the families making dinner, cleaning rooms, hanging pictures, playing with children, drinking mate and rocking babies was the most valuable service I could do for my organization. It wasn't until I learned to be a part of their environment and family that I was able to accomplish anything. This was one of the most important lessons I learned from my grant experience, and I think it speaks volumes with regards to the way in which volunteers, organizations and international entities should give help abroad. It also showed me that I needed to readjust my focus and truly recognize that the value of my experience would come from the relationships I established rather than the number of projects I completed.Favorite Class: It's a tie between Philosophy of Religion with Professor Sessions and El Cid in History and Legend with Professor Bailey.
Favorite W&L Event: Lessons and Carols in Lee Chapel
Favorite Campus Landmark: The Colonnade on a winter's night. The view of the stars is magnificent.
Advice for prospective or first-year students? Don't count yourself out before you get started on something (a project, application, etc). Every person has a wealth of potential and talents to be used, but if you never afford yourself of the many opportunities to experience things, you will never know what you are capable of. Also, there are many, many people who desire to see you succeed, and who are willing to help you reach your goals. One of the many gifts that come with attending W&L is the close-knit community, but even greater than this is the fact that professors, staff, etc are willing to do everything in their power to help you move forward and develop as both a student and person. You never know how far you are able to go until you take the first basic step.
Anticipating the daily soundtrack of my alarm clock, the telephone and the hum of traffic outside of my window, my body is already prepared for its early morning wake-up call of 7 a.m. In spite of the fact that the temperatures are projected to be below 32 degrees this morning, I can't help but feel excited about the day's events: Today is Dia de Chacarita in my adopted barrio. As the immediate community is the life-blood and sustaining power of NGOs in Buenos Aires, the importance of bringing the NGO to the streets and showcasing the mission, work and goals of each organization is perhaps the most vital task of the year. And my job is to prepare my organization, La Asociación Formoseña/ El Hogar Dr. Maradona, for its debut.
Armed with an oversized poster board, pictures, bags of dulce de leche candy, and a peso veinti-cinco, I climb aboard Colectivo 65 for another 30 minute tango with Buenos Aires' notorious traffic. The landscape changes from visions of the relative wealth, shopping malls, and high end dining in the neighborhood of Belgrano to a very different economic mixture in Chacarita.
Stepping off the bus, I immediately become immersed in the eclectic sights and vibrant sounds that make up Chacarita, one of Buenos Aires' most historical and diverse neighborhoods. Grocers set up their morning wares, pedestrians overstep the uneven stones that are perpetually submerged in stagnant water and construction workers pause to take a breath of air between working and shouting colorful phrases to each other and those passing by. Everything bustles in a chaotic normalcy, and I become one of the many porteños, peruanos and other people making their way.
I enter La Asocación Formoseña's pea-green doors and give the customary round of kisses to my director and the others who live at the shelter. The Asociación Formoseña houses children and families from the outlying province of Formosa who come to the capital to receive medical treatment. Although not everyone in the Hogar is directly in need of medical attention, the majority are living examples of the disparity that exist between the access to resources in the Buenos Aires and the availability of vital services in the "interior" or outlying provinces. Using this knowledge as my basis, my goal is to set up a display for the Asociación that exhibits the humanitarian aspect of the organization's day-to-day work, celebrates the distinct originario or indigenous culture that flows from Formosa's land and people and creates a sustainable network between the NGO and the public at large.
But before any of this happens, I find myself surrounded by a group of children and an adult eager for their weekly English lessons. The students recite the alphabet learned from the previous weeks, participate in letter-word association exercises, tackle vocabulary related to nature, munch on cookies and then settle back for an aural cultural experience: James Taylor's "Walking Man." In an attempt to broaden their exposure to American music, I organize the day's cultural experience around folk music from the 60's and 70's and share the origins of one of my favorite musical genres. Discussions about the themes, visions, and messages in folk music are quickly related to Argentina's rich folk music tradition, including the famous chacarera music and dance. Attention is wonderfully maintained for an hour and a half, until the doors to the organization fly open and gigantic vats of locro (Argentina's mouth-watering stew dish) begin to enter. In other words, that's my signal that it's time for Dia de Chacarita to begin.
In the streets, the sound of salsa music weaves in and out of the crowds of neighbors, friends and visitors who come to enjoy the barrio's anniversary. At our table, artwork from Formosa is on display: figurines carved from holy wood, a representation of Pacha Mama, Mother-Goddess of the Earth, and long handbags woven from grasses that are intertwined with hand-made Formosan jewelry pieces. Pictures showcasing the daily events and activities of the Asocación give the table a familiar air, and I talk to dozens of interested neighbors about the organization's history, its purpose and its triumphs while passing out pamphlets I made to detail the most immediate donation needs. In spite of the cold, wet day, the community at large shows its appreciation and respect for the numerous NGOs that daily strive to provide services to all people in the barrio. The Asocación Formoseña becomes part of the social service fabric by serving in its own unique niche, and I become part of my organization, its people and mi barrio adoptivo, too.