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Latin American Studies

Learning in Latino and Latin American Communities through Summer Fellowships and Service Experiences

Story posted July 10, 2012

Through opportunities supported by the McKeen Center for the Common Good, including service immersion experiences such as Alternative Spring Break and Weekend Service Trips, as well as through the Global Citizens Grant and Community Matters in Maine summer fellowship programs, students engage in environmental sustainability, housing access, public health, and education issues in different parts of Latin America and in Latino communities in the United States. Here are some highlights of their work during the past year.

Alternative Spring Break: Providing Safe Passage in Guatemala

Under the leadership of Katherine Woo ’12 and D.J. Darden ’12, a group of 11 Bowdoin students devoted a week during spring break to volunteering at Safe Passage, an organization working in Guatemala City to bring hope, education, and opportunity to the children and families living in extreme poverty around the City’s garbage dump. This was the eleventh year of the Alternative Spring Break program, and the eighth trip to Safe Passage. This year, the student trip coincided with a trip for Bowdoin alumni to also volunteer with the organization, which was founded by Bowdoin alumna, Hanley Denning ’92.

Global Citizens Grant

In last year’s newsletter we announced that Elena Crosley, Ben Richmond, and Abby Suresh, winners of Global Citizens Grants to spend two months in service with grassroots organizations in Latin America, were getting ready for their travels. They’ve each provided us with a brief summary of their experiences, and all of them have connected their work with courses in Spanish or Latin American Studies following their service in these communities.

Elena Crosley ‘13 volunteered at the organization Building New Hope’s veterinary clinic, Casa Lupita, and school, Escuelita Yo Puedo in Granada, Nicaragua. Casa Lupita treats the dogs, cats and work horses of Granada, Nicaragua and many spays and neuters are performed in order to reduce the number of street animals. Escuelita Yo Puedo is a school that provides children with homework help, English classes, and piano lessons. “My time spent in Granada, Nicaragua was unlike anything I had been exposed to before. I was able to spend my mornings working with students on their English and math while being updated on the latest Spanish slang words and in the afternoon I could assist a veterinarian in the surgery room and have the opportunity to talk to owners in the waiting room about their animals, the clinic and their country. I will always hold this experience close and I will continue to value human relationships and the importance of education.”

Ben Richmond ‘13 spent January and February of 2012 working with Teach Huaraz Peru in Huaraz, Peru. Teach Huaraz is a local, grassroots organization that supports the community of Huaraz by providing English lessons for children in local schools and educational programs for youth. Ben worked as an English tutor at a local language center and helped Teach Huaraz establish a 7-day pilot youth wilderness therapy program for at-risk youth. The wilderness therapy program consisted of classes about health, decision making, and outdoor skills, as well as an extended outdoor experience in the area’s surrounding mountains. “I was proud to be able to help enhance Teach Huaraz’s services to the community by laying a foundation for its wilderness therapy program.”

Abby Suresh ‘12 volunteered at Compas de Nicaragua for eight weeks last summer. After one week spent in the rural town of La Paz participating in coffee planting with members of a local farmers’ cooperative, she worked the remaining seven weeks in the impoverished barrio of La Primavera in Managua, Nicaragua. In Managua, Abby worked with other members of Compas at the Women in Action Center (WIA), building a backyard vegetable garden and a composting system; teaching English classes to local school age children; and running health workshops (‘charlas’) for women on topics like personal hygiene, menopause and nutrition. In addition, she helped repair the roofs of several of the Women in Action’s members’ houses and expand the test backyard garden at the WIA center to new gardens behind the women’s houses. “Choosing to spend my summer volunteering in Nicaragua was a fantastic decision. I learned so many unsaid things about the Nicaraguan culture - most memorably the absolute friendliness and love Nicaraguans offer to anyone who even attempts to speak Spanish and understand their culture. Working toward the goal of bettering the lives of women by planting and caring for a garden and running basic health talks every week was more satisfying than any other summer job or internship I could imagine. Many things I saw and felt while in Nicaragua will always stay with me, particularly a line that many local women repeated to me and other volunteers on numerous occasions: “Every time we see you - you give us hope to go on.” The absolute honesty and passion behind that statement really touched me and made all of the struggles getting used to the culture seem negligible. I hope that this experience will be just the beginning of my work in impoverished regions abroad.”

During the summer of 2012, Global Citizens Grant recipient Emma James ‘13, an Anthropology major and Education minor from Avon, Maine, will be working with BiblioWorks, a nonprofit based in Sucre, Bolivia that builds and funds libraries to increase literacy in rural communities in the surrounding areas. Look for details of her experience in next summer’s newsletter.

Weekend Service Trips to a Latino Community in Maine

Mano en Mano, a non-profit led by Ian Yaffe ‘09The Weekend Service Trip program, started in the fall of 2009 by Krista Bahm ’11, provides students the opportunity to explore and learn more about various communities in Maine through service. This past spring Mariya Ilyas ‘13 and David Vasquez ’14, led a group of nine students up to Milbridge, ME, where they volunteered at Mano en Mano, a non-profit led by Ian Yaffe ‘09 that works to provide educational services, healthcare, and low-income housing to Latino immigrant farmers in Downeast Maine. During the weekend, the Bowdoin students helped Mano en Mano raise more than $1,000 at its 5th annual Spring Fling to fund a $1,000 scholarship it gives to one college-bound Latino student every year for four years. This marks the third trip that Bowdoin students have taken up to Milbridge to work with Mano en Mano and deepen their understanding of Latino communities in Maine. Read more about the students’ experiences at: http://bowdoindailysun.com/2012/03/taking-a-day-away-to-help-a-latino-community-in-maine/

Mi Gente: A Resource Guide for Latinos in Maine

Mi Gente: A Resource Guide for Latinos in MaineAs the Latino communities in Maine grow larger and more diverse, the need for information about resources has become more obvious, and Bowdoin students, led by Molly Pallman ’12, and assisted by Genie Wheelwright’s students in Spanish 204 this spring, have learned more about the needs and resources available by revising and correcting Mi Gente, a guidebook for Latinos in Maine.