Category Archives: Class of 2016: Honduras

Old Ties & New Visions: Our Partnership With LUPE

     This semester our partnership with Latinoamericanos Unidos Promoviendo la Esperanza (LUPE) has been challenging, but ultimately successful and rewarding. We have been challenged in developing our communication strategies and identifying cross-cultural and professional boundaries. As students, we have many resources and information that we can share, but we also recognize that we have much to learn from the members of LUPE.  This realization is one that comes with humility and self reflection, and helps us understand what it truly means to be in a partnership.  Together we have continued the joint ESL program, developing curriculum and recruiting volunteers to make the classes sustainable after we graduate in May. Through our role in this program, our efforts as students have compelled us to become active and informed members of the community.  We have developed deeper ties both professionally and personally with the members of the organization, and we’ve come to understand a variety of systemic issues through their lens.

     Our committee’s relationship with LUPE has been very different from the past semesters. We were able to immerse ourselves deeply in their organization by attending events, experiencing the taxing yet fulfilling process of community mobilization, and engaging in vibrant discussions at board meetings. LUPE’s monthly gatherings are held at Elon’s Downtown Community Center, which in itself helps to strengthen the relationship between Elon and LUPE. At the board meetings, members of our committee have had various opportunities to learn about what the organization does to help the community and respond to the needs of its constituents. We also were able to lead discussions to assist in organizational goal achievement and increased program efficacy.  These discussions ranged from budgeting, to creating a 5-year plan, to organizing program information to prepare for grant applications. The LUPE board was always excited and willing to learn about how our groups could collaborate in order to strengthen their organization and better serve the Latino community in Alamance County. Some of our committee members even had the opportunity to discuss grants with the Board Director in her home over a cup of coffee. Being invited to her house was an amazing experience, in which we learned so much more about her past and her passion for helping others and how that shapes her involvement in LUPE.

     On October 31st, North Carolina held another Faith Action ID drive at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Graham. This event was extremely symbolic of the collaboration between different members of the community, in light of the outcome of the HB318 vote that took place just days before. The event was a huge success, serving over 320 people from North Carolina and surrounding states.  Police officials, religious leaders, media reporters, representatives from community non-profits, students, and local citizens gathered in a single space with a common goal of social justice and human equity.  As student volunteers, the LUPE committee members saw first-hand the power of community organizing and solidarity at work.  With the distribution of IDs, the leaders of Alamance County not only demonstrated their desire to be a part of the integration of the community, but they also defined their role as advocates for immigrant rights through opening a pathway for immigrants to assert their autonomy and–quite literally–their identity within the community.

     In November, our committee was thrilled to hear that all funds raised during our upcoming Cookies to Go-Go event would support LUPE.  In order to supplement the success of Cookies to Go-Go while also exposing our partner to the Elon community, our committee collaborated on an event that would take place alongside the fundraiser’s headquarters in the Moseley Student Center.  There, we planned a live film screening of El Regreso and sold homemade desserts provided by LUPE’s board members.  This event was appropriately called “Cookies to Go-Go LIVE”, as student participants were able to see our Periclean class’s main fundraising event come to fruition, while also having the opportunity to interact with a valuable local partner. Our committee’s sustainable efforts were focused on encouraging Elon students to get to know LUPE and its mission, while also understanding more about Latino culture through the film experience. As this effort was a success both for the members of Periclean and LUPE, we hope to plan a similar event for next semester.  Our committee agreed that Cookies to Go-Go LIVE was a great way to finish the semester and set the trajectory for our committee’s plans to make this relationship truly sustainable. We hope to invest our efforts in the Elon student body by fostering a sense of curiosity, passion, and respect among students with regard to the role LUPE plays in the greater community. By educating other students about the issues that LUPE confronts, we hope to build the foundation for a collaborative relationship that strives to pursue a common vision for social justice even after we graduate.

Erin Luther, Anna deDufour, and Megan Griffin 

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2016 Update – 2/25/16

This week we have been debriefing the PPP Summit event, drafting reports for donors, and sending out thank-yous to all speakers, vendors, etc. An except from the event report is below. Post-Summit, our class committees have also been restructured to focus on our remaining initiatives for the remainder of the semester. The Poster Session committee is responsible for planning an event to showcase our activities and accomplishments over the past three years. The fundraising committee is continuing to focus on planning Cookies-To-Go-Go events for March and April and monitor the Go-Fund-Me page for Christian Jesus at Casa Noble.

The LUPE committee is organizing a time for our class to help with a Habitat build for one of LUPE members (Suyapa) in April, and continuing to work with the ESL classes and curriculum development. Lastly, the book editing committee is providing feedback in advance of the second drafts that will be submitted next week.

Summit Event Report:

“The People, Planet, Profit Sustainable Business Summit was successfully executed on Feb. 20, 2016. The event was hosted by the Periclean Scholars Class of 2016, and was sponsored in conjunction with the Love School of Business, the Elon Office of Sustainability, and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Fund for Excellence Grant.

The mission of the Summit was to illustrate that profitable business, humanitarian ideals, and social/environmental consciousness are not mutually exclusive. Additionally, the Summit was designed as a campus-wide initiative to strengthen the relationship between the business and humanitarian spheres of campus. The half-day event included a keynote speaker; four breakout sessions led by local business owners; and a company fair featuring sustainable businesses and organizations.

Eighty-nine (89) students, faculty, staff, and community members attended the Summit, which was held in McKinnon Auditorium and Moseley Center rooms. In addition to the keynote speaker (Shawn Humphrey), participants chose to attend two of the four 45-minute breakout sessions, each of which focused on a specific theme:

  • Sustainable agriculture (Braeburn Farm, led by Dr. Charles Sydnor)
  • Humanitarian cosmetics (Beautycounter, led by Laura McCall)
  • Sustainable textiles (TS Designs, led by Eric Henry)
  • Ethical artisans (Ten Thousand Villages, led by)

After the breakout sessions ended, participants returned to McKinnon Hall for the conclusion of the event and the company fair, where they had the opportunity to network with local business owners, continue conversations with breakout session leaders, and purchase products provided by the businesses.

Post-event, a survey was sent to participants to gather feedback and suggestions for future, similar events. All of our metrics were either met or exceeded, including number of participants, quality of speakers, budgeting, and event execution. The feedback we have received so far has been overwhelmingly positive and we are so grateful for the help and support of everyone who helped make the Summit possible.


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Planning in progress

Our class tonight was all about planning. Planning for a trip to Honduras, planning for the business summit in the winter, planning fundraising events to support Hope for Honduran Children and planning for future efforts with LUPE. We broke up into committees to plan more efficiently. The three members of our class who will be going to Honduras, Erin Lanzotti, Morgan Abate, and Bethany Stafford Smith, met with Diana from El Centro and Dr. Celis-Castillo. Diana and Dr. Celis-Castillo will be accompanying our three class members to Honduras, so they have been collaborating over the past few weeks to plan for their trip!

The LUPE committee reflected on their Cookies to Go-Go LIVE event on Wednesday, November 11th. The movie El Regreso was shown in the Moseley student center and various desserts were sold to support LUPE. Various members of LUPE came to the event, met the students watching the movie, and brought some of the delicious desserts that were sold!

The committee that is planning for the Business Summit continued their work towards inviting sustainable businesses to the event in order to expose Elon students to this type of business. They are working on promotion of the event and other details to ensure it’s an awesome summit! We are all excited to work on planning as a class for the summit during Winter term.

As we approach Thanksgiving break, exams, and Christmas break, every student in our class is reflecting on our class and individual efforts throughout the fall semester. In addition to this reflective thinking, each student has been working on a purposeful writing assignment that will be due at the end of the semester. The assignments have been planned out by each student and will relate to some aspect of our class.


Some of our class members with the LUPE board members at the Cookies to Go-Go LIVE event

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Class of 2016 Update for 9/29/15

Today we heard the results from the Hope for Honduran Children committee regarding the alumni giving commitment which would essentially commit us, as Pericleans, to donating $100 each per year after graduation. This money would go to helping support H4HC and would be tracked by Morgan Abate as the Periclean of the Year.  We surveyed the class so that each person could anonymously express their approval of this plan. 19 class members said yes to giving for 3 years, 17 said yes to giving for 5 years, and half said yes to giving for 10 years. The committee will decide where we should go from here.

Morgan Abate also gave a presentation today on her experience in Ecuador last semester with an organization called La Fundacion El Arenal. It is run by indigenous women from outside of the city and it hosts impoverished children from ages 5-15. The goals of the organization are to help the children with their homework while also creating a daily routine for the children which includes time for homework, recreation, snack and cleaning responsibilities. Many of these children come from a poor family life including physical, verbal and sexual abuse. Morgan also discussed some problems associated with short and long term volunteers that came to the foundation. Specifically, she talked about complications with volunteers from UNC Charlotte who were non-Spanish speakers, first year students, and only there for three days. She felt that their involvement may have been more destructive for the students than constructive. The foundation also required mandatory health and nutrition based workshops for the parents of these students.

We had many announcements today including an update on the Elevator speech, which Arianna and Caroline are working on. We were reminded to attend Celebrating Periclean, and the LUPE committee conveyed that they will be inviting those women to attend. We decided that next week’s class will be at Peacehaven, a farm that Christian is involved with. We also decided that, rather than having class on 10/20, all will be required to attend the deliberative discussion on immigration in McKinnon. April has RSVP’d to this event on behalf of our class. We also talked about the Faith ID program bill which, Morgan and Anna relayed, is likely to pass through Congress. This bill will block these ID’s from being valid. LUPE is having a rally to protest this bill and it would be nice to have our class attend to show our support and also to have some non-hispanic faces. Finally, those who are interested in going on the Honduras trip in January need to update April on their status in this decision process.

We ended with committee updates. The P3 committee is still working on getting speakers and are in contact with a number of businesses. Anna and Caroline found a keynote speaker who they think would be perfect, Sean Humphrey, so they want the classes approval to continue communication with him. We would likely also offer him some money to come and speak. Other things for the P3 committee to be working on include: solidifying the lunch options at the summit, deciding if vendors will be able to sell goods at the summit, establishing when people will be able to begin registering for the summit. It seems that the main challenge they face right now is getting businesses to come and speak.

The fundraising committee made $535 last week in Cookies-to-Go-Go. They sold 700 cookies to 140 people, which is more than double what they did last year. In their committee meeting, they talked about setting the date for the next Cookies-to-Go-Go which will likely be November 11th. They also talked about ways to improve and make this better.

The LUPE committee was very busy this week. They met with Blanca Sunday night to talk about a grant, they also did tutoring this past week and went to two LUPE board members houses. Anna and Abby are meeting with Suyapa and Miriam to discuss another tutoring program; however, Anna and Abby will have to relay that we currently do not have the capacity to support another program. They are going to suggest some other organizations that may be able to help them such as EV.

H4HC will ahve the conversation this week about the proposal for the post-graduation funding initiative and come back to the class with what they have decided.

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2016 Update

This week in Periclean.. we celebrated Dia de Independencia by sending our friends in Honduras a greeting (: We also went to the fiesta hosted by El Centro! There was great music and company! But of course, it wasn’t just a fiesta for the entire class.

Currently, we are working in our committees to get various tasks done. We are excited to be collaborating with LASO and El Centro to make sure our efforts with LUPE are sustainable. We are also in the process of finding speakers, companies, etc. for our very exciting business summit happening in February!

We are also planning the class trip to Honduras for this winter term. We are excited that our trip has been approved because it has been a lot of work! We have various members of the class who are interested in going to Honduras and spending time with our partner Hope for Honduran Children!

Cookies to go-go is back! Keep an eye out for when cookie orders begin so you can all get some delicious, warm cookies, while also supporting Periclean!

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Return Excitement

At this point in our Periclean careers, we have come to expect that our best-laid plans will fall apart the most and our smallest plans can become our greatest accomplishments. From each of these we have become more resilient and become better through self-reflection.
Our first day back was no exception. We were thrown right back into discussions of our partnerships, both locally and in Honduras. Our committees got right to work with planning and feasibility discussions. But to set the tone for the day we began no other way than with some imparted wisdom from none other than Dr. Tom Arcaro himself. Dr. Arcaro led with updates ranging from the exciting news that our Periclean Winter Term class has been approved as an upper level GST to the reforms to the class syllabi and our class identity. In terms of the Syllabus, Periclean is moving towards a more formal tone and inclusion of 9 core principles, with each class embodying a theme:
• Sophomore Theme: letter writing to elected officials
• Junior Theme: grant writing
• Senior Theme: putting it all together, organizing SURF sessions for producing research and arguments
After this update on the Periclean program at large, we came back to our committees and the work of each of the 4 groups: Summit in Honduras, Hope for Honduran Children, LUPE, and People, Planet, Profit

Summit in Honduras
Updates from each were shared from the Summit in Honduras committee regarding our recent separation from our partner and the address of communication, next steps and alternative projects.

Hope for Honduran Children
We are working towards a feasible project with the NGO and partner, proposition of a transition home expansion project and sustainable sponsorship of sending a Honduran student to Elon for a semester. The class will reflect and decide the following class.

Casey and Anna have developed an ESL class in which students can volunteer at LUPE and have created an incredible pre-planned lessons guide for these volunteers. Way to go ladies!! The committee attended a board meeting for the program and relayed passionate excitement along with many ideas for the programs future including summer camps and their own space. The committee will continue to focus on grant writing and youth development.

People, Planet, Profit
The committee has been hard at work on both programming as well as outreach. The event blurb has been included in the Spring Cultural calendar and 2 grants from the Love School of Business and Fund for Excellence Grant have been awarded! Additionally, registration and event media has been in the works including a live website and promotional materials.

It has been an exciting first day back and with so much to accomplish and work toward this year, we are eager to return to our commitments as Periclean Scholars in our Capstone year.

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Vetting Potential Partners- Advice from and to Periclean Scholars

The important process of vetting
In our work as Periclean Scholars we are often faced with the challenge of critically evaluating Non-profits, NGOs, and generally any aid program in another country. This task, necessary for establishing an open and authentic partnership, is challenging for many reasons. It can be hard to know where to begin in evaluating an organization, what criteria to measure and how to access the right information. It can also be hard setting standards. What issues are passable or necessary given the nature of aid work and what issues should be considered important enough to exclude the possibility of a partnership? Our class developed a partnership questionnaire in response to this challenge, which can be found in Mapping Our Successes: The Periclean Handbook, but that document does not show the entire process of evaluating an organization.

There are three general categories our Class deemed were critical in evaluating a non-profit when considering a partnership: internal structure, finance, and programming. The first category concerns itself with how decisions are made and how challenges are responded to, as well as the makeup of the power-structure and the decision-making hierarchy of the organization. The second category is concerned with financial sustainability. The final category, programming, has to do with how target communities are identified and communicated with, as well as how programs are designed, implemented and assessed. Because potential partner organizations come in all shapes and sizes, it’s very difficult to establish standards or criteria with which to evaluate. Instead, our Class identified, as discussed below, several key considerations and warning signs for each category.


Internal Structure
The vast majority of Non-profit organizations has a board of directors, usually comprised of around 12 individuals who guide the organization, decide it’s goals, and advise the director. The board is usually comprised of some funders, some members of the organization (such as the director, the founder), and a financial officer. A great sign for any NGO is if a member of that organizations target community is part of the board. In fact, the most successful and determined NGOs are started by communities that want to help themselves and have multiple community members on their board. It’s important to communicate with as many board members as possible; these people know everything there is to know about the organization and are usually willing to share their opinion. Talking only with a director or founder can sometimes result in optimistic information; board members are generally less involved with the challenges of running the organization and can give more honest opinions.

It is also important to find out the responsibilities of the director, how they delegate tasks and how they make decisions. A good director will communicate closely with their board and staff about challenges and decisions, and will take everyone’s input into consideration. A definite red-flag is if a director makes all or most decisions independent of any input. Directors often spend most of their time fund-raising, coordinating with staff about projects,  and designing new projects or modifying existing projects. If they aren’t doing all of this with the well-informed feedback of the board and the target community, that’s a red flag. Another thing to look out for in a director is a white-savior complex or a MONGO complex, you can read about those in a blog post by our program Director Tom Arcaro.


When inquiring about finances, it’s important to get some key numbers. To get a good grasp of an organization’s finances, find out their annual costs of operation, their annual income, and the size of their endowment. The annual income should obviously be larger than their costs, but it’s important to understand also what an organization’s sources of income are. Is this organization relying on donations? Are most of the donations large or small, reoccurring or one-time? If an organization gets most of it’s money from small, one-time donors, that can be time consuming and it is a red flag for sustainability. Donations can be a great way to raise funds, but grants are better. Many organizations work annually off of the money from multiple grants that they reapply for continually, once an organization satisfies a grant’s requirements once it is a good bet that they will satisfy those same requirements when reapplying. A sustainable, successful and healthy organization will know where it’s funding will come from for years in advance. A good sign is if an organization has a grant-writer on staff, you can ask that person how successful the organization has been at applying for grants. If an organization is putting all of its effort into small-scale donation-based fund-raising, that’s a red flag. Below is a link to a site where you can find, at the least, a 501c3’s annual revenue and expenditures, sometimes you can even find information on their board, impact metrics and some external reviews:


There are two critical components to effective aid/development programming: critical research and community input. If only one of those components is considered, you’ll end up with partially effective programming at best, and harmful or toxic aid at worst. Critical research must be done to understand the history of aid programming targeted at a given issue in a given demographic community. This research can steer program development in the right direction, it can show us what has succeeded and what has failed, and sometimes it can even show us why. Critical research can also key us in to the systemic causes of a certain issue; for example, perhaps a well-building program isn’t a good solution when a textiles factory up-stream is polluting the groundwater. However, no matter how much research is done, no program should be seriously considered without the critical feedback and input of the target community. In my experience, cultural insensitivity, or rather blatant cultural ignorance is the cause of most failed aid. Ideally, the target community is involved in program-development from the brainstorming stage; they know what issues harm them the most and what solutions they are willing to adopt. Furthermore, a community that has ownership and creatorship in a program is immeasurably more likely to put in the work to maintain that program in the event that the non-profit has to become less involved.

So, when communicating with a potential partner NGO/non-profit, ask about why they implement programming in the way that they do, and ask how they developed the program. In any case, if you hear phrases like, “we/I couldn’t stand to see the suffering, so we had to do something”, avoid that organization like the plague. There’s actually two things wrong with the above language: first, there’s a savior complex implied, this organization was motivated by pity and likely has egoistic motives; second, they focused more on the problem than the solution, and that leads to programming that merely eases the detectable symptoms of some problem instead of addressing the root causes(someone should do a case study on how many orphanages it takes to eliminate childhood poverty, or maybe I’m just thinking of the start of a really morbid joke). Also, when asking about programming, the more community involvement an organization actively seeks the better.

The last major consideration with programming is an organizations metrics for measurement. A metric for measurement is how an organization determines the effectiveness of their programming. This can take many forms, quantitative or qualitative, and is entirely dependent on the type of aid being delivered. What’s important here is that critical metrics are in place, and that the organization isn’t throwing money at a problem and hoping for the best. A good organization measures the number of individuals it reaches and the amount of money spent on each person/community. The best organizations start with the goal to improve or reduce some easily measured condition, such as #individuals facing malnutrition, and then measure that metric constantly and revises it’s programming to achieve the best results. When quantitative measurements aren’t possible, unbiased and impersonal qualitative feedback is necessary.


These considerations are far from exhaustive, and may not be completely applicable in all cases. Hopefully though, this gives you a starting place when considering how to vet a particular organization. Remember, whatever organization you partner with becomes a reflection of the Periclean Scholars, so make sure that you hold them to those standards we strive to attain ourselves while knowing that they face the same real-world challenges we face. If an organization presents with some red flags, tell them. It can be socially challenging, but if we want to help the communities of our target countries it means helping these organizations get better as well. If an organization is unwilling to or unable to address the issues you find in the vetting process, you must decide whether to design your partnership in a way that avoids the dangers implicit in those red flags or if it is better to avoid a partnership. This can be a challenging decision, but it is important to take it seriously enough that you experience the frustration of challenge.


Author: Christian Gilbert, Periclean Scholars Class of 2016

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Class of 2016, April 21st Update

We have been working hard with our partners H4HC, Summit in Honduras, and LUPE. A few students in our class have developed a curriculum to use for the LUPE classes to provide some structure and flow between weeks.

The Summit committee had another great skype session with Maggie about future projects and the (possible) trip to Honduras next winter term. Both Karen and Maggie are in agreement that it would be an enriching experience for our class to visit Honduras to see the work we are doing in person.

In addition, we’ve also been discussing the stole design and creation with Karen and the boys in H4HC. We hope to pay the boys to make and embroider them and get them before graduation next year.

We also wanted to congratulate the Class of 2018 on their acceptance and induction into the Periclean Scholars program! We are all looking forward to the great things your class will accomplish in the next three years.

Peace and love,

Jen Adams

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Class 10

The past few weeks we have broken up into committees for the majority of our class. We have found that this is an efficient way to get work done for each initiative we have committed to. We are excited about the work we are doing with Summit in Honduras, Hope for Honduran Children and LUPE. We are also developing our plans for the business summit that will be held next spring. We are in the process of getting this event approved by Elon.

Members of our class had the pleasure of attending a LUPE board meeting this past week. This was very beneficial in further determining what LUPE is and how we can help them! We have decided to research grants in order to find funding for one of their specific needs. We would like to collaborate with LUPE in writing the grant in order for this to be a sustainable process. It would be advantageous for their organization to have grant writing skills that can regularly support their organization.


The Summit in Honduras committee was able to Skype with Maggie! They had a great conversation with her about potential ways we can help her organization. We are trying to focus on plans that we can achieve here, rather than projects that would require us to be in Honduras. We got very exciting news that one of the Hope for Honduran boys will be working with Summit. We are all very excited that our partners have formed a relationship that benefits individuals in Honduras!

Cookies to Go Go was a successful event again this year! We raised over $300.00! These funds will go toward providing children in Honduras with school supplies through Hope for Honduran Children.


We are all very excited to meet the new class of Pericleans at the Induction Ceremony on Thursday!

induction ceremony

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Class of 2016 April 7th class notes

First, we spent about 10-15 minutes in small group discussion about the homework for today, which was to watch an 18 minute documentary along with an accompanying article about the dangers that journalists are facing in Honduras. We then reconvened to discuss our thoughts. We talked about the large role that the government is playing in the violence in Honduras, in addition to the influence that transnational organizations are having on conflicts. Furthermore, we discussed the phrase, “Latin America as America’s backyard” and how that might relate to aid and service work. More specifically, the language and rhetoric that is used to reference aid is usually paternalistic or assertive in nature.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.11.28 PM

We were also able to have a quick Skype conversation with Erin Luther, one of our class members who is currently abroad in Spain. She relayed some of her experiences there such as playing soccer with locals and information about her classes. She also discussed the differences between learning Spanish there and in Argentina. She found that she was more accustomed to Spanish in Argentina because she took a language class that informed her of common phrases and customs in the language.

After our Skype with Erin, we had committee updates and I think the class is pleased with the progress we are making. The LUPE committee has decided to help LUPE become a 501C rather than applying for grants. They are also planning to attend the next LUPE board meeting, trying to schedule a dinner with Blanca, and are looking into opening the El Centro fitness classes to LUPE.

The Elon Summit committee is also making a lot of progress. Aidan is in contact with the Moseley Center, and has reserved several locations. There has also been a date set for the Summit: February 20, 2016! The Summit is titled, “People, Planet, Profit,” the general programming is complete, the email is ready to be sent to potential organizations, and the budget is finalized. Additionally, Savannah submitted a Fund for Excellence grant to help fund the Summit.

We are also looking forward to Cookies-to-go-go this week, our largest fundraising event. Lexi reported that we have over $100 in orders currently, and Isabel is handling the advertising and social media. We discussed logistics for the fundraiser such as kitchen locations, cooking supplies, and the need for a social media blast.


We reserved announcements for the end of class, where we discussed the Induction ceremony next Thursday and the need for each member of our class to be present. We also voted on a t-shirt design. Finally, we split up into committees to catch up and finalize any plans for the upcoming week. Summit in Honduras committee is planning to talk with Maggie soon, as she recently responded to our emails. Dr. Arcaro stopped by the class to remind us of the induction and inform us of the speaker, Kevin, who has been with Periclean since 2007 and knows the program very well. We are looking forward to the induction and Kevin’s speech. Dr. Arcaro also relayed that the newest class has 33 very promising and enthusiastic students being inducted. We are excited to welcome them!

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In the aftermath: Experiencing the effects of short-term international service trips

In the aftermath: Experiencing the effects of short-term international service trips  

by Morgan Abate, ’16

As a Periclean Scholar abroad in South America, I felt I had a duty to contribute something to my class and the program as a whole. It’s always difficult to contribute to the program from so far, but I was committed.

IMG_3888I decided that I would work with a poor community within my city, Cuenca, Ecuador. My program introduced me to an after-school nonprofit called Fundacion El Arenal that works with kids whose parents work in the local market. Without the Fundacion, these kids would most likely be working from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., taking a five hour break for school and not doing homework. If they don’t do homework, they fail, and are stuck in the same cycle of poverty.

As of this posting, I have been abroad for two and a half months, working in the Fundacion every day except Fridays. I help the kids with their homework from 2:30 to 4, then make sure that they eat the snack they’re given. At around 4:45 Monday through Wednesday, they start workshops in communications, math and art. I work in the art room with another German volunteer and one teacher. Every week, the ages of the students we work with changes. Sometimes the students are 6 and 7. Other weeks, they are 13 and 14.

Voluntourism within the Fundacion

Several weeks ago, the Fundacion had 20 volunteers. Seven of us are there on a regular basis. The other thirteen came from UNC Charlotte, and were spending their spring break exploring Cuenca and implementing a project in the Fundacion.

During that group’s tenure here, I wrote a blog about voluntourism because, through my Periclean eyes, that’s what I saw. I saw eager college kids who barely knew Spanish trying to help kids with their homework and taking photos. They would pick them up, put them on their shoulders, play with them and forget their homework – because they could not help them.

In said blog post, I said that I did not want someone to tell me “Well, they’re only here for a week.”

Well guess what? I have now started to see the after effects of that week.

Some might argue that helping cannot hurt. We enter impoverished areas in the United States or in other countries around the world with the greatest of intentions – I don’t deny that. We want to help. We want to understand the people we’re helping and make a difference in their lives. How could we possibly make their lives worse when they live in poverty?

I’ll tell you how.

On Thursday, one of the directors of the Fundacion explained to the children that the volunteers are not allowed to pick them up anymore. This policy had been in place for about a week, and unfortunately, because of a change in my schedule at the university, from 12-17 March, I could not be in the Fundacion and thus did not know about this change. The director, though, had only told the volunteers about this change. The kids still clamored to be picked up and we had to tell them no. Finally, the director had to directly tell the kids.

According to her, their parents were not happy with the volunteers picking their kids up, spinning them, putting them on their shoulders and letting them do flips by holding the volunteers’ hands. The parents claimed that it made their kids ill-behaved at home.

The week that this large group was in Ecuador, the parents had their first workshop for cooking healthy meals – and nutrition in general. That means that all of the kids’ parents witnessed these Western volunteers picking up their children. My guess is that once they saw it, it made them uncomfortable, and they did not like it. Culturally it might not have been acceptable, either, especially since these children come from rough and more-often-than-not abusive homes.

Now, I don’t know if the kids truly were misbehaved more because they were spoiled at the Fundacion, nor is it my position to argue why they were or not. The point is that it upset the parents. It made them wary of volunteers.

If you ask me, that’s causing some harm.

Next were the actual workshops the group helped with. Instead of helping with last year’s project – English – they started a hygiene workshop. Hygiene is necessary to learn and to teach, yes, and I’ll admit that I don’t know what these classes consisted of entirely. But the teachers had already instilled the need to wash hands with these kids. There were the kids who listen and always wash their hands before meals anyway – and those who never listen. You won’t be able to change their minds in a week.

And of course, the remnants of those workshops aren’t visible. Kids still don’t wash their hands – and I doubt they brush their teeth every day. They’re still misbehaved and still try to delay their homework.

All that remains from that week are freshly painted walls with minions from Despicable Me – the only real choiceIMG_3890 the kids had that week.

The debate over voluntourism

Dr. Arcaro posted about voluntourism around the same time that I was witnessing volunteer traveling in my own neighborhood. It angered me. I have tried so hard not to be a voluntourist.

But even as I go through my own experience abroad, I am realizing that not everything I’m doing is good. I leave in two months and then what? These kids are used to people coming and going – and never returning. Thankfully, my primary purpose for being here is studying; I chose to donate my time to this Fundacion. Thankfully, I can speak Spanish and can help them with their homework. Sometimes, though, we can’t understand each other.

What’s more is I’ve started thinking more about Periclean and its role within international aid. If you ask me, after the experience I’ve had with the UNC Charlotte group and my own, I’d advise that Pericleans stop going to their country of focus to implement projects. Maybe having a few go down to visit partners is a good idea, but sending the whole class for two, three weeks? I see an extension of what happened here happening there. The work is better left to those on the ground.

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