"Sustainable Service, Sustainable Partnerships, Sustainable Global Impact"
Note: Please take into considersation that significant changes have been made to my original proposal since the application process. After I was awarded the fellowship, it was recommended that I broaden my scope and to travel outside of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. As a result, I have expanded my travel itinerary to include Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Additionally, I have altered my research focus around specific NGOs in order to identify service learning opportunities in post-conflict/democracy building countries.
In the past four years, Vanderbilt has strengthened its academics and created innovative new programs. Vanderbilt has opened its doors to new voices, new opinions, and new ideas. These changes and signs of growth make me proud to be a Vanderbilt student and upcoming alumna. However, there are steps still to be made in Vanderbilt's future. We need to challenge ourselves outside of Vanderbilt's gates and outside of the United States.
As a leading academic institution, Vanderbilt has the potential to set the precedent for other universities by offering more scholastic and service opportunities overseas. Vanderbilt has stretched its boundaries internationally, but only a few students know about these incredible opportunities. For example, only a handful of students are knowledgeable of the Michael B. Keegan Fellowship and its past recipient projects. Moreover, how many students know that Vanderbilt established a partnership with schools in Sri Lanka? Although Vanderbilt has taken great steps in recent years, I propose that we can raise the bar and become the academic leader in the international community.
The purpose of my fellowship project is to create a sustainable network of international volunteer, internship, or employment opportunities for college students in Latin America. As a graduating senior, I have found it difficult to find employment in the non-profit or NGO sector due to a lack of professional/international experience. Most organizations require two-five years of experience. After spending countless hours on Idealist.org, it occurred to me that there is not a current resource for students to find international opportunities. Moreover, if there are international opportunities, they are limited, underdeveloped, and costly. The goals of my fellowship program are the following:
Specifically, I would like to discover the international opportunities in three Latin American countries: Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. I have chosen Latin America for various reasons. First off all, in recent years, Africa and Asia have received international attention after this past year's devastating tsunami, the AIDS epidemic, and from recent Michael B. Keegan Fellows. On the other hand, Latin America is our next door neighbor. The Latino population is growing at a rapid rate in the United States, and it is predicted that Latinos will be our country’s largest group by 2050. Furthermore, Latin America is a region that faced a devastating debt crisis, economic turmoil, political unrest, and it struggles to maintain democracy even today. At the same time, it is also a region abundant in natural resources and rich in indigenous culture.
After one week in Guatemala as the co-site leader for Alternative Spring Break, I had the first hand opportunity to witness the importance of the Michael B. Keegan Fellowship. We volunteered at Primeros Pasos Medical Clinic. It was established by Brent Savoie, a Vanderbilt Traveling Fellow. In addition to creating a sustainable international network of volunteer/employment opportunities, I think it is also important to sustain the projects of past fellows. The incredible accomplishments of past fellows should not go unrecognized, nor should their projects end after one year. In Guatemala, I would like to accomplish three goals:
Secondly, I would travel to Mexico because there is an overwhelming need for volunteers and aid. According to UNICEF, 75% of the children in rural Mexico are malnourished. Furthermore, diarrhea is a result of a poor diet and a leading cause of death among children. Issues of public health and malnutrition are two major concerns in Mexico. In Mexico, I would contact organizations that address these issues. For example, I could form a partnership with a non-profit organization such as Puente a la Salud Comunitaria. Puente, a partner with Amigos de las Americas, focuses on sustainable development in Oaxaca by incorporating the Amaranth plant into the Mexican diet. Amaranth is a versatile plant that is found in Mexico, Guatemala, and other Latin American countries. I would like to explore the service opportunities in Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico.
Lastly, I would travel to Belize to diversify the volunteer opportunities made available to college students. Although most of Latin America is Spanish-speaking, Belize is English-speaking. By incorporating Belize into the international service opportunity network, more students can benefit from their cross-cultural service experience. Belize faces similar issues of poverty, malnutrition, sustainable development, and sanitation issues as Mexico and Guatemala.
In all three countries, I would evaluate the on-site assessment of need, on-site contacts, demographic profile, cost of living, short term and long term projects, prerequisites and requirements of volunteers, and fundraising needs. I also propose that I spend at least one month (pre-departure) in Washington D.C. to make contacts with local non-profits and NGOs in order to become more knowledgeable about the opportunities that already exist in Latin America.
As a Michael B. Keegan fellow, I would represent Vanderbilt University and the importance of cross-cultural immersion for students as a part of their undergraduate/graduate experience. Not only would this opportunity allow me to personally grow and to pursue my passion to serve others, but it also allows me to educate others about Latino culture and the lasting rewards of service. Finally, this project permits me to challenge the boundaries of international service, develop personal and professional service partnerships, and to proudly introduce Vanderbilt as the future leader of service-learning opportunities in Latin America.