Tuesday, February 23, 2010

For Two Students, Semester Abroad Means Changing Lives, Including Their Own

By Liesel Nowak

Vanessa Lancaster and Jeincy Paniagua went from enjoying hot meals at
Hunt Dining Hall to taking cold showers in Central America … and they
love every minute of it.

           The senior social work students are in El Progreso,
Honduras, for a semester-long internship working with underprivileged
children and families, putting into action what they’ve studied in
textbooks and in the classroom. Through this unique opportunity,
they’re also discovering more about themselves and others.

           The pioneering duo is blogging about their efforts, which
are part of Mary Baldwin’s first international internship placement,
according to Mary Clay Thomas, assistant professor of Social Work.

           “Every day in Honduras is a new experience,” Paniagua
said. “I’ve learned to be more culturally sensitive, open, and just
take everything in. I’m always making comparisons between Honduras and
the United States: the government, education, and culture. I am
putting everything I have learned in my years at MBC and applying it

           Applying classroom lessons about how to work with groups
and analyze communities, Lancaster said she’s “constantly learning
something new.”

           “I have learned to step up and become a leader, and I
learned how to properly prepare for a group project,” she said.

           Both students are working for Organization for Youth
Empowerment, or OYE, a well-established and respected group that
provides academic scholarships for children, including many who have
been asked to quit school to work and support their families. OYE
staff will often make house calls in El Progreso and in the outlying
areas, to help stress to parents the importance of education.

           Justin Eldridge-Otero, co-founder of the organization,
said Paniagua and Lancaster are directly serving some of the most
marginalized communities in one of the poorest countries of the
Western hemisphere. He praised them for making a “tremendous impact”
not only on OYE’s youth, but the greater Honduran community as well.

           “It is hard to put into context how significant their
presence is in the lives of these youth, many of whom have no positive
role models and draw an incredible amount of strength from the talent
and passion of two young female volunteers such as Jeincy and
Vanessa,” Eldridge-Otero said. “I applaud and thank Mary Baldwin
College for their innovative spirit, dedication, and desire to affect
the lives of young people across borders.”

           In addition to spending time at OYE, Lancaster and
Paniagua also work at a nutrition center, helping severely
malnourished youngsters. The students bathe, dress, and feed babies
they say are “in very poor condition.”

           Thomas learned of OYE through her husband, who traveled to
Honduras on an alternative spring break trip with students from
another college, and passed along to her students the enthusiasm he
brought home. The professor was in El Progreso at the beginning of the
year to make sure Lancaster and Paniagua settled in. When she left the
students, she witnessed them display a range of emotions.

           “They were everything. They were definitely nervous. But
they’ve been great,” Thomas said, noting that both women had
previously traveled internationally — to El Salvador and the
Philippines — and were not shocked to be without the comforts of home.

           Lancaster, who grew up in San Diego, and Paniagua, who was
raised in Alexandria, are staying with a family of four who rent the
second floor of their house to OYE.

           “We don’t have hot water, so we only take cold showers.
When we want to cook dinner, we turn our propane tank on and light a
match to get the fire started,” Lancaster said.

           When water is scarce, Paniagua said the students must
collect rainwater to wash dishes.

           “Our washing machine was broken the first weeks we were
here, and Vanessa and I really needed clothes so we decided to hand
wash the clothes that we desperately wanted or needed,” Paniagua said.
“That was definitely an experience. We had a bucket and we sat on the
floor and just scrubbed away. I’ll never forget doing that.”

           Keeping track of the students’ experience through the OYE
blog (oyehonduras.blogspot.com) are family, friends, and fellow social
work students, offering feedback and encouragement along the way. The
women say they blog not only to share their experiences in a foreign
country, but to spread the word about OYE’s work.

           I’m so proud of them,” Thomas said. “They’ve been so
amazing — sending me these journal entries — they’re so excited and so
entrenched in the community.”

OYE el Ritmo Adelante!

El año recién comienza para l@s estudiantes de OYE el Ritmo, programa de radio de OYE, ya han iniciado las clases y por supuesto también las actividades en la cabina de grabación. L@s becados están haciendo de lo suyo con mucho dinamismo y ya estamos por terminar la primera edición de 2010!

Muy pronto podrás escucharnos "on-line" con temas, segmentos y reportajes siempre fresco! Donde l@s jóvenes han mostrado un desarrollo en su trabajo.

Algunos alumnos han destacado en esta primera etapa del año por su talento, creatividad y esfuerzo para seguir adelante! Entre Ellos: Lizeth, Josúe, Keyla, Gustavo, Nerys, Yarli y nuestro nuevo compañero César.
¡Felicidades Jóvenes! 

Cada vez lo hacen mejor! Soy Melissa Quijada, OYE el Ritmo...Adelante!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


It's time! Are you looking to have an adventure, make a change and create lifelong friendships?

Get your gear, 15% goes directly to youth

New OYE Volunteer Shirt. Check out our on-line store to get yours and 15% is directly donated to OYE. So, look good and make the change.

Design More OYE gear at Zazzle.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Clip of the Week

This clip of the week was taking during one of our the Magazine meetings where we started the meeting with a 3 min ice breaker. Or at least that is what Marisol thinks.

As for the rest of the OYE team, we like to call this "Aerobics with Marisol". Feel free to whip out your strech pants, clear the living room and sweat along.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Volunteer with OYE

As I am volunteering at the nutrition center three times a week, I am building a better relationship with the kids and the more I understand that I am here for them and this is exactly what I enjoy doing. I feel like I came here to help the kids and to be a positive role model for the OYE students. I feel like the nutrition center is social work because these kids come from a family who might be poor, who doesn´t know how to take care of their kids properly, and so on. The staff members in the nutrition center are dedicated to teach these parents how to take care of their children and to help these children grow stronger. This is why I came to Honduras, to make a difference in others. In addition, this is why I love the social work profession because it is different everyday and there is so much to do with a social work degree. There is something inside me that that motivates me to do this kind of work and it´s a great feeling to have because I feel more confident and I feel like each day I am satisfied that I am giving back to the community. Furthermore, I also feel like I am doing social work in OYE. Soon enough I will partner with Jeincy to do some group work with the OYE students focusing on Honduran Reality. It will be an interesting and exciting experience for the reason that I have never help lead a group. It will also be very challenging for me because my spanish is still limited, but I am getting better communicating in spanish.

A couple things that have been rewarding this past week was the fact that I am not a stranger at the nutrition center anymore. The kids recognize me and are eager to play with me. On Friday, when I took a taxi home, this woman started talking to me in spanish and it was so random too. I couldn´t understand everything she had said to me, but I was able to connect the words and understand some of what she said. She finally realized and said in spanish ¨you´re not from here are you¨ and I said no. It was funny because she then said that she thought I was just another honduran. We then started talking in spanish and had a good small conversation it was awesome and gave me more confidence. As I approached the apartment, I said hi to my neighbor in which I always do because she likes to sit out during the evening about the time I finish work. She noticed I was walking by myself and so she asked me where my other friend was at and I told her she was still in the office. We also had a conversation and she also asked me where I work at, what I do, and where in the States I am from. It was good to talk with my neighbor. Our pulperia also knows us. One day I went to the Pulperia and bought some saldo (minutes for my phone) and she talked with me for a bit and before I left the store she gave me lollipops! she was so sweet. There was also one day when she talked to me and Jeincy for about 15 minutes just getting to know us. It was great.

Something scary and funny that happened recently was when jeincy and I decided to take the bus home in which we have never done yet. So last week, we decided to take a risk and be brave. We took the bus home, just to realize that the route the bus took was starting to become less familiar and we ended up on the OTHER side of our community. It was funny because we entered that bus with this confidence and knowing we´ll be home soon. So when it wasn´t familiar anymore we left our bus and took a taxi home. It was kind of scary because the community was a little sketchy, but it was still daylight.

This past Saturday all 75 OYE students came together and had a meeting at a local high school. This is when OYE staff passed out checks to students for the whole month of their school. This process of giving out checks to students will take place next month as well. After we passed out checks and had some snacks, we played an ice breaker showed in the pictures. Overall it was a fun experience.

Yesterday we visited Leo´s community. We visited a school and two homes. The school definitely needs some improvement. The desks these children have are unstable to write on or sit on. There are only 3 teachers teaching over 200 students. 6th and 5th grade share a classroom as well as 4th and 3rd grade. kindergarten, first grade, and second grade have their own classrooms because they believe they requrie the most attention. Since it poured with rain yesterday, it made it harder to get around the community. We had to jump over big streams of water, or ¨rivers¨what I like to call them to walk on solid ground. It was just really muddy.. and when it gets like this the buses don´t go through the community because of the streets, it´s hard to drive on when it rains. I learned that it is common that people can´t read or write here. I also learned that some parents take their children out of school so they can help support their family which in the long run delays their education. For example, we saw some 11 year olds who were only in 3rd grade.

So, this week Jeincy and I have been working really hard to prepare for our group work: Honduran Reality. It is coming out very well thus far. I am nervous about how it will turn out, but excited to try something new!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Primer Mensual de OYE 2010

Saturday, February 6, 2010 was the first meeting for the OYE becarios. The meeting took place en la Casa de la Cultura. We left the office on our way to the meeting, we could see the becarios walking to the location and looking very excited. As we entered the Casa de la Cultura you could hear the laughter of the becarios in the hall way and when we entered they were for the most part seated and ready to rumble. One of the OYE staff members pointed out that you could tell who the new becarios were, because they were sitting on the other side opposite from the old becarios. The staff members quickly changed the fact that they weren´t together and they all became one, sitting together. The meeting went smoothly and everyone seemed really excited.
One of the biggest differences and I think is a positive one was that the old becarios were very confident in everyway. It´s positive because you can notice and tell that OYE is making a difference in their lives. One of the things I´m very excited to see is the change that the new becarios will make.
My favorite part was the end of the meeting where they played a game, 75 becarios had to play.
They got into a big circle and had to introduce themselves and then Luis would say everyone who is wearing sandles (for example) change seats. You then see like 10 students running around trying to not be the one without a seat. If you don´t get a seat then you get a
punishment that is put on by the group, they can make you sing, dance, act like a chicken, anything. It was a very fun interactive game that allowed the students to have fun together.

I can´t wait for next months meeting and just being able to see differences in a month. Capacity groups start this week and the radio/magazine are going on now too. I´m just so excited about all of this :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

An Amazing Return Visit

Hello OYE Family!

First of all, thanks to Kat for allowing me to participate in the OYE Blog.

January 15th I received the best New Year's present ever: A trip to OYE's offices in El Progreso.

I had the great opportunity to serve as OYE's Program Coordinator from 2007 to 2008. The year I spent with OYE was full of fun, new and challenging work, amazing conversations, eye-opening lessons and the joy of watching OYE's youth grow, flourish and push the boundaries of what OYE could be.
A little over a year later, on my first return trip to OYE's offices, I was overwhelmed, but in no way surprised, by the important work that OYE's members are engaged in.

OYE is an organization propelled by the voice, energy, enthusiasm and, of course, empowerment of youth. It is visible in every thing they do. Walking into the office and listening to the students explain to me how the radio program has grown, looking over their published magazines, listening to how much they've fundraised (on their own and in El Progreso!), was such a joy. I remember the very first radio program we did in OYE's offices. OYE members that were then giggling embarrassedly and asking how the microphones work, are now sitting within a recording booth and explaining to me how their brand new stereo equipment works (that they bought with the money THEY fundraised.)

It was wonderful to see the faces of the youth that I worked with. I reflected on all the time we worked together. From reading their applications, to meeting them for the first time, interviews, house visits, meeting their parents, leadership training. They all looked older, more mature. They spoke to me with the strong, certain voices that they had always possessed, but that now contain even more pride and ownership of their work. We sat down and talked about some of the things that happened in their lives during 2009. OYE members have experienced weddings, graduations, moves, new relationships - even a singing debut! We spoke of the difficult political period that Hondurans continue to live with everyday. They have full and busy lives, and yet, their commitment to OYE is clearly based in love and pride. They are proud of all that they are achieving.

Of course, a reflection on my trip to OYE would not be complete without recognizing the amazing work that the OYE staff has done to bring the organization to the point it is at now. I was beyond excited and happy to see Luis, and it was wonderful to meet Kat. The additional OYE staff were incredibly welcoming to us and it is clear that they form a strong and dedicated support system for the work of OYE's youth.
OYE, you all are an inspiration! From the first time I heard about OYE's work, I was inspired and motivated by the organization's message. There is no comparison to seeing that message lived out in the words and actions of OYE's youth.

Thank you for the WONDERFUL visit. Un abrazote y saludos a todos.

Hasta Pronto!!!


All Together Again

Today was the first monthly meeting for 2010. In these monthly meetings OYE staff communicate with all 75 students about monthly activities, distribute scholarships, and participate in community building exercises. 

OYE Students

The new volunteers with the Luis and Marisol. 

Youth checkin' over the calender...and loving it. 

Community building games lead by Luis and Kat.