Thursday, March 22, 2012

Columbia University's Alternate Spring Break

Columbia University Volunteers at OYE, March 2012
In the early morning of March 9, 2012 a group of graduate students from Columbia University arrived in sunny and warm El Progreso, Honduras. For many of them it was their first time to the country.

The group was led by none other than Justin Eldridge, one of the co-founders of OYE. When the group arrived to the OYE office they were greeted by the OYE staff with open arms. The graduate students would be here for nine days, just enough to get a taste of the real Honduras and to trade their busy New York life to come down south for some service, learning, and ritmo hondureño.

Justin Otero, Co-Founder of OYE and group leader
All of the students had traveled abroad before and they were excited to work with an organization that helped youth. Even though the students come from many different backgrounds (United States, Russia, India, Haiti, etc.), their love for helping others was evident. The group jumped right into helping by traveling to Proniño, an organization and residency for former street children, for an intense game of football. They ended the night with a fabulous dinner of baleadas at OYE scholar and youth coordinator Yarli Yanes’s house.

Day two of their journey consisted of sitting in a capacity building class and meeting the becados. The volunteers were able to get a feel for the material that the becados learn in their capacity building classes. That week’s classes were on sexuality and gender diversity, and they were taught by Stephanie Matute, an OYE becada and student of medicine, and OYE staff member Michael Solis. The graduate students were very surprised at how mature the becados were throughout the classes. Later that night they headed to the house of Gerald Velasquez, youth coordinator of the art program, for dinner and some yummy tres leches cake!

Amy Williamson with a local dancer at Valle Encantado
On their third day they ventured out to Campamento de las Americas for a hike with amazing views. Although the hike took an extra hour and a half, the team was able to see Honduras in a different light. For dinner the group went to Valle Encantado, where they danced with Honduran locals from the late afternoon into the evening. They also enjoyed listening to a live band play punta and bachata music.

Forum on the Honduran Reality with invited guests

The next day the graduate students had an in depth conversation with invited Honduran professions to talk about the reality of Honduras. The panel was made up of school teachers, a psychologist, and a writer. The conversation was led by Justin and the topics consisted of the strain on writers to write about the truth, the problems facing the educational system, and the poverty in Honduras. After this insightful conversation the group got some fresh air at the Jardin Botánico Torogón, along with a tour by garden owner and local artist, Guillermo Mahchi. At the garden, the students were able to observe the natural beauty of Honduras first-hand. Dinner was at the house of Fabiola Oro, OYE scholar and youth coordinator.

Volunteer Wendy Lee at Mahci's Botanical Garden

Before starting their service project at OYE, the graduate students visited two schools and to get a chance to see what their conditions were like. The last two days before heading off to Cayos Cochinos the team spent their days painting the upstairs of the OYE office. This project is very important for the future of OYE’s art program because the upstairs of the building will become El Progreso’s first youth art gallery. With the newly painted walls OYE is ready for future events. The volunteers ended their experience with a dance class with Yarli Yanes and Ariana Reyes.
Columbia University group at the botanical garden with Guillermo Mahci

For their last few days in Honduras the graduate students traveled to the islands of Cayos Cochinos for two days. It was a great way to end a somewhat busy week and to relax and rejuvenate before their final few weeks of school. Many of them will be graduating in May. Overall, the experience was a wonderful opportunity for the students of Columbia University to get culturally immersed and to give their time to help the youth of Honduras.

Volunteers Jasmine Clerisme and Nadine Carole covered in paint!

CU volunteers painting OYE's youth art gallery

Decisions, decisions...Ranjit Thomas Koshi and Pushkar Sharma
CU before dance class with Yarli
Honduran dance class in the newly painted youth art gallery.

Many thanks to an amazing group of volunteers.

Many thanks to an amazing group of volunteers: Darlene Sainvil, Ranjit Thomas Koshi, Gina Patterson, Jasmine Clerisme, Winfrida Mbewe-Chen, Nadine Carole, Wendy Lee, Marina Leytes, Mona Jaber, Adrienne Lever, Pushkar Sharma, Maria Snegovaya, and Justin. We hope to see you back in Honduras soon!
Amy Williamson is an OYE intern and social work student at Mary Baldwin College.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

DeAngela's Dish: Social Change through Media and Film

OYE volunteer and film-maker Richard Lakin visiting Rosa Yorleni Sevilla, OYE Scholar, and her family

During this week's DeAngela's Dish, we're interviewing Richard, co-founder of 18 rabbits digital media. 18 rabbits promotes social entrepreneurs, international development, educational institutions, NGOs, corporate social responsibility, non-profits, and community outreach projects through a strategic program of multimedia and internet distribution.

Richard mentioned that after working with OYE six years ago that he always had a desire to come back to Honduras to work with OYE again. He mentioned how impressed he was with the work OYE accomplishes with such few resources. Richard also said OYE is the “most effective” NGO he has seen in action. OYE staff members are actually out in the community helping to effect change in the lives of Honduran youth, which he found impressive.

Richard plans to chronicle and analyze a social media project to raise the visibility of OYE. Children in Honduras will participate in the campaign through their own facebook accounts and other social media venues. The project has been going for about two weeks and seems to be getting attention from many people across the world. The project has definitely created quite a buzz in the OYE office.

So to the interview!

D: What are some of the goals you wish to accomplish working on this project for OYE?

R: I would like to help raise global visibility for OYE which will hopefully lead to more funding sources and develop an “open-source social media strategy.” Last but not least I'd like to create a template for other small organizations to be able to use by chronicling the process with OYE.           

D: How do you feel about the work you have done thus far on the project?

R: The project has been successful in that is has received “hits” from over 70 countries.

D: Have you run into barriers since you started your work on this project?

R: Yes, and the one that is most intriguing is the reluctance of professionals around the world to offer suggestions as to how this project can be made better or what good things the project has done thus far. There are experts across the world that could and/or should be offering more suggestions.

D: How do you think OYE has changed since you last worked with the organization?

R: It is difficult to answer this question because the last time I was here (six years ago) I was only here three days. I was able to observe but so much; I will say that OYE is the “most effective” NGO I have seen in operation. Its’ effectiveness caused me to have a desire to come back and work with them again.

D: What has your experience been like working with OYE staff?

R: I admire OYE staff, volunteers, and members of the executive board, who are out in the “field” doing work. I remember filming Ana Luisa, and at the time she was very sick. She was recovering from Malaria. Ana Luisa’s story is a prime example of what individuals see when they come to OYE. Staff are actively involved and engaged in the change process for Honduran youth, no matter the circumstances.

Although this was a short interview it was a pleasure getting to interview the person who is behind this fascinating initiative. Richard Lakin seemed surprised when he first heard of being interviewed, but he humbly and thoughtfully answered the few questions. He also shared how many views (hits) the website has received today (66).

R: And I haven’t even posted anything new today. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn seem to be the places in which most people view the project.

After reading this blog please be sure and check out the blog

DeAngela Alexander is an OYE intern and student at Mary Baldwin College.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

OYE's Social Media Experiment with 18 Rabbits

We invite all OYE blog readers to follow an exciting social media experiment that will take place at OYE over the next two weeks:
In the next few weeks, the organization 18 Rabbits will begin to chronicle and analyze a social media project intended to raise the visibility of OYE. OYE youth will participate in the campaign through their own Facebook accounts and other social media venues. The goal of this project is to examine how social media can be used by small grass-roots NGOs to gain global visibility and increase support. It will be an open-source social media strategy for non-profits with limited budgets.
We saw the role of social media in the Arab Spring. 18 Rabbits will now employ this medium to promote socio-economic change with live social media from Central America. The WordPress blog will serve as a content management system with multimedia, project updates, and links to the children’s social media activity. We hope that you will subscribe to the blog and follow the progress of this project.
If you are involved in social media, online branding, or other digital strategies, we think that you’ll find this process insightful. Please share it if you find it engaging. We welcome your comments and suggestions. Feel free to contribute your expert advice as well, and we’ll acknowledge your contributions on our blog. We want to make this a global community of contributors, creating a strategy that can be used by NGOs worldwide.
To receive the updates, subscribe now by clicking the “follow” button in the right-hand column of the blog. Please use the share buttons below to help promote this committed humanitarian organization and to participate in this global social media experiment.

Many thanks to Richard Lakin, co-founder of 18 rabbits digital media!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

OYE Scholars Tackle Gender Diversity

This past weekend the becados had a capacity building class on Gender Diversity. This was the second week they had a class on this topic, taught by staff member Michael Solis, who has a master’s degree in human rights law and who has worked on gender diversity issues for years.

The first course on gender diversity focused on representations of gender across religions and cultures. OYE kids examined representations of masculine gods, feminine goddesses, and gods that comprise a fusion of the genders from the religions of India, Japan, ancient Egypt, and ancient Greece, among others. The class continued with a discussion of key terms, like gender identity, sexual orientation, gender conformity, the gender spectrum, and stereotypes, as well as an analysis of two diverging conceptualizations and interpretations of gender.

Hapi, the ancient Egyptian god of the Nile     
Ardhanarishvara, the fusion of Shiva and his consort Shakti 

Masculinized representation of God, or El Señor.
Gender Diversity as seen in modern day pop life. 

This week, the Gender Diversity class took on a new role: debate. OYE students engaged in a guided debate on a controversial issue that arose recently in the United States: Ellen DeGeneres and J.C. Penney. J.C. Penney recently asked Ellen, a lesbian, to be the new spokeswoman for their company. This caused a huge debate because a group called 1 Million Moms felt that Ellen should not be the spokeswoman for J.C. Penney due to her sexual orientation and her “non-traditional values.” (For more information, watch Ellen's response to 1 Million Moms).

The scholars divided into two teams. One team argued as 1 Million Moms and the others argued in favor of Ellen being J.C. Penney's spokeswoman. After ten minutes of discussion, the teams faced each other in the debate. Team 1 introduced their arguments, followed by Team 2. Judges assessed the quality of the debate and named the winning team as Team 2 (pro-Ellen).

The debate was a challenge for the Team 1 students, many of whom were in favor of Ellen being the spokesperson but who had to argue against her. For them, the debate was an exercise in entering the minds of people who think differently.

OYE scholar Adonay Reyes arguing his team's stance before the judges.
The class ended with a reading of the translated Rolling Stones article “One Town’s War on Gay Teens,” assessing the topic of bullying in schools, team suicide, and the lack of leadership in parents and the school system. OYE scholars compared US-based bullying to sexual orientation-based bullying in their schools and brainstormed ways that students, family members, school officials, and politicians could make schools a safer place for all students, regardless of sexual orientation.