Friday, April 25, 2014
Welcome back, UW Oshkosh!
On March 22nd, OYE had the pleasure of once again hosting our friends from the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh. This year, we welcomed nine new student volunteers and welcomed back their student advisor, Chelsea Redger.
As with all volunteers that pass through OYE's doors, we strive to provide a well-rounded experience that leaves our volunteers with a better sense of Honduran reality and the feeling of being a part of creating positive change in Honduras. We accomplish this by offering a variety of academic, cultural and community engagement activities, all of which promote cultural exchange and interaction between the volunteers, OYE scholars and the local community.
We had the pleasure of hosting a variety of Honduran professionals to participate in various panels and discussions throughout the week on the topics of national reality, education and corporate social responsibility.
For the national reality panel, representatives from Radio Progreso, World Vision and CARE International participated alongside three of our university-level scholars to provide perspectives on the Honduran national reality. The panelists shared perspectives on a variety of issues – from health to education, – though the prevailing subject was unsurprisingly that of the unprecedented occurrence of violence, especially among Honduras’ youth. However, despite the daily headlines of violent deaths in newspapers across the nation and the subsequent sense of insecurity and impunity that permeates Honduran society, a sense of hope remains…
Regarding education, we invited a representative from the Honduran branch of international NGO Fe y Alegría to speak about the Honduran education system – its history, its strengths, its weaknesses and its significant role in the struggle against violence. With several education majors among the Oshkosh volunteers, this was a particularly interesting discussion and opportunity for cultural exchange.
We also welcomed a representative from KM2 Solutions, a call center in San Pedro Sula and our greatest corporate ally in Honduras, to speak about corporate social responsibility.
While cultural exchange is an inevitable component of any international experience, it is the most significant and ever-present aspect of the volunteer experience with OYE. All day, every day, our volunteers come into close contact with Honduran culture through their close interactions and collaborations with OYE’s staff and scholars.
In addition to the community engagement projects, which saw the volunteers and OYE scholars working side-by-side in collaboration (see below), the volunteers participated in a variety of cultural activities that allowed them to understand more about Honduras’ culture and history and witness first-hand the reality in which many Hondurans live.
Two of OYE’s youth coordinators of the art program, Claudia and Yosseth, led a tour of El Progreso, which included visits to key sites around the city – the municipal building, the Catholic church, the largest public high school – and various murals that OYE scholars have painted through the city, including the mural painted by last year’s Oshkosh volunteers.
To give the volunteers a better sense of the reality in which our scholars and their families live, as well as provide authentic Honduran cuisine, three meals throughout the week were prepared and served in the homes of OYE scholars. One of the most unforgettable, enlightening and humbling events of the week was the visit to the home of one of OYE’s first-year scholars, Willian, in the mountains of Mico Quemado – a 45 minute-drive from the base of the mountain on a rocky and unpaved road, only passable by the sturdiest of vehicles. Led by Willian’s father, we visited their small coffee farm and their corn and bean fields, a short hike from their home. We ate a delicious sopa de gallina (hen soup) with a variety of locally-grown vegetables. We played soccer with the neighborhood kids. Through our interactions with Willian, his family and some neighborhood kids, we all left with a new perspective on the reality of Honduran rural life.
Capitalizing on the global Earth Hour movement and the subsequent local environmental awareness activities in El Progreso throughout the final weeks of March, the volunteers participated in and executed three distinct environmental projects in conjunction with OYE’s scholars and the local community: a river clean-up and reforestation event, a mural about the importance of taking care of our planet Earth and an environmental campaign at a local school.
This river clean-up and reforestation event transpired much like the first, which was led by UW Oshkosh student and former volunteer, Angie Dusenberry. This time, however, we made a more intentional effort to involve the local community by partnering with a local school and representatives of the surrounding communities. In the end, over 150 kids, adolescents and adults showed up to join OYE and the volunteers for the event, which included picking up trash and planting trees along the Pelo River.
Throughout the week, the volunteers divided into two groups and worked alongside the OYE scholars to paint an environmental-themed mural on an outside wall of our partner school (at the site of the event) and prepare a dynamic, kid-appropriate environmental campaign at the local elementary school, emphasizing the importance of taking care of our planet and reducing, reusing and recycling. While the projects are one of the more challenging components of the volunteer experience, most often due to time constraints and the language barrier, everything came together beautifully in the end. The kids shouted variations of “que macizo” (so cool!) during the unveiling of the mural, raised their hands (and voices) with excitement to participate in the games and sang along with the volunteers “no basura en la calle” (no trash in the street). All of the hard work certainly paid off. After the environmental campaign, the principal even allowed the kids to have an extended recess to hang out with the volunteers, which inevitably turned into a huge dance party.
All in all, it was an incredibly exhausting, but even more rewarding week. All of us at OYE were so thrilled to welcome back Oshkosh this year and hope to continue our relationship in the coming years. Thank you, Oshkosh! We hope to see you again soon.
If you are interested in learning more about the activities that transpired throughout the week, I direct you to the blog written by Oshkosh volunteer Stephanie Jansen HERE. And check out this awesome (and super fun!) video created by Oshkosh volunteer Katie Berkopec.