Institute for Global Studies
214 Social Sciences
267 19th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Phone: 612-624-9007
Fax: 612-626-2242
E-mail: igs@umn.edu

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Institute for Global Studies

Student Activism Without Borders

By Claire Leslie
Global studies students raise funds for an orphanage in Honduras.

GSSA: Abdul and AmberBy Claire Leslie

The Global Studies Student Association (GSSA) is a group of students in search of thoughtful discussion and social camaraderie. From the beginning we were connected by our common desire to promote justice on a global scale, to find solutions to current international challenges, and to take an active role in the global community. The outcome of our union was more significant than anyone had imagined it would be.

We focused our enthusiasm on a long-term service project to support Hogar de Niños Tierra Santa, a home for abandoned children in Villa de San Antonio, Honduras. GSSA learned about the orphanage through the administrative director, Jeff Ernst, a global studies alumnus. In a whirlwind of activity played out over the course of only two semesters, our student group raised $26,000 to donate and fund a service trip to the orphanage. We raised funds in a variety of ways, including holding a silent auction and working at nonprofit concession stands in the Target Center. Although we were all fulltime students and most of us were also working part-time jobs, we committed ourselves to countless hours of fund raising and to the organizing, networking, and planning it requires. All of our hard work paid off, and in May 2008 we traveled to Honduras.

During our two weeks in Honduras, we engaged in a variety of projects. Some of us taught English classes at the orphanage’s elementary school, and others helped with the highly energetic preschool class. A few hardworking individuals devoted themselves to organizing, cleaning, and creating a book checkout system for the orphanage’s previously chaotic library. GSSA students also helped out at the soup kitchen, or comedor, serving meals to malnourished children in the town. Finally, about half of the group worked on a deconstruction project that involved demolishing old structures and tearing out tree stumps in order to clear a space for the construction of a water sanitation plant. Currently all drinking water at the orphanage must be purchased; the new sanitation plant will contribute to the independence of the orphanage. It was thrilling to learn that the construction and purchase of the water sanitation plant was funded by the money GSSA had donated.

While all of our projects were rewarding, the most memorable and valuable moments were those we spent with the children. During our free time, we would play games, look at books, and chat with the kids. It soon became obvious that they desperately wanted someone to love them, to hold them, to listen to them, and to help them sound out the words when they read. One-on-one attention from an adult seemed to be a rare and precious gift, and they frequently quarreled over our time. Leaving the home was difficult for everyone, but we hope to maintain the relationships that we established with the children through letters and future visits.

The project was an incredible learning experience for all of us. We gained new insights and skills in the areas of nonprofit management, Honduran culture and society, Spanish language, fund-raising, group organization, communication, and leadership. What struck me the most, however, was the ability and speed with which we were able to accomplish something so significant. The outcome of this entirely student-directed project exceeded all of our expectations, and the impact of our work truly shocked us. We came away from this experience having learned that people with impassioned hearts can effect momentous change.

This year the Global Studies Student Association has re-formed and greatly increased in size. It’s encouraging to see students come together each year motivated to engage in a service project. Given the success of last year’s project, we have decided to spend this school year raising funds for Hogar de Niños Tierra Santa once again, and to travel to the orphanage in May 2009. We now have the advantage of experience and an influx of members who bring new talents, ideas, and skills to the project. Recently we have been discussing collaboration with the University’s agriculture program in order to better support the orphanage’s sustainable-farming initiative. Additionally, in our travels this year we hope to engage with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and microfinance programs in Honduras to learn more about development in the region.

The Global Studies Student Association is an outlet for the energy and enthusiasm of global studies majors. It is where students who want to make a difference, to engage in international projects, and to experience the joy of bettering someone else’s life congregate. I have always known that my fellow global studies students are exceptional, and that, with all of their sincerity, they have the capacity to create positive change in the world. In working side by side with them in the Global Studies Student Association over the past two years, I have experienced that firsthand.

Claire Leslie (B.A. ‘09) is a global studies major and the global studies peer adviser.

To view the 2007–2008 GSSA blog, go to globalstudiesstudents.blogspot.com

To learn more about Hogar de Niños Tierra Santa, visit hogartierrasanta.org

Photo caption: Abdul, one of the orphans, with Amber Aumiller, a global studies major.

01/22/09