International service, with a smile

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November 13, 2014

9:17 PM

More than 75 percent of College of William and Mary students participate in service projects annually, according to the College’s Service Opportunities web page. Though there are ample opportunities to serve locally and nationally, many students choose to broaden their service horizons by looking to serve internationally.

Branch Out International is a division of the Office of Community Engagement at the College. Branch Out International provides opportunities for students to go on service-oriented alternative breaks abroad. There are currently eight organizations under the umbrella of Branch Out International.

One such organization is Outreach360.

“We consider being a part of Branch Out as the greatest legitimizing aspect of our presence on campus and are grateful for what they offer our members, such as financial aid,” Outreach360 Team Leader Katie Sullivan said in an email.

Outreach360 is a student group that works with youth in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic to provide free educational programming. The group’s overarching goal is to equip these youths with the tools they need to pursue either employment or higher education. Outreach360 partners with a nongovernment organization that serves year-round in Nicaragua, consistently providing education the impoverished country lacks.

“We understand that the week we spend volunteering with [the non-governmental organization] makes a small impact in the grand scheme of the children’s education, but we are thrilled to be a part of a greater program that we have seen with our own eyes change lives,” Sullivan said.

Though Outreach360 is primarily focused on preparing its team members for the week abroad, the organization seeks to strengthen the quality — but not necessarily the quantity — of its presence and impact on campus.

“Right now we are working toward a being a more educated team by the time we are in-country than we have been before,” Sullivan said. “This is a more important goal to us right now than increasing membership, although we would like to elevate our visibility on campus as a means of raising awareness of educational inequality, as well as to increase our team’s fundraising impact.”

Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship, like Outreach360, seeks to strengthen communities in an impoverished country. However, MANOS has a medical rather than educational focus. Every spring break, the organization travels to rural Nicaragua to conduct research and run a free clinic in the town of Chaguite.

Though there are ample opportunities to serve locally and nationally, many students choose to broaden their service horizons by looking to serve internationally.

MANOS’ goals are healthcare sustainability and community development. Through both short-term and long-term projects, the group hopes to equip the community of Chaguite with the tools they need to live well despite poverty.

“Our trip has two components to it: a short term medical relief clinic as well as a longer-term community organization project that attempts to provide community members with the infrastructure and capacity to combat many of the marginalizing forces that they face,” senior team member Johnathan Maza ’15 said in an email. “We see both aspects of our project as critical to improving local health.”

The group of about 15 students involved with Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship attends a weekly class with Professor of Sociology and Community Studies David Aday, who serves as a mentor to the group and was integral to the initial establishment of MANOS. The group, which has been in existence for about a decade, seeks to remain small but hopes nevertheless to expand its scope.

“We are currently partnered with a chapter of Engineers Without Borders and hope [to implement a] water access project alongside this group and our partners in Chaguite,” Maza said. “We do hope to expand our effort in Nicaragua though to some of the communities surrounding Chaguite.”

SchoolHouse Block is a new organization at the College that, partnered with the nonprofit Build On, seeks to build a school in Nepal. Like MANOS, SchoolHouse Block is considered a student interest group under the community service classification.

“While SchoolHouse Block has a goal that is similar to other organizations, we are unique in that we hope to create a community resource instead of just constructing a building,” Liz Jacob ’17 said in an email.

Education, sustainability, public health, gender equality and global perspectives are the group’s five “blocks,” or driving issues. The club integrates these missions into its activities by writing proposals for sustainable building, establishing pen pal programs, arranging lesson plans and sending first aid kits to students in need.

Inspired by the book “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, SchoolHouse Block went through an extensive process to become an officially recognized club. However, according to Jacob, the process helped the club solidify their vision and make their goals actionable.

“We hope to raise $30,000 by next spring break — spring 2016 — in order to begin construction on a school in Nepal,” Jacob said. “Once we accomplish this goal, 15 students involved in SchoolHouse Block will have the opportunity to travel to Nepal with Build On to help the Nepalese community members begin construction and participate in cultural immersion programs.”

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  • Devin Logan

Devin Logan '18 is an Accounting major from Minnetonka, Minn.

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