In the summer after my first year at Duke, I worked in Guatemala for 2 months through Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC). I chose this Duke Engage program because of my interests in service abroad, social entrepreneurship, and because I am a native Spanish speaker.
We worked in the indigenous town of Nebaj and consulted for several local non-profits as well as for global projects that SEC wanted to pilot. We also ran several campaigns in which we gave free eye exams and sold glasses, water filters, and cookstoves to members of the community. I stayed in 2 different homestays throughout the summer and was fortunate to immerse myself in Guatemalan and Ixil (indigenous Maya) culture.
The main two non-profits I consulted for were called Regala Una Sonrisa (Give a Smile) and Mayan Hope: La Escuela Especial (the Special School).
Regala Una Sonrisa
Regala was based in Nebaj, Guatemala. Their original mission was to provide gifts for children during the holidays, similar to the Toys for Tots mission. However, they refocused to provide programming for young adults due to the startlingly high occurrence of teen suicide in Nebaj and the greater Quiche region. We helped organize and market an event for competitive rap, skateboarding, rollerblading, and graffiti painting. The event was open to the public in order to encourage family support and change the reputation of youth involved in these sports. We also created anti-suicide t-shirts and wrote a script for an anti-suicide video that they will work on in the future.
Mayan Hope: La Escuela Especial
For La Escuela Especial we collected video and photo content that we used to update their website and create promotional materials, including a classbook with all the students’ names and photos. The students also create bracelets and earrings to raise money for the school and we helped them create new designs and develop some distribution models.
My time in Guatemala was challenging, rewarding, and overall wonderful. It was incredible to meet and work with so many new people both from Guatemala and different universities in the U.S. As a first-year engineering student I was nervous to work with more experienced students who had taken social entrepreneurship classes. However, we had training for the first 2 weeks of the program that brought me up to speed and I had the advantage of already speaking Spanish.
Working with local non-profits was an amazing experience. Before we went to our site visit in Nebaj, we spent some time in Antigua meeting with non-profit leaders from Rieken and the cook-stove company Chispa. This was very helpful for our global project El Colaborativo, which aimed to create an international network of non-profits. I was surprised that a network like this did not already exist, but this was just one of the few things I would learn throughout the summer about how non-profits operate.
The most common underlying problem of the companies we worked with is lack of funding. The simplest solutions to this problem are almost always unsustainable since fundraisers are only a short-term solution. Sustainable solutions for fundraising ultimately need to vary by non-profit. For La Escuela Especial we gave them suggestions on how to sell their jewelry in Guatemala and abroad. In the future, we hope that the marketing materials we created for their website will also procure funding.
The most difficult part of the experience was the campaigns. During the campaigns, we would give free eye exams and sell eyeglasses, water filters, and cookstoves. The eye exam process proved to be very challenging because often times the patients did not understand the exam process, were nervous to answer our questions, or only spoke indigenous languages such as Ixil or Quiche. Having local Soluciones Comunitarias staff was extremely helpful to make the patients feel more comfortable and patience was essential when explaining the exam process. Before campaigns we would visit the aldea (small village) we would be campaigning into market the event. It was sometimes difficult to explain why people should use water filters or cookstoves instead of tap water or open flame fires because these practices are so ingrained in their culture. Generally, people were accepting and willing to listen and throughout the summer I learned how to present alternative solutions in an approachable way.
We created several presentations to show our clients our work throughout the summer as well as condense our recommendations. The local project presentation is for La Escuela Especial and we presented this in Nebaj to the teachers of the school as well as other associates. The Boxed Impact Challenge was one of the global projects we consulted for SEC. This was presented to the leaders of SEC and Soluciones Comunitarias.