2012 Live It! Project Report
Alexa Wilcox: Mano Y Mano: Bridging Cultural, Economic And Developmental Divides (Lake Atitalan, Guatemala)
My project was to serve as the Summer Regional Director for the non-profit organization, Rising Minds, a US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala. With the help of the Live It! Fund, I aimed to address a critical need through funding projects that empowered both Guatemalan communities and the community at Macalester. My vision was to facilitate, start and sustain several projects: Eco-Art Trainings for Women; Sustainable Construction Building Projects; Community Garden and Nutrition Project; Community Enrichment Youth Leadership Program; No-cost Language Exchange Program; Auto-Ethnography Project to record the stories of the elderly; First aid and CPR training course for teachers and students; Small Business Development Courses and a Sewing Machine Microloan; and Volunteer Powerhouse Day.
The project evolved over the summer depending on the resources available and the interests of the beneficiaries involved. Below is an updated list of the current status of each project and the major accomplishments for each program:
- Rising Minds initiated a cooperative with 15 members in Panyebar (a small indigenous village in the highlands of Lake Atitlan) making products from recycled materials. The cooperative offered an economic avenue to women who created over 300 products (earrings, headbands, bracelets, and bags), in total and earned more than $800 in profits for the cooperative.
- Eleven women in Panyebar helped to build a playground turtle using used tires providing a playground for 53 students who otherwise had no access to a play space.
- Rising Minds cleared a plot of land that was locally donated so as to plant an array of vegetables and medicinal plants. With greater accessibility to diversified vegetables and appropriate trainings in composting this program aims to aid in tackling malnutrition rates that impact 68% of indigenous children.
- We started two bottle construction projects this summer: a bottle wall to contain the medicinal and vegetable garden in Panyebar and a promotional bottle wall to contain the Rising Minds Nursery. Both projects will be continued in the fall.
- Volunteer, Cesar Utuy, completed a full inventory of all the CPR and First Aid Supplies and designed two posters in both English and Spanish to strengthen the CPR and First Aid program, scheduled to re-start in December
- Rising Minds created a conscious consumer survey, local cooperatives survey and a template for small business development courses. ADEMVI cooperative completed the paperwork to receive their sewing machine microloan and participated in three small business development trainings. Small business development trainings are scheduled to continue this fall.
- Rising Minds created a forty lesson plan course to teach local public school English teachers Basic English competency. Furthermore, the course equips them with the tools to teach Basic English through dynamic, interactive classes. Rising Minds also made a preliminary partnership with the local government for this program, expected to start in January.
My work this summer with Rising Minds further solidified my belief of the growing importance of global citizenship, and that we must evolve together to meet the shared threats to our generation of poverty, injustice, inequality, environmental sustainability and instable political orders. We must act in concert as a global community to address these issues so they do not result in long term harm to global society while at the same time preserving and protecting the diverse qualities which make each culture innately and beautifully unique. Through the projects undertaken with Rising Minds this summer, I was able to experience firsthand the impact of working alongside people to find their voice and find means of self-sufficiency. Fully immersed and working around the clock, my main learning from the summer is that it can be challenging to strike the right equilibrium between serving in the role of a leader while letting local partners realize their full potential; knowing when to lead and when to stand back after providing guidance and direction. This summer confirmed my belief that every human being has equal value and is capable of accomplishing immeasurable feats when given the opportunity and resources.
This summer I gained leadership experience through supervising four interns and long-term volunteers (Brown University (Poland), Brown University (Brazil), Wales and Duke University (Guatemala/US)). I also confirmed that I have found the right majors for my passions, and experienced tangible ways to apply what I am learning at Macalester in the field. I would highly encourage all students interested to apply for the Live-It Grant as it allows students to contextualize their learning at Macalester. I plan to bring my project back to Macalester by selling the cooperative jewelry on campus, helping the Macalester Rising Minds group build a sustainable bulletin board from bottles on campus, and contributing to the organization of a third-annual Macalester winter break trip to work with Rising Minds in Guatemala.