Honors Student Spotlight
The project started as a proposal for a service project in a University Honors Colloquium class in the spring semester of 2008. Students in the class, taught by Dr. Bryan Cloyd, participated in various academic activities, all pertaining to community service. As a final project for the colloquium, each student submitted a proposal for a service project of their own design. Sponsored by the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Foundation, the Virginia Tech Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships selected one of the proposals and awarded the student with a $1,000 grant for the project.
One of the guest speakers to the colloquium was Stephen Darr, the director of Peacework, a non-profit organization based in Blacksburg. In his speech, he mentioned a village network program in Belize that is a joint effort between Peacework and the University of Arkansas. Emily Barry, a sophomore Spanish major, decided it would be a “really cool idea” to start a similar project at Virginia Tech. Her proposal, which won the grant, suggested a similar village network program to take place in the rural village of El Porvenir, Honduras.
The idea was to make the project as comprehensive, sustainable, and interdisciplinary as possible. Rather than focusing on one narrow project, the group would take on several at once to better the overall quality of the community. Students from different majors would collaborate to come up with the best possible solution together.
With help from Peacework and the University Honors Program, Barry was able to visit El Porvenir last summer, along with a Peacework employee. They directly assessed the condition of the village, and also asked community leaders what they would like to see done. The community eagerly offered a long list of ideas.
In the fall, 20 students joined together in a 2-credit class dedicated to the project, “Ut Prosim El Porvenir.” They have grown to 32 students to plan the projects, which will be implemented when the group leaders travel to Honduras this summer. The class began last semester by discussing the list of projects that the community suggested. After careful consideration, they came up with three projects to focus on, with an overall goal of improving children’s health in the community. The class divided into five teams, each with a variety of student majors. Three each focus on one of the specific projects, one works on fundraising, and one works on administration.
One project the group is working on is a water purification system for the community. PVC pipes pump unfiltered run-off water to the village, with no protection system from the dangerous fertilizers and pesticides that can enter the water from the surrounding Dole pineapple fields.
The team had originally hoped to begin their work on a better water system at the middle school, but is concerned about the fact that the children would still be using unpurified water at home. They hope to start their work by educating families on the importance of home water purification, either by boiling the water or using purifying tablets. Future plans include improving the water delivery system to be cleaner and provide enough water to the town, as well as to improve the cleanliness of the nearby river.
The Virginia Tech students working on the project team are providing insight from their own areas of expertise to brainstorm ideas for improving the situation. For example, an environmental science major works to discover what they can control in the surrounding area. Engineers will design and hope to construct the new purification system, while biology and biochemistry majors will do water testing to make sure it is drinkable and healthy.
The next project team is working to promote the use of a community garden in El Porvenir. During a visit by several of the Virginia Tech team members this February, members of the community started the garden, which will be used to grow crops such as corn, yucca, and beans. This resource will provide the villagers with fresh, nutritious produce that they can eat, and perhaps use to cook with and sell for profit. It is particularly aimed at children ages ten and older and their mothers.
Although the community has started planting the garden already, the VT team members will provide expertise, research, and an education project about gardening for the children. A nutrition major, a geography major, a wildlife science major, and an engineering major, among others, are involved.
The community has expressed interest in container gardening, so that each household is guaranteed their own growing space without security issues. This idea will be considered for future growth of the project.
Another project team hopes to help to educate children in the community about pressing health issues. The topics they will cover are not taught in the Honduran schools, so many students in El Porvenir do not know about diseases and how they are spread. The VT team is designing a curriculum about hygiene practices and nutrition to be taught to the children. They hope to tie in the community garden as an example of what foods are included in a nutritious diet.
The team is also working on basic repairs in the local clinic, which is visited mainly by children and their mothers. They will work with clinic workers to obtain some of the basic supplies that it currently lacks.
Future of Project/Implications
A fourth team focuses on fundraising. This team has been hard at work this semester. They have held various fundraisers in the community, secured VT diversity and research grants and have recently received a generous contribution from the C Bruce and Celeste McDaniel Family Fund. The group held a benefit dinner and silent auction at the Inn at Virginia Tech earlier this month and President Charles Steger gave the opening address.
The last team handles administration, which covers project coordination, Spanish translation, communication with the community, future project research and public relations. A website will be started so that people within and outside of the group can track the three projects’ progress.
Although the project will be put into action this August, Barry says the group hopes to send representatives to El Porvenir every six months for the next five years to establish strong bonds with the community, build on the projects and make any necessary changes or additions.
Barry noted that this project “kills four birds with one stone.” In one fell swoop, it allows students a chance to study abroad, earn research credit, have hands-on experience in service learning, and provide the community of El Porvenir with a comprehensive improvement. The ambition of this completely student-run group is enormous and demonstrates the spirit behind Ut Prosim to the fullest. In fact, when translated to English, “Ut Prosim El Porvenir” means “that I may serve the future,” which is one of Virginia Tech’s core educational values.
For more information about the project, please contact Emily Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org.