Innovate for Impact!

Recently we welcomed a team of 4 from Northwestern’s Innovate for Impact Program. Jamie Jones led the group, which included Sumeeth Jonathan, Jason Hoover and Howard Lee. The team spent two weeks here at the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy, with the end goal of being able to leave some kind of module that the Academy could implement. The first week was spent observing and learning as much as possible about the school, the students and the community of Xela. Week 2 saw the construction and demonstrations of the modules. What they came up with was really great. They developed different aspects of the edutourism program, as well as presented a long term vision for how the school can become more self-sustainable. At the end of two weeks, we were happy to see that the group not only had ideas, but tangible ways to implement them. We look forward to working long term with this great group from Northwestern!

Some comments from the participants themselves:

I think the school is fantastic and its mission is something that every school should have. That’s why I am so excited to continue supporting and working with the school. I’m just really inspired by it. It’s amazing. –Jason Hoover

Jorge is a real visionary… you can really see his impact on the students and staff. I really enjoyed my time here and learned a lot. –Sumeeth Jonathan

Ashoka U Exchange

In late February, Jorge went to Duke University for a conference hosted by Ashoka U. The conference was an opportunity for Jorge to meet hundreds of social entrepreneurs and students interested in the field. Not only was he able to make many connections, but the structure of the program included many workshop sessions. Each hour, there were 4 or 5 options, which allowed Jorge to attend the most relevant for the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy.

Perhaps the two most interesting and relevant workshops were “Building a Self-Sustaining, Revenue-Generating Center” and “Storytelling for Social Change”. The first workshop was helpful in conceptualizing the future possibilities for the Academy in terms of financial support. Dave Casper, the leader of the workshop, pointed out that the traditional model of funding (asking donors for money and producing a report telling them how the money was used) isn’t the most effective long-term strategy for funding projects. Instead, he demonstrated a closed loop model, in which initial money is invested in an idea, which produces something, which then does something, which creates value, which can be reinvested in the project, or used to start a new one. All the “somethings” in that model are dependent upon the project itself. The idea, however, is something that the Academy will likely try to implement in the future. The key, according to Casper, is shifting from “problem solving” to “value creating”.

The second workshop, “Storytelling for Social Change”, taught a skill useful to every person, but perhaps particularly those who aim to engage a larger community in a project or program. Roshan Paul led this workshop and demonstrated, using video clips that most were familiar with such as speeches made by President Obama, how people connect with speakers. Most people explain what they do, some explain how they do it, but few can effectively explain why they do it. The best speakers and most effective organizations can tell their story in reverse…. Why they do that they do, and then how and what. Paul then had the group break into teams of 4 and work through telling each person’s individual story. While difficult, due to language and cultural differences, this skill is incredibly important to the Academy, as we seek to connect with friends and partners from other countries. As an institution, we are learning how to tell our stories, and navigating certain differences in the process.

Jorge and the Academy would like to thank both Ashoka U for hosting the conference, as well as the financial assistance they provided to help cover travel expenses. An additional huge thank you to Global Fund for Children for financial assistance, covering the rest of the travel expenses as well as lodging and food expenses.

UFL Alternative Spring Break Trip!

When I arrived in Xela, I was not sure what type of service we would be doing for the Academy.  I imagined either working with children, helping administrators with clerical duties, or painting or constructing a library or classroom.  It surprised me that we had the opportunity to serve the school in many aspects, including these.  I felt truly involved with the school from all angles, which allowed me to further connect with the students as I began to understand more about their lives.

Reading composite stories from students like those at the school allowed us to explore the different situations and issues faced by students in Guatemala, from difficult home lives, to having to balance school with work, and other struggles.  The students face obstacles similar in many ways to their counterparts in the United States, but also many problems more unique to the students here.  Understanding this is necessary in order to effectively serve the students and their community.  With this knowledge our group acquired new attitudes sensitive to and helpful for our service.

While becoming educated about Guatemala’s history and education system, we also truly enjoyed our experiences in Xela.  March 8th was Carnival, a holiday characterized by confetti-filled eggs, music, food, and celebration.  The children’s parents came and everyone enjoyed dancing, talking, and just interacting with each other.  The children dressed up in costumes and got face paintings and bought confetti-eggs to crack open, most enjoyably on all of our heads.  This was a unique, joyous way for us to connect with the students.

I did not expect the emphasis that would be placed on educating us, as volunteers.  I previously saw this trip, titled “Education- International,” as us educating students and helping their education system.  We focused a lot of our energies on our education and learning about this issue of education in Guatemala, which will help us spread our knowledge to others and expand our service from just what we accomplished here in one week.  I left Xela with a greater understanding of the broad spectrum of issues many school systems face and the desire to attend to them in many ways.

Emily Korszen
Junior, University of Florida
Florida Alternative Breaks