Fourteen University of Minnesota studentsâÄô fundraising, researching and planning efforts will culminate with a trip this May to the Honduran orphanage Hogar de NiÃ±os Tierra Santa , where about 130 kids live together âÄúlike one gigantic family,âÄù going to school, doing chores and looking out for each other. Along with donating money to the home (hogar in Spanish), theyâÄôll implement projects theyâÄôve been working on all year in healthcare and agriculture. When the Global Studies Student Association restarted in fall 2007 with a new purpose of doing an annual international service project, they voted to focus on the hogar âÄî and ended up raising $26,000 to fund their trip and donate to the orphanage. This year, they voted again to work with the hogar. They found out about the hogar through its administrative director Jeff Ernst , who studied at the University before taking his current job. ItâÄôs hard for groups to figure out how to help from far away, Ernst said. They can fundraise for it, which the UniversityâÄôs global studies group is doing, but they often want to do more. Indeed, international development can be tricky business. But for the global studies group, it started with a simple question to the hogar: âÄúWhat do you need?âÄù âÄúWeâÄôre not going to assume that we know what is best for [the hogar],âÄù global studies and political science senior Samuel Usem said. UsemâÄôs writing his senior thesis on different approaches to local development, and is hoping to use the global studies groupâÄôs work in Honduras as an example of how he thinks development should work. His approach, âÄúhuman scale development,âÄù involves first understanding how the community itself, rather than an outside group, sees its needs.
Compost, sunflowers and irrigation
One place the hogar needs help is on its 16-acre farm. It already raises pigs, chicken and tilapia and grow a variety of fruits and vegetables there, but it could increase efficiency and yield with help from the global studies group. For that, the global studies group enlisted University agriculture graduate student Jake Overgaard , who spent three years working on sustainable agriculture in Guatemala with the Peace Corps . Sustainable agriculture, Overgaard said, means designing a circular system âÄî one that puts animal waste and kitchen scraps back into the ground as fertilizer to nourish the soil that produces the vegetables. Composting is one aspect of that. He said erosion and overuse have depleted a lot of the land in Central America , which is why putting nutrient-rich compost back into the soil is important. TheyâÄôll also help install a drip irrigation system. For farms in Central America, where the climate is warm enough for year-round food production, water is often the limiting factor, Overgaard said. Though itâÄôs efficient, the system is âÄúa bit complicatedâÄù to install, Overgaard said, and requires maintenance. So theyâÄôve contacted a Honduran agricultural university to help keep it going after the University students leave, Usem said. The 14 University students will be in Honduras for just longer than two weeks âÄî but they want their efforts to have a lasting effect, and that means involving the local community along with outside organizations.
Annual checkups? ‘No such thing’
While Overgaard gets his hands dirty, others will focus on healthcare. While the kids at the hogar can visit a pediatrician and hospital in a neighboring city, they go without other things most Americans take for granted. Right now, they only see a doctor when theyâÄôre already sick. âÄúThereâÄôs no such thing as just going in for a yearly checkup,âÄù Ernst said. HeâÄôd like to see that change. An annual clinic would help them keep the kids healthier, and the global studies student group hopes to help set one up. Global studies senior Claire Leslie , who directs the group, is heading its healthcare work. On their trip to Honduras, theyâÄôre bringing two local nurses along with a doctor and nurse from the Virginia-based International Adoption Center . Along with holding a 2-day clinic for kids at the hogar, theyâÄôll work on assessing its healthcare needs, and theyâÄôll share that information with MEDICO , a nonprofit that helps supply reliable healthcare to impoverished Central American communities. The goal, Leslie said, is for MEDICO to set up a program that would let organizations like the UniversityâÄôs Center for Global Pediatrics send medical residents or other health professionals to the community. The UniversityâÄôs center sends medical residents to different orphanages and communities around the world, and Honduras could be next on the list if the group can help set up a program for it at the orphanage.
The local community
Though itâÄôs focusing on Honduras, the group also aims to involve locals through fundraisers that have included a silent auction and Bedlam Theatre benefit concert. So far this year, theyâÄôve raised more than $18,000 toward their $30,000 goal. Leslie said along with raising money for their cause, theyâÄòre also trying to raise awareness about the âÄúdesperate situationâÄù of orphaned children and poverty around the world. âÄúWeâÄôre doing what we can with this one particular organizationâÄ¦but itâÄôs the whole world that has these problems,âÄù she said. Anyone wishing to help the groupâÄôs cause can do so during April simply by lunching at St. MartinâÄôs Table , a West Bank bookstore and vegetarian restaurant. Its crew of volunteer servers will donate this monthâÄôs tips to the orphanage. Each month, the tips go to a different organization voted on by the approximately 100 volunteer servers, volunteer coordinator Mary Preus said, and this year the hogar was among the chosen 12. Each month, they give away between $1,500 and $3,000, she said. Though the hogar needs those donations, Ernst said the most important thing visitors can do is spend time with the kids, becoming mentors and friends. Leslie echoed that. The orphanage is a loving place, she said, but thereâÄôs no way its staff can provide all the children living there with the kind of individual attention they deserve. âÄúThatâÄôs what I think is really tragic,âÄù she said. âÄúThe time at the orphanage I valued the most was the time we got to sit with the kids, and they would just scramble for our attention.âÄù