New grant will allow students to volunteer in other countries

After witnessing the squalor of Venezuelan prisons during his sophomore year of college, Bill Baldus was haunted for years by the images of people suffering.
But through his brainchild, the Paulo Freire International Community Service Grant, Baldus will put some of those memories to rest.
“I still think about it all the time, how brutally hard people have it from day to day,” Baldus said of his experiences in Venezuela. “After living in that environment for a period of time, a person is compelled to see what one could do to help and improve folks lives.”
The International Study and Travel Center, which Baldus is the director of, announced this month a $2,000 grant for University undergraduates to do community service work in foreign countries.
The grant consists of three to six months of volunteering in another country. Afterward, the participants will teach elementary school children in the St. Paul Public Schools district about their experiences.
“It’s about giving the undergrads a chance to do some international community service work,” Baldus said. “The students also get the chance to tie that experience together with learning about diversity, work, human oppression, and experiential education.”
The program is named after Paulo Freire, the late Brazilian teacher and author. Freire was known for his literacy efforts among peasants in the 1950s when he educated them about their oppression at the hands of the Brazilian government. Freire, imprisoned from 1964 to 1979, died in 1997.
“Freire’s methods are used globally,” said Nehrwr Abdul-Wahid, director of the Diversity Institute for Student Development and Educational Training.
Students who get into the program will be doing the same things Freire did when he was alive, Baldus said.
“We are keeping his spirit and teaching alive through this program,” Baldus said.
The first phase of the program, which will begin spring quarter, consists of seminars and workshops dealing with diversity.
But it isn’t always about education, Abdul-Wahid said.
“It is mostly about preparing them for the differences they will see in an international setting,” said Abdul-Wahid. “We will talk about pressing issues outside of our borders.”
The students will travel abroad during the summer of 1998. The participants will design their own program, including where they want to go and what type of humanitarian work they want to do.
“The idea is to contribute, but the students are going to be the main benefactors during the three to six month period,” Baldus said.
Upon returning in winter quarter 1999, participants will teach elementary school children in the St. Paul school system about their experiences abroad.
“The idea is that once the students immerse themselves in the culture they will be able to come back and the community will have something to tap into,” said Mirjana Bijelic, coordinator of Office for Special Learning Opportunities Project Adapt.