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By Gerry Boyle '78
Melissa Rosales '04 has strong connections to Guatemala. Her father was born there, her relatives live in Guatemala City. But Rosales, who grew up in Memphis and Chicago, had a new perspective on the country when she spent Jan Plan there - as the culmination of a Colby course titled Guatemala's Social Deficit.
Taught by Patrice Franko (international studies, economics), the course examined the socioeconomic problems that face the country and the region, then offered students the opportunity to see firsthand what they had been studying on Mayflower Hill. Said Rosales, upon her return to Colby: "You looked at it through a different lens."
Four students went to Quetaltenango, informally known as Xela, the second largest city in Guatemala. A dozen others, with less international experience, did their Jan Plan in Heredia, Costa Rica. Both groups spent mornings studying Spanish in a language school, and then the Colby students did some teaching of their own. Kristin Saucier '04, who worked during high school with medical teams in trips to Latin America with church groups, opted for the Guatemala project for herself. With Rosales, Amanda Murphy '04 and Elizabeth Holmes '04, Saucier tutored mostly indigenous 8- to 12-year-olds in English and math. She came away realizing the situation for Guatemalans is more desperate than she'd believed studying it in the classroom. "There are so many deep-rooted problems," Saucier said.
The Costa Rican contingent established something called "Camp Colby Costa Rica," inviting local children to join them for arts, crafts, sports, kite-making and other activities. Word spread quickly once the plan was announced. "The next morning they had sixty kids show up," said Franko, who talked about the experience in terms of the "sense of engagement" students found.
Rosales said she learned firsthand of the huge gap between rich and poor in Latin America and the formidable obstacles the poor face in Latin American countries. But she also spoke of the "beautiful culture and beautiful people" in the Guatemalan Highlands and said she left wishing she could have stayed longer.
Asked whether she felt the group did something to help the people of Xela, she said she hoped so. "Mostly I just think I was blessed by them," Rosales said.
In an unrelated Jan Plan, six students, including two first-years, traveled to Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic to work on a library-building project. The students are members of the Colby Rotaract Club, an affiliate of the Waterville Rotary Club. They came back to Colby with an appreciation for the Dominicans they'd met and a new perspective on the way of life they returned to in the U.S.
"I think it's definitely given me a new appreciation," said John Brighenti '03. "Just here, the way we go and get meals-we take it so for granted. Down there you take what you can get and you're satisfied with it because that's all there is."
Emily Goss '03 said she became discouraged at one point while in Boca Chica, with its burning garbage, power outages and meager resources. "The rest of the group said, 'That's not the important thing'," Goss said. "They said, 'Look around. Get to know these people. Yeah, they're not out there making money but every day means so much to them.'"
"It's so easy to get caught up in what's not important. They showed us that. It's not what you have, it's what you do with what you have."
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