Meet the 2013–2014 Awardees
Carolina Fuentes Diego
This summer I had the opportunity to live in Berlin, Germany. I worked with Allegro Grundschule, an elementary school near central Berlin. I assisted with classes and homework through the end of the school year. During the summer the school provides all-day care and we had field trips and activities for the children. The school was ethnically diverse–many of the children came from immigrant families of backgrounds including Turkish, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European. Before I started my internship, I wanted to be able to explore some of the implications of life in Germany for immigrants and ethnic minorities. I was able to see some of the challenges children and their families face, and how this sometimes influences their experience in school.
This summer I worked for an Indigenous radio station in Guatemala. During this trip I used my experience at WCBN to help this station update much of its equipment. All of this station's equipment was 20 or 30 years old, so it was in need of fixing, which I was happy to do. Much of my time at the station was also spent with community members interested in preserving their own culture and history. Because of this strong interest I became involved with a historical preservation project in which I spent a lot of time organizing, digitizing and transcribing tapes made during the civil war in the 1980s and 90s. Overall the experience was incredibly rewarding. I met people and had experiences in Guatemala that I will not soon forget.
This past June, I traveled to Meru, Kenya to continue working on a grassroots, social entrepreneurship and human-centered design experiment called "The Kithoka Soap Initiative" (TKSI). I originally laid the foundation for TKSI in the summer of 2012 alongside Dr. Karambu Ringera, founder and President of a Kenya-based non-profit organization named International Peace Initiatives (IPI). TKSI encourages local economic independence and growth through the employment of local women and youth, the use of local products and natural resources, and the local sale of our products (laundry detergent, body soap, and lip balm). All TKSI profits will directly support IPI’s Kithoka Amani Community Home (KACH), an orphanage for Ameru children whose families have been impacted by HIV/AIDS. While in Kenya this summer, I was working toward beta-testing each product, researching concrete next steps for the development of the business, and collaborating alongside the IPI team to prepare for the launch of our products and sales. With the support of University of Michigan’s Raoul Wallenberg International Summer Travel Fellowship Program, the International Institute Individual Fellowship Program, and the Program for International Comparative Studies, I will continue to travel and develop TKSI throughout this school year.
To learn more about The Kithoka Soap Initiative, please visit Layne’s blog at http://www.thekithokasoapinitiative.wordpress.com.
This past summer I had the incredible opportunity to go abroad to Tanzania with World Endeavors. I lived with a host family in the city of Arusha and worked at Tengeru Hospital. Living with a host family allowed me to further my knowledge of Swahili and further my understanding of the local customs and culture. During my time at the hospital I was able to learn and observe the daily routines of the local doctors as well as learn about the health system of East Africa. I spent a significant amount of my time in the HIV/AIDS ward. This ward offers testing, counseling, treatment, and occasionally educates school children on HIV. I was able to assist the patients arriving to the clinic and help them understand their role in the treatment process. This experience proved the reality of the epidemic and increased my determination to return in the future.
I spent my summer with The Kenya Project, a program I started my freshman year that brings an interdisciplinary group of University of Michigan undergraduates to Kithoka, Kenya to partner with locals to start small-scale businesses. We challenge ourselves to take the theory of creating impact we talk about in school classrooms and actually apply it. Our goal is to enable people to help themselves and create their own jobs. In Kenya, we worked with local entrepreneurs to bring them to the seed funding stage by creating business model canvases for three ideas: chicken farming, cultural tourism, and ready-made foods production. In the process of working, we complicated our ideas of what it means to “help” in developing countries and to “change the world.” In working with our Kenyan partners, we did not come with an attitude of "we know better." Rather, we believe we have quite a lot in common, in strengths and also weaknesses. Starting a business is not forgiving. It does not take pity on the poor, but requires dedication and hard work from anyone that attempts it. In that sense, it levels the playing field. I am proud that we were able to work as equals. In the future, I want to work internationally in efforts to "level the playing field."