Ten Days in Oaxaca
Global Outreach Launches Alumni Project
Oaxaca, Mexico, once a tourist-friendly city, is today plagued by relentless poverty, water pollution, sanitation disposal problems and inadequate drainage systems. Last summer, 13 Fordham alumni took small steps to improve the city’s harsh conditions, assisting in construction and reforestation efforts, cleaning up trash and getting to know local families.
By Paul Francis (GSAS ’03)
Kristin Redmond (FCRH ’00) never had the time to participate in Global Outreach (GO) when she was a student. Four years after she graduated, Kristin finally got the chance to fulfill her dream of a cultural immersion experience when she joined the first GO alumni trip to Oaxaca, Mexico.
On July 17, 2004, Kristin and twelve other Fordham alumni—myself included—departed for 10 days that challenged our views on globalization, fostered a deep sense of communal development and enhanced our commitment to the Jesuit philosophy of being men and women for others. We lived, worked and learned with Community Links, an organization started by Jim Peckowitz (Pecko) and Arturo Ortega that seeks to provide a “cross cultural service-learning experience.” Pecko wants volunteers to walk away from the Community Links experience “with an understanding of their own impact on the global economy.” The GO alumni trip did just that.
We learned that many families in Oaxaca make their living by crafting and selling ornate woodcarvings, the majority of which are exported to the United States. The popularity of the trade has driven down profitability and depleted the supply of trees in Oaxaca. As a result, many young men have chosen to leave their families and seek work illegally in the United States. In response to the deforestation problem and to help support local woodcarvers, Community Links has initiated an intense reforestation project. While in Mexico, we participated in this initiative, planting trees that will help the environment and, we hope, hinder the need for emigration.
Since 1988, the GO program has been immersing students in various cultures in the United States and around the world. The program has grown geometrically under the tutelage of Mike Kravatz, at Rose Hill, and Anna Pfeiffer (FCLC ’00), at Lincoln Center, to include 11 domestic and 12 international trips. According to Kravatz, the program is designed to “extend beyond the scheduled dates and allow for students to bring aspects of their trip into their everyday lives.” In keeping with this philosophy of an extended experience, Kravatz saw a need to enhance the program to include alumni.
The alumni trip to Oaxaca attracted an array of professionals with a diverse wealth of expertise. Some were active GO members as students, while others participated for the first time.
“As a business woman, I had a better understanding of the socioeconomic issues than I would have had as a student,” said Fatima Bonus (CBA ’99), an accountant at Deloitte and Touche. For Rebecca Haggerty (FCRH ’00) and Zohra Ayub (CBA ’02), who work in social service fields, the trip provided a great oppotunity to supplement their professional knowledge with practical experience in another culture. Teachers Kassandra Reyes (CBA ’00) and Kendra Newkirk (FCO ’00) plan to pass along what they learned in Oaxaca to their students. Reyes found that she was “part of the Oaxaca community while teaching English to the local school children.” Sitting on the dirt floor in the home of a local family, Cecilia Dengler learned her “greatest lesson in humility,” when Teresa, the mother of the family, said her hope was to one day have enough time to spend with her children and grandchildren. Since returning home from Oaxaca, Rebecca Haggerty “questions if each cup of coffee is fair trade.” And Patrick Gaetjens (FCO ’04) is planning to join the Peace Corps to continue his social justice education.
But perhaps the greatest lessons that each of us learned in Oaxaca were about the importance of hope, and the need to live globally responsible lives.
To find out more about GO alumni opportunities, please visit the Office of Alumni Relations’ website at www.fordham,.edu/alumni. For more information on Community Links, go to www.commlinks.org.