Friday, October 2, 2009

Amherst Student Links With College Organization to Help Costa Rican Village

The Amherst Student
By Diana Torres '12, News Section Editor

Every summer, thousands of American college students work in third world countries to help “make a difference in the world”. They build houses in remote Mexican towns, tutor children in Uganda or give poor Nicaraguan women microfinance loans to help them start their own businesses. During their stay, students are often shocked by the abject poverty they find and try to lend a helping hand.

However, most student experiences end with the summer when they come back to the United States and return to their comparatively privileged lives. Cait Scudder ’11, however, was not satisfied by volunteering for merely three short months after her stay in Costa Rica this past summer. The villagers’ poor living conditions were too grim, too sad and too unjust for her to continue living a comfortable life without remembering the people she saw struggling everyday to put food on the table.

Scudder returned to the College with a new mission. She wanted to make a sustainable difference in the community she worked in, and to her, the best way to do so was to help improve the poor education system she saw in the town.

Santa Cruz de León Cortés, the small town she volunteered at, does not provide children with a quality education. The children do not have access to books and they do not know how to use the 12 donated computers idly sitting in their computer lab. In the high school’s 2008 graduating class, only 50 percent of students graduated, while only one student went on to pursue a university education. And amongst the adults in the community, only a few have a high school education. According to Scudder, “The cycle of academic underachievement and general disinterest originates from a lack of adequate available resources that are crucial to inspire success.”

To change this situation, Scudder decided to partner up with “Reader To Reader,” an on-campus organization that provides books, computers and tutoring services to underprivileged communities. Through this partnership, Scudder created “Beyond El Campo,” an organization committed to providing educational resources to the Santa Cruz community. Through fundraising, grant and letter writing, Scudder plans to raise enough money to build a new library in the high school during the summer of 2010. A certified library technician from Hartford will teach community members how to run the library sustainably and how to use the available computers to enhance students’ learning experience. Once this is done, bilingual Amherst students will begin tutoring Santa Cruz scholars through an online blogging system. Scudder hopes that the program will help reduce the drop-out rate, increase student reading in and outside of the classroom, raise the graduation rate, provide the high school with the initial resources it needs in order to grow and become sustainable and to create work and volunteer involvement opportunities for the Santa Cruz community through the new library.

“I am thrilled about this project and the opportunity to bring what we do at Reader To Reader to the schools in Costa Rica that need it most,” said Scudder. “Having spent significant time within a rural Costa Rican school community, I have seen the need and know the passion these kids have to learn is real. By equipping schools with the crucial tools they need in order to make their classrooms academically successful, we are making it possible for these schools to improve the quality of education they give to students, and help them enable students to strive for heights they never knew were reachable.”

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