Rising Minds: lessons from Guatemala
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Rising Minds: lessons from Guatemala

In some parts of Guatemala toothpaste is a luxury. It is too costly to be a daily staple, and its shortage is detrimental to dental hygiene. But a combination of baking soda, water and flavoring can be an inexpensive homemade version.

As part of many hands-on activities in health workshops sponsored by the Macalester Rising Minds expedition to San Juan, Guatemala, students showed locals how to concoct the mixture. Finding practical, effective solutions like homemade toothpaste is what the organization strives to do.

“Rising Minds takes a very participatory model to the projects they’re doing on the ground,” said Kelly Hardin ’14. “They break down hierarchies between foreigners coming in and local people.”

Hardin discovered Rising Minds through the Macalester Development Group during her first year at Macalester. That January Term, she traveled to Guatemala for the first time and was so interested in the organization’s mission that she decided to lead the next trip.

For her final year at Macalester, Hardin played an even more central role in Rising Minds. Along with Elizabeth Magnuson ’14, she helped plan all logistical aspects of the trip, the curriculum and the activities. “It’s made my time at Macalester really special,” she said.

Eighteen Macalester students flew to Guatemala on Jan. 10 for the two-week Rising Minds expedition. The trip broke down into two components: immersion and volunteering.

Each participant lived with a Guatemalan family, took cultural immersion workshop and conversed in Spanish, although some had no previous background in the language. They also implemented self-designed volunteer projects such as creating a mural for the front of a women’s cooperative, leading after-school programs and gardening.

“We’re really trying to make sure students are immersed,” Hardin said. “We have community collaborations so that it’s not just a bunch of college students coming down and talking.”

The 2014 trip was Elizabeth Lieske’s ’15 second expedition with Rising Minds. She saw firsthand how the organization’s participatory model could improve the impact of projects. “Going on the trip reshaped some of the perspectives and assumptions I had been making about volunteer work,” she said.

Both years Lieske led health workshops for women. “Last year I felt like there was a language and cultural barrier,” she said. “This year, having a local woman translate helped the women understand and be more open.”

Although Margaret Mulligan ’16 also observed some barriers, her take-away from the trip was that it was possible to overcome them. She said, “You see the connectivity of the world and you realize the energy people have. These people are from a different culture but they’re not too different; they love to laugh and joke around.”

The students returned to campus on Jan. 24, but their work did not finish there. They each would complete a “transference project” such as a creating a presentation about the trip or completing small volunteer tasks. Rising Minds added this final step to the expedition to ensure that participants’ experiences were not isolated to Guatemala and would translate to daily life.

“There are a lot of things I learned there that I would have never picked up in a classroom here,” said Mulligan. “There are things you just need to see and be part of to really understand.”

Reflecting on her four years with Rising Minds, Hardin concluded, “I view community and what makes people happy differently. Rising Minds has challenged my assumptions about poverty over and over again. It’s changed the way I see myself as a global citizen.”

February 7, 2014

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