Monday, April 5, 2010

Student Reflection

by Lara Sanoica

Coming back from a two-week course abroad in Urubamba, Peru, I was as ready as ever to offer up my Spanish skills at the University of Illinois. While in Peru, I worked with an NGO on two public health projects. The first project was an initiative to build cleaner burning stoves in Andean communities in an effort to limit carbon emissions and improve the health of the families who spent much of their time in the kitchen. The second project involved creating and distributing ceramic water filters. The second project was still in its infancy, but the NGO hopes to eventually get clean water to everybody in the Sacred Valley.

I was instantly intrigued by the Nuestra Voz project because of my recent NGO work abroad. The ultimate objective of Nuestra Voz is to set up an electronic network system that would connect sustainable development groups throughout Latin America in order to prevent wasteful duplication of information and resources. I was ultrasensitive to this issue, remembering the financial difficulties of managing an NGO and how difficult it was to be successful when projects could not run in the long term. For now, Nuestra Voz is focusing on Costa Rica as a pilot for other Latin American countries. I thought that this was a fantastic idea, although converting older Costa Rican generations of leaders to utilize Web 2.0 technology is somewhat of a challenge. Promoting online networking in a place where basic internet browsing is still a relatively uncommon pastime is part of the challenge. For example, I was told by one of the founders of Nuestra Voz that while he interviewed a Costa Rican, they were looking at a GoogleEarth map. The Costa Rican thought that if he changed the view of the map, he was changing the view for everybody on that website.

Joining us in overcoming these technological hurdles are four Costa Rican students from Earth University. Our goal is to develop technology modules and workshops together in order to equip organizations with the skills needed to reap the benefits of online partnerships. So far, I have been working on getting our group at U of I organized and ready to coordinate with our friends down South. We are hoping to create a module consisting of the basics of online profiles by mid-April. Meanwhile we will continue with maintenance promotion of the current Nuestra Voz website through phone calls and a monthly newsletter. I am very excited to be a part of this and hope that we can launch a productive partnership between Earth University and the University of Illinois that will create a lasting change in communication habits among sustainable development organizations. Essentially, we want to create a successful program in Costa Rica that other Latin American countries will adopt and join.

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