Trying to change the future

Trying to change the future

Social work student interning in Costa Rica, helps school "street children"

Jennifer Hietpas

Issue date: 3/29/07 Section: Student Life

Media Credit: Sublitted photo/Jennifer Hietpas

Mid-day heat radiates off of city streets, busy with traffic, as a public bus beyond full-capacity drives by past the multitudes of people strolling the narrow sidewalks. An emaciated dog sniffs the air as it walks aimlessly. Within the crowd, children carry large woven baskets on their shoulders and peddle goods to passersby – jewelry, fruit, pasteries or trinkets, to name a few.

This illustration holds true for many larger cities, specifically in Latin America. It is not uncommon for children to work in place of getting an education in areas such as Central America, senior Maria Carvalho said.

Carvalho, a social work and Latin American Studies double major with a minor in Spanish, currently is interning abroad with Defensa de los Ni�nos Internacional, a non-profit children’s rights organization in Moravia, Costa Rica.

Carvalho said social work fulfills her desire to help people.

"I don’t believe in going around and changing things," she said. "I believe in showing them that they can change themselves."

"I think it’s important for people to realize their strengths and social work has to do a lot with empowering people," she said.

"I can’t really see myself doing anything else," she said about why she chose social work as a major. "I was always interested in sociology and psychology and social work kind of incorporates them."

In the field

The DNI office in Moravia is the only branch in Central America, Carvalho said, though there are other branches of the Switzerland-based organization in South America.

On a typical day, Carvalho said she works on campaigning for the organization by constructing sexual abuse flyers, or creates lesson plans or activities for the children. In the afternoon, she accompanies a psycologist and teacher from the organization to a neighboring village, La Abuelita.

"(It’s) a smaller community, on the poorer side, and a lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to go to school because they have to work" Carvalho said, "so we’ll do activities with them like math, social studies or Spanish."

The schoolhouse in the capital, San Jose, has a much broader age range of students, she said. Parents can attend this school to see what their children are learning, though it is difficult to create lesson plans that accomodate such a wide age range. If students need help academically they can attend the school in La Abuelita, she said.

One of Carvalho’s current projects is to make additions to a coloring book designed to educate children on sexual abuse, she said.

"There are coloring books about sexual abuse, but (they) didn’t include anything about abuse by familiar people," she said. Therefore, her job is to create pages in Spanish with scenarios where sexual predators are familiar figures in their lives, such as a family member or friend.

Previously an assistant for the UW-Eau Claire Center for International Education program in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Carvalho contributed to organizing a fund for children from El Fortin, Nicaragua, whose families lack the necessary funds to send them to school.

With her help, these children were given things such as school uniforms, shoes, school supplies and backpacks.

Similarily, a contributor that funds DNI in addition to grants is Florida Bebida, a Costa Rican beverage company that donates its resources in the form of student scholarships and school supplies.

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