Alicia's appetite for volunteering, community development and travel has built her a remarkable resume of experiences.
The Oregon native, who helps produce the CEN newsletter and writes field work reports and grant applications, spent nine months in the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca, located in the heart of the Andes.
While teaching English at a cultural exchange center, Alicia also found time to volunteer at the Casa Maria Amor, a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. Alicia says that although domestic violence is a big problem in Ecuador, there are few support resources. "This was a place where the women and children could get away and live for a while," she said. "I was looking after the children while the moms were taking classes, learning skills to help them become independent."
This work built upon Alicia's experience volunteering at homeless shelters here in the U.S. As a youngster, Alicia and her sister tutored children at shelters in Oregon. "My mom always placed a lot of importance on doing volunteer work," Alicia said. "Our parents were what you would call progressive, I guess — they were pretty engaged with social issues. They helped instill the value of thinking about what's happening around you — of the little things you can do to affect that experience."
It was during a stay in Spain, which she took part in for her political science studies at the University of Oregon, that Alicia learned Spanish. This enabled her to be of particular use while volunteering in Ecuador and writing about the many CEN projects in Latin America. It definitely didn't help her too much during a stint teaching science in Thailand, though. And Hindi will certainly be a challenge — it is a language she is hoping to master during her job teaching creative writing at a school near Delhi.
As an individual who relishes hands-on involvement with people and communities around the world, Alicia appreciates the direct-relationship aspect of CEN's project model. She says moving beyond the conceptual understanding of a community issue is another aspect that attracts her to travel. "It is one of the best ways to learn about the problems that seem to be theoretical when you read about them in the New York Times," she said. "Likewise, I really like the idea that Bob has about concentrating on making actual gains with individual projects — I see the concrete steps that are helping people reach their goals."
Alicia fondly remembers writing about a CEN project in Suruacá, a small village along the Amazon River. "The CEN team had been working with team-building, how to cooperate and support women who were trying to develop small businesses — a tailor, a baker, things like that," she recalled. "By the end, there was this great moment when the community members were like, 'Oh, I get it; we don't really need you guys now.' That was great. It was a clear moment that we are about empowering people to make their own decisions."
Thank you, Alicia, and all of the CEN volunteers, for the amazing work you do.