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Long Way Home
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Panini Pandya

Major: International Relations and Spanish
Minor: Human Geography
Hometown: Allentown, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I encountered the NGO Management internship with Long Way Home through my Liberal Arts Network Simplicity account. As a freshman I was utterly lost as to how to find a summer internship, but with the help of the Career Enrichment Network at the College of Liberal Arts I was able to find and apply for the internship that best complemented my studies.

Tell us a little bit about your experience. 

This summer I worked for Long Way Home, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit operating in San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala. LWH uses sustainable design and materials to construct self-sufficient schools that promote education, employment, and environmental stewardship. Their pilot educational complex, Técnico Chixot, currently hosts 132 students k-9. The entire campus is constructed using alternative methods and materials including rammed-earth filled tires and polypropylene grain sacks, trash and glass bottle bricks, and off-grid power water and waste systems. At present, over 430 tons of garbage and 15,500 tires have been transformed into eleven classrooms, a dry-composting latrine and a library. Moreover, LWH employs 18 teachers and 20 greenbuilders, all of whom are local Comalapans. As an NGO Management intern I was responsible for various administrative tasks including grant writing, donor relations, fundraising pushes, website management, and report writing. At the beginning of the week I would be given a few tasks and their corresponding deadlines. However, I worked very closely with the project manager and thus I always had the opportunity to bounce questions and comments off of her throughout the day. Beyond office life, I also occasionally worked on the construction site to learn more about greenbuilding and how Long Way Home achieves its mission of sustainability. These experiences in the field were vitally important as I had the chance to have more personal conversations with the construction workers and gain insight into local life. Furthermore, because school was in session during my stay I also worked a bit with the teachers in regards to curriculum development. The teachers at Técnico Chixot teach beyond the mandated national curriculum so that their students have the tools to combat poverty and become the leaders of their community. However, it takes time and funds to develop an enhanced curriculum for each grade level and currently the teachers are in the midst of that process. From organic gardening to environmentally friendly construction methods, these teachers hope to teach local youth about the inextricable link between health and physical well being as well as their duty as global citizens. These new courses will also include a vocational school which is projected to open in 2018 and offer coursework in carpentry, masonry, mechanics, welding, and horticulture. The hope is to cultivate a new generation of entrepreneurs, uniquely skilled and equipped to be leaders with innovative solutions for the future.

How did this experience impact you academically?

This internship strengthened my Spanish speaking capabilities, my writing skills, and my understanding of foreign political and cultural landscapes. As a Spanish major, being thrown into a small Guatemalan community was the perfect language immersion experience. I had to use my language skills to both navigate life in Comalapa, whether it was grocery shopping in the market or riding the public buses for weekend travel, and communicate with my co-workers. I also grew as a writer. Over my two-month stay I wrote five formal grants, countless letters of interest, various donor letters, and Long Way Home's 2016 Annual Report. All of these tasks gave me practical experience in different writing capacities. While grants mandated that I focus on statistics and outcomes, donor letters were more centered on narrative. Alternatively, the annual report was a careful mix of compelling narrative and easy to digest statistical information. Furthermore, these writing tasks allowed me to experiment with different platforms such as email, written letter, graphically designed reports, and plain academic reports. Lastly, I grained invaluable insight into the cultural and political landscape of Guatemala and the larger Central American region. Through my conversations with my friends in Comalapa and my travels, I had the unique opportunity to converse with individuals around the country about the political situation as well as developmental challenges. While most seemed to agree that limited educational paths and employment opportunities were the greatest challenges to development, there was a clear division in opinion regarding the government between the indigenous Maya population and the ladino (mixed-race) population. The former was much more distrustful of political authorities while the latter held largely positive views. This difference in opinion captured my interest and the more I investigated the more explanations I found. In short, this divergence stems from a host of cultural, socioeconomic, and historical roots.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

As an aspirant professional in the field on international relations, NGO management was one of the many career paths I am considering post graduation. I selected this internship with LWH to determine whether I enjoyed this kind of in-country field work. I not only loved my work with LWH, but these past few months confirmed my impression that I would like to focus on Latin America. LWH ignited a passion for community-building within me and I would be interested in working as a project-manager for a similarly oriented NGO. Furthermore, because I had such a wonderful time in Guatemala, I would like to work abroad, whether that be for an NGO or for some-sort of diplomatic purpose, for at least a portion of my professional career. My people to people interactions with Guatemalans also reaffirmed my interest in a potential career in diplomacy/foreign relations. I would love to work within the State Department, USAID in particular, to explore how the US helps countries like Guatemala achieve their development goals.

These past few months confirmed my impression that I would like to focus on Latin America

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would highly recommend this experience to Liberal Arts students studying Spanish and another social science. An internship with Long Way Home not only entails professional skill-building, but also exposure to a beautiful country with a rich culture and history. Whether interns are learning about green-building, compiling financials for a report, or working on curriculum development with the teachers, they are sure to gain valuable skills, perspective, and knowledge.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

The Paterno Fellows Program exposed me to the Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Center and it was though the center that I encountered this incredible opportunity. Furthermore, the Paterno Fellows Program helped me secure enrichment funding for my stay abroad. Above all, however, I am not sure I would have pursued such an ambitious internship if I had not had the support of the Paterno Fellows Program. Initially I was hesitant to pick up and move to Guatemala for two months, but I knew in the back of my mind that this kind of work is what Fellows are supposed to do. Fellows are supposed to jump on new learning opportunities, explore the world, and think with a global perspective.

For more information on internships for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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