Humanitarian student group travels to help poor communities

Photo Courtesy of Hope for Children of the World

By: Eduardo Almaguer/Staff Writer

Yenetsy Salinas, a senior finance and management information systems major, would always flip on the television and get aggravated.

It seemed that every 30 minutes, the heart-wrenching commercials that showed starving children wearing rags for clothes, dirt washing over their body and a few grains of rice as their daily meal would broadcast. One night, as the soft piano melody that accompanied these tear-jerking ads aired, Salinas decided she was going to do something about it.

“I wanted to help, but not just donate money, said Salinas. “I wanted to be in the field impacting the lives, knowing that our hard work would immediately reap benefits.”

Thus, one year ago, with the help of friend Jennifer Lazo, a senior finance and management major, Salinas co-founded Hope for Children of the World as a means to travel to deprived countries and wash away the blanket of poverty that covered them.

“We wanted to give them [the people of the country] the tools to help themselves so they can keep going,” said Salinas.

A non-profit volunteer organization, HCW focuses the majority of its work in a small community in Leon, Nicaragua called “Nuevo Amanecer,” and in Lima, Peru.

Along with being one of the poorest countries in the world, Nicaragua has extremely low education levels, according to Salinas. Around 60 to 80 percent of the community does not know how to read or write. By comparison, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook published in 2002, only three percent of Americans do not know how to read and write.

When she established the organization, Salinas knew there was a time-consuming, grueling road ahead of her filled with red tape for funding and sweat for the endless hours of labor she would encounter.

Last year, they managed to get funding from the Student Government Association for plane tickets. The rest of the supplies–paint, toys, food, clothing and tools–came from fundraising. They also footed the bill for their own personal expenses like hotel stays, gas and a driver to take them to the community.

Photo Courtesy of Hope for Children of the World

When Salinas and her team of around 10 members arrived in Nuevo Amanecer for their first, week-long rebuilding project, they hit the ground running.

“We were introduced by a community leader and explained what our goal was,” said Salinas. “We then surveyed the individual families to see what were their biggest needs.”

Basic essentials like food, clean water and clothing were on the list, but they were not the biggest need. Latrines, communal toilets for the camp, were what Nuevo Amanecer, a community without electricity or running water, desperately needed.

Natalia Ochoa, a junior biology major and the director of marketing and communications for HCW, was astounded at how grateful the people of Nuevo Amanecer were for such a basic necessity.

“Their faces of happiness were amazing,” said Ochoa. “They didn’t have to go up a mountain to do their business anymore. It’s so incredible how something so simple can make such a difference.”

The HCW group made sure every single minute spent in the community would not go to waste. They distributed dozens of toys to the children, gave clothing to every single person, brightened up the neighborhood by painting the communal houses and made strides to truly understand what it was like to live in those conditions.

While having the opportunity to radically improve the lives they touch is the best reward of them all, the members of HCW know there is another, much more personal benefit.

“We infiltrate ourselves,” said Ochoa. “You have a chance to really step out of your comfort zone and learn about yourself and who you are.”

One of the best aspects of HCW, Salinas and Ochoa mentioned, is that there are no requirements to join. There are no specific major restrictions and there are no initial sign-up fees. Once students are in the organization, they earn points by attending meetings and fund raising events. The highest point earners are the ones that get the chance to travel to other countries.

The organization plans to return to Nicaragua in December and extend their visit to possibly two weeks. They also plan to visit more countries, but have not determined which ones yet.

With SGA no longer funding their plane tickets, the goal for the organization is to spread the word as they focus on recruitment and involvement.

“The more help we have, the more funds we can raise,” said Ochoa. “The more funds we can raise, the more projects we can get to these people.”

For more information or to sign up email hcw@fiu.edu.

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