Conscious Commitment to Change -
A Model of Which to be Proud
2016 Fellows and Students in Porto Velho
By Rachel Lyons, US-Brazil Connect, Director of Nonprofit Management
An increasing number of Americans are seeking authentic international experiences that offer engagement with the local community and an opportunity to give back. Concerned individuals are shifting their focus from traditional travel to reality-based experiences that explore community issues. There are now more than 2,000 organizations in the world focused on volunteer travel. With such an assortment of options, it can be difficult to ascertain which programs are created to serve the best interest of the local community. Unfortunately, many projects are not developed in true collaboration with local partners; they do not meet the actual needs of the community and they send poorly trained volunteers to do the work. This frequently can lead to unintended and harmful consequences for the host community.
At US-Brazil Connect, we understand that international travel can be a dynamic force for peace and understanding among people from vastly different cultures. The strength of our fellowship is in our model. We are not a charity program, but rather exist because of shared investment with our partners in Brazil. Americans are not “in charge” of “fixing problems” in Brazil; we have established a standard that allows both American and Brazilian partners an opportunity to be engaged in program design, identifying priorities and investing in solutions. We value co-creation and know from experience that every Fellow, Brazilian student and stakeholder has value and insight to offer. We focus on the training and preparation of every Fellow that travels to Brazil so that they benefit and grow as much as our Brazilian students.
Many organizations offering similar programs charge individuals thousands of dollars to participate. We work hard to overcome the barrier of cost to open the door to these deserving students. Our fellowship is affordable and accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of our fellows are community college students from small towns across America who may never have imagined that an international fellowship was possible for them. Our Brazilian students are primarily from working class families and they are not charged a fee to participate. This is something that as an organization, makes us proud.
I have been fortunate to travel to several countries throughout my career for research purposes, professional exchange, teaching projects and volunteer work. I have witnessed many projects that are poorly planned and poorly managed, thus having a negative impact on the local community. I have also witnessed how our program model is successful and how we have impacted so many lives over the past five years. Our team at US-Brazil Connect is truly committed to creating meaningful, transformative programs that are accessible to all who share our vision for a better world. I personally am very proud of this.