First week of activities at La Colmena

Before things catch up with us and we run out to make more glasses and flower pots out of recycled glass bottles, or to build a compost bin on the roof, or to learn how to install a rain water collection system, here are a few pictures of what has been going on at La Colmena since I last posted on this blog. We have had already two meditation sessions with our very own Alizarin Menninga from Macalester, three language exchange groups with Hana Masri, also from Mac, a cine-club Thursday with Iván, a friend from here who has been working-and having fun-with us a bunch, and an amazing book binding workshop with two facilitators from D.F. More pictures to come, and soon also a post about all the official and unofficial discussions we have been constantly having about the wider context and meaning of what we are doing and experiencing through this newborn community-experiment.ImagenImagenImagenImagenImagen

Chapadinha, aqui vamos nós!

The group! Picture taken at first meeting in Brazil on June 22.

The group! Picture taken at first meeting in Brazil on June 22.

All of our (Chapadinha) blog messages can also be found in Portuguese HERE
Todas as nossas mensagens de blog também pode ser encontrado em Português AQUI

Updated typhoid shot? Check. Weekly Skype meeting with Danilo, Paulinha, and Juliana? Check. Brazilian visa? Check. The patience to wait a week until meeting Luiza Montesanti in Sao Paulo? Nowhere to be found.

Since April, Luiza and I have been working hard with our Brazilian partners to prepare for our trip to Chapadinha, a rural village outside of the Brazilian city of Montes Claros. We’ve communicated with engineers, priests, teachers, Chapadinha community leaders, local youth, and more about the project in order to make the community’s hopes of having a vibrant, healthy, and welcoming community center a reality.

To promote our collective notion of global citizenship, we have also been working with the community to have the space sustainably promote education and intentional shared learning conversations. After the construction’s completion, we will work with various community members to design workshops and discussion groups on topics most relevant to their daily lives. Potential topics include conversations and workshops on dengue fever (an increasing local concern) and environmental law, as many community members have been fined for laws they unknowingly violated. We hope to create a place where local knowledge and skills can be celebrated and shared and where we can also offer our own international experiences in a way that strengthens our role as global citizens.

Below are my and Luiza’s introductions, as well as the introductions of the three Brazilian university student partners who will be helping us orchestrate the project alongside Chapadinha residents. All friends of Luiza and familiar with Chapadinha, the Brazilian students’ local insights and commitment to the betterment of Chapadinha have already shone through in our numerous Skype meetings and all the invaluable work they’ve done so far.

Carolyn (Me)

I’m a rising junior from Montpelier, Vermont, and so excited to be a part of this project with the Chapadinha community and Luiza, one of my best friends since my first semester at Mac. As an International Studies major at Macalester with a core in Political Science, this project could not be more ideal for me. In this Live It! project, I’ll be able to take things I’ve learned at Mac and in East Africa (where I’ve worked with a variety of public health and education projects), and work with real local leaders and community members in a truly grassroots project. Having a leading role in this project but still sharing the reins with a foreign community I do not know will be invaluable in shaping me as the global citizen I hope to be. I can’t wait for all that is to come!


Hey y’all! My name is Luiza and I’m a rising junior at Mac, where I’ve been studying Political Science, Economics, and International Development. I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and visited Chapadinha with my former high school almost five years ago. I’m looking forward to work with the wonderful, highly motivated people in this team, and see where these ideas will take us.


Hi, my name is Danilo, and I am a 21 year-old Brazilian, I´m currently a production engineering student at Federal University of São Carlos.

Since the high school I got involved in social projects, I believe that being a volunteer is a way to recontribute all the opportunities that I had in my life, and I hope that in this project sharing my time, knowledge and experiences can help in some way the community development. The experience I had in Montes Claros taught me a lot and made me a better person, I´m sure that this experience will be awesome and I´m glad for this opportunity!


Hi, I am Juliana Quarenta, a 20-year-old Brazilian. I’m currently a law student at University of São Paulo. In the University I participate in different social projects because I believe that they are essential for a complete university education. Analyze and face hard realities in Brazil and working for change society are some of my objectives.

Returning to Chapadinha means a lot for me, the rural reality it´s totally different from São Paulo, the biggest city of Brazil, so a social action in Chapadinha requires from us the comprehension of their needs. I remember of the community with love, their humility and the way they live has a lot to teach us.

I am really excited to join a project composed by people from different countries. I think it only brings benefits to our project, different perspectives, acting and approaches, makes us better volunteers and a better team.

So I really believe this project will be incredible, I dreamed to return to Chapadinha and contributing to their community in a way that is beneficial for all. This dream will become reality in this project.


I’m Anna Paula Sun, a 20-year-old Brazilian. I’m currently a law student at University of São Paulo.

Through high school and now through my university years, I’ve always tried to get involved in as many social projects as I could.

It feels as a great pleasure – and duty – to dream a better future to my country. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our people does not have the same educational opportunities we had, and it is a scenario my generation must tackle.

Chapadinha means a lot to me. I’ve been there twice; at first in 2008, with Luiza, and also last summer. Once Luiza invited us to plan a project to help people from this community I felt deeply delighted and honoured.

You can contact us at with any questions or comments.

Casa de Esperanza: Week 1

We just finished our first week of the program and it definitely feels like a success! Monday we got right to work on the community garden in the backyard and it looks great. With the amazing help of Hispanic Studies professor Teresa Mesa and all of the kids, we created the foundation of three small plots and planted tons of vegetables and herbs – tomatillos, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, jalapeño peppers, habanero peppers, basil, pumpkin, cilantro, parsley, and mint. The kids had a blast planting everything and still get excited to water the garden everyday!


Because all of the residents have their own schedules, I decided to make a big calendar of the month’s activities to post a communal area and print copies to distribute to everyone. That way, residents and their kids can drop in and participate in the activities when they are available. This week, the school-aged children were finishing up school, so I most mostly working with three of the little ones. Next week will be very busy though! Right now there are nine kids at the Refugio, seven of which are between the ages of four and eight!

On Tuesday, our main activity was apron decorating in preparation for the cooking lesson on Friday and on Wednesday we did jewelry making and decorated jewelry boxes. We also did a lot of outdoor games and running around. On Thursday, we went on our first excursion to the Science Museum of Minnesota. Because most of the kids were still in school, we went as a small group of just two moms and two young kids (four and five years old). The museum had such cool exhibits and we all had a really good time – it was the perfect place to go because it was interesting for everybody, even the adults. The kids had a blast because the exhibits were very interactive and hands-on. We finished the day off with a quick lunch and ice cream in the museum cafeteria!

Finally, on Friday we had our first cooking lesson with Josemy on-site at the Refugio! Josemy is the Organizational Support Coordinator at Casa de Esperanza, but he also is finishing up culinary school. He very generously agreed to give weekly cooking lessons this month, which is wonderful because the majority of the residents love to cook. This Friday, he taught a group of three adults and five kids (plus myself) how to make Puerto Rican flank steak fajitas, a fairly simple (according to Josemy) but delicious recipe. He taught us how to cut the different vegetables (peppers, jalapeños, onions, avocado), cut, season, and cook the meat, and prepare the tortillas. A super engaging man, Josemy used a perfect balance of demonstration and participation in his lesson. Everyone had fun, but I think the mothers especially enjoyed learning new cutting and cooking techniques. And eating them afterward was delicious!

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Live It! Summer 2013: Tomorrow it begins!

Hi! My name is Sofia Halperin-Goldstein and I am a rising junior at Macalester. Tomorrow brings the start of my Live It! project here in the Twin Cities at Casa de Esperanza. Casa is a Latina non-profit organization that provides services to women experiencing domestic violence. My project lies in Casa’s Refugio, a temporary emergency shelter for Latina women and non-Latina women alike.

It was my time at the Refugio throughout this past year that provided me with the inspiration behind my Live It! project. As an intern, I was able to gain a fuller understanding of the familial crisis and stress experienced by the residents at the Refugio. In particular, I noticed a common sense of confusion experienced among the residents’ kids, brought on by physical dislocation, shifts in family composition and living arrangements, and other life changes.

My project seeks to provide a sense of continuity and wholeness to the children’s time at the Refugio, through activities and off-site excursions during summer vacation when their time is largely unstructured. Two key elements of the program are the cultivation of a community garden and the compilation of personal scrapbooks that the document the participants’ summer experiences. In doing these activities and excursions, I hope that the kids will both experience some of the normative aspects of childhood in the Twin Cities and strengthen their emotional resilience and sense of self through intentional discussion and reflection. Having stopped into the shelter this weekend, I can already tell that the current group of eight kids have lots of energy and spirit!

In addition to activities for the kids, I hope to involve adult residents through a series of workshops provided by outside visitors. So far on the agenda, we have a yoga teacher, western medicine practitioner, and an chef who will offer weekly cooking classes coming to the Refugio!

Tomorrow morning we will jump right in by starting our community garden (with the help of Macalester professor Teresa Mesa!) I can’t wait to see what this summer (and the kids!) bring. Keep checking in here for updates!

Construyendo La Colmena

My name is Mariana Roa Oliva, and 10 days ago I arrived to Mexico City, my hometown, to work on a communityu education project supported by the Live It! Fund. The main objective of this project is to create a space in the city where people of diverse ages and backgrounds can exchange skills and ideas, bringing to the table what they want and can and taking what they need and desire to learn.

What started as a relatively small summer project has grown a lot since I first emailed friends from different places about working on this idea. La Colmena, as we have been calling this project, has now a house with a year long lease, and which has already been furnished with five mattresses and two beds, one small bookshelf already overfloding with books, art for the walls in different styles, a mint plant, a few violets, and many other things, all donated by an amazing group of friends and supporters.

We started building La Colmena a couple months ago, trying to work out details from two different countries, in two different languages, and with a group of people among which I knew very well some, and only through the internet others. For these reasons, finding a house, organizing the spaces and workshops’ schedules, and doing all the organizing work was very different -and difficult- until we finally met each other in person a week ago. That, however, didn’t mean the work was less since I arrived to Mexico- I have been working on, thinking about, or talking about La Colmena 24/7, and much of the work over the past couple days was getting everything ready for our opening party, which was yesterday.

Greeting the neighbors, talking about what we are doing, and watching the performances we had at la casa made it difficult to really stop and think about all this, but looking at the pictures has made me feel again extremely happy, excited, grateful, and inspired. Four different bands of the most diverse styles performed at the house, sharing the stage with around twenty poets and a few performance artists. There we were, five Macalester students at the house meeting a couple friends I hadn’t seen in years, the friends from Mexico we had been talking with and about for a while, and a group of neighbors who have lived in the neighborhood for more than twenty years.

The first workshop/space at La Colmena starts on Monday at 11 am and it is Meditation, which I think is very fitting. Tomorrow we have our second Colmena meeting, to keep talking about how things are going and what we have to do this week. So much has happened that I feel like we’ve been doing this for years, and I would need days to write down all I’ve been thinking and feeling, but the work here is still endless, and so is the amount of fun things you can do in this city, so I shall stop here for now.

I will come back and write very soon, but I want to end this first blog post thanking some people whose support has made and will keep making this possible– the IGCSC of course, our friends at Macalester you all know who you are cause you’re right here or because I miss you and you know it, our incredible professors and KP Hong for the inmense inspiration that drives us, my family and friends here for being with me even when I get all stressed, and all the talented, kind, and supportive people here who have made this project their own.

Here’s a link to our blog, and one to our class schedule! We are what?! also on Facebook!? Yes. At La Colmena.


colmena músicacomena vecinasfiesta colmena

Sunflower County Freedom Project, Week 1

This week was my first week of training at the Sunflower County Freedom Project. I will be teaching reading to students going into eighth grade, and leading enrichment for older students. I am basically a teacher for the next next five weeks. My students will call me Ms. Spolin and I spend my time planning lessons and thinking about attention getting symbols. We have training from 7:15 in the morning to five in the afternoon–I haven’t had days this long since high school. We have spent the week planning lessons, learning about classroom management, and how to mentor students. I am so looking forward to Monday, my first day of teaching. I am also nervous to be teaching and leading from eight in the morning from to five at night. In college, I’m tired after three hours of class. the program i am working on focuses on enrichment for younger students, but i also am getting to know older students who are applying to college. I play two very different roles, because I will be a teacher (literally) for eighth graders, and then a mentor for older kids. 

The freedom project encourages all of the students that attend the summer school and mentorship program to be a leader; in fact, LEAD is the motto we will be emphasizing throughout the summer. The LEAD principles stand for Leadership, education, action, and discipline. There will be 20 eighth grade students and 67 students overall in the program. 

I have loved meeting the other volunteers: three are from ole miss, two are from Amherst, and three are Robertson Scholars at UNC and Duke. It is interesting because we are all transplanted into the Delta and are processing together what it is like. There are no natives of the Mississippi Delta, and there are only two native Mississippians.

Culturally, Sunflower County unlike anywhere else i have ever been in my life. the first day i arrived, I was wearing an old t-shirt that said boston. When i was walking around the grocery store, two people asked me how i liked Mississippi. “you arent from here, are you?” they seemed shocked that someone from California would come to their rural area of Mississippi. Being white also gives me away. Sunflower County has around 30,000 people, 75% of whom are African American. The white people live in a certain area of town and send their kids to Indianola Academy, a known segregationist academy founded in the 1970’s when the federal government forced Mississippi public schools to integrate. All of the kids that attend this after school program are black and attend the all black public school. It feels so segregated to me. As an outsider, I don’t know much, but there are physical barriers separating white neighborhoods from black neighborhoods, there are two separate schools, each with entirely homogeneous populations, and there are even separate ways of speaking, words, and mannerisms. 

More High Schools in Mississippi

This week I had my last three high school meetings. Monday morning, I went to Oak Grove High school in Hattiesburg (pronounced hat-is-burg by the locals). Once again, the administration didn’t seem aware of my presence and sent me straight to the cafeteria. I roamed around the lunchroom introducing myself to teachers asking them to send students my way. While they were friendly, many of them never left their perches at the corners of the room. Finally, I made my way back to the counselor’s office. After I explained a bit more about myself and Macalester, the guidance counselors seemed very interested. We sat in his office talking about the advantage of liberal arts education and students he thought might be a good fit. He even called in two students for me to talk to. I was thrilled, and spent almost the entire afternoon with the counselor.


The next day, Tuesday, was another story entirely. I headed to Bay high school on the gulf coast at 10:30 for a 10:56 lunch start time (but really, who eats that early?) However, I ended up walking right into some sort of voting area. Apparently, it was the day for mayoral elections in Bay Saint Louis! I was asked for my ID, and thinking this was a school security measure, I handed my Californian drivers license to them. Startled, they told me that only locals can vote in this election and asked me why I was trying to vote. I quickly attempted to clarify that I was not, in fact, trying to vote, but rather trying to find the high school. Laughing, the woman told me I was a block away from the high school; this was the local church—and it was open for elections. I was embarrassed; not only was I in the wrong place, but I had come across as trying to vote in an election far beyond my region. By the time I made it to the high school, lunch had just begun. This was also the first school they had set me up outside. I pulled out my remaining Macalester resources (they were quickly depleting) and sat outside. Ten minutes later, sweat was pouring off my face (sorry if this is too graphic). Kids approached me to talk about Macalester and all I could think about was that I felt like I was in a swimming pool. The worst part was, none of them seemed the least bit hot! To be clear, it was over 90 degrees with tons of humidity and no shade. After toughing it out for two lunches, I met some interesting kids, and called it a day for a long drive back to Jackson.

Finally, this morning, I had planned to speak with students at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Jackson. However, due to a crazy storm, the power had gone out at the school. And though the counselor confirmed she would be there, no students were in school today. In one of my easiest meetings, I talked about Macalester and got a tour of St. Andrews high school. The counselor seemed really excited about Mac, boasting that St. Andrews has the most students go out of state of any high school in Mississippi and were always looking for more options to present to students.


Then, on a recommendation from the college counselor at St. Andrews, I headed to a local non-profit: Education Services Get2College. The organization runs workshops, meets with students individually and in groups, trains college counselors, and more in order to assist Mississippians in matriculating and graduating from college. Though they didn’t know many students who would be interested in Mac, it was great to scope out some local college access work. They were familiar with the organization I will be working with in the Mississippi delta, and had even collaborated on some joint college access efforts.