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BUILD student development projects in India, Nicaragua aim for sustainability

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 02:02


Courtesy Ben Berman

Students travelled to Nicaragua this winter break with BUILD to meet with partner NGOs.

“I only went to Thottiyapatti this winter,” Vaidya said. “That was a really interesting experience to finally see our projects in reality and meet the people we’ve been talking about so much. Now I feel like after the trip the connection is a little more there ... but in terms of the disconnect, and the ethics of being outsiders ... we talk a lot about this during our meetings.” BUILD Nicaragua

BUILD Nicaragua has struggled with disconnect from its community, which contributed to its 2011 transition from its original base in Guatemala. The Guatemala program, which began in 2007, was ultimately cancelled due to security concerns.

“Before last year we realized that our project in Guatemala was having a lot of issues,” sophomore BUILD co−director Ben Berman said. “It was time for us to transition out of that project, which we did successfully last year.”

Like the students working with BUILD India, the students working in Nicaragua, have committed to creating a sustainable relationship with their partner community.

“Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a night, teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime ... Except what we’ve found is that teaching a man to fish takes a lot more time than two weeks a year, and fishing in Nicaragua is a lot different than it is in the United States,” Berman said.

Berman acknowledges the cultural and geographical gap between the partner community and the students working to improve it.

“There are variables that you can never be prepared for unless you’re living there full time, which is why even NGOs that are there have so much trouble implementing these projects,” Berman said. “Things like ecotourism and a massive computer lab and agriculture were great ideas for the community, but they were hard to follow through on because we were so far away.”

BUILD Nicaragua partners with the Asociacion para el Desarrollo Integral Comunitario (ADIC), Association of Volunteers for Community Development (AVODEC) and the Centre for Education in Health and Environment (CESESMA). The chapter is in the process of altering its operational structure in order to connect more with the partner community and move on from difficulties in Guatemala.

“BUILD India has done a much better job than BUILD Guatemala did in terms of keeping in touch with their community,” Berman said. “Things have changed a lot in the past year [for BUILD Nicaragua] and it’s a testament to the amazing group of students we have now.”

BUILD Nicaragua includes an Experimental College course that teaches the theory of monitoring and evaluating sustainable projects in developing countries. The course features speakers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, Harvard and Tufts who will discuss their own sustainable projects, according to Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Daniele Lantagne. All members of the group are enrolled in this pass/fail, half−credit course this semester.

“The concept now is that students will spend a year academically learning about the theory and practice of development in the classroom in addition to learning about BUILD’s processes in Nicaragua and the country of Nicaragua itself,” Berman said.

“It’s not just students ...talking about projects,” she said. “It’s all rigorous evidence.The goal is to give a rigorous theory− and example−based course so that as students move forward with BUILD they’ll be able to implement projects better and evaluate past projects better,” Lantagne said.

Lantagne, who sponsors the course, is new to Tufts this academic year. She has worked with projects in developing countries in the past, such as in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and focuses on water treatment projects.

According to Berman, the course will be followed by the opportunity to intern with one of BUILD’s partner organizations in Nicaragua over the summer. This past winter, five students went to Nicaragua to spend ten days meeting with NGOs, in order to strengthen their relationship and outline BUILD’s structure and direction in the Ex−College course.

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