Thursday, September 16, 2010

Senior Spanish-peace studies double major interns for nonprofit in Peru

Senior Katie Williams has returned to Whitworth this fall after a five-month internship in Urubamba, Peru, for ProWorld Service Corps, a nonprofit development agency.

Williams' work in Peru included maintaining a small farm plot with a plant vendor, volunteering with a group of oregano farmers, and working at the Ministry of Agriculture on an education campaign for hygienic and efficient cuy (guinea pig) raising. She also designed a campaign promoting the nutritional value of whole grains and volunteered for a local school's theater and dance program.

Williams chose ProWorld after searching online for a program with projects and a mission statement that she agreed with, and a schedule and budget that would work for her.

One of Williams' challenges in living in Latin America was to accept her Western identity, rather than pretend it didn't exist. She doesn't consider this a negative aspect of her trip, though, since one of the program's main objectives was intercultural exchange, not ethnic fusion.

"As hard as I tried to be the anti-tourist and as much as I wanted to immerse myself completely into the community I was living in, I had to come to terms with the fact that my Spanish would never sound native and my white skin would always influence the nature of my relationships with the locals," says Williams, originally from Colorado Springs, Colo.

Along with its challenges, life in Peru brought the unexpected. One day, a man walked into her office and asked Williams if she would be interested in helping him build greenhouses for communities isolated in extremely high mountainous regions of Peru's Sacred Valley.

"I agreed without realizing that within the hour, we would be riding away on a less-than-fine-tuned motorcycle through Andean mountain paths at altitudes of 11- to 14,000 feet," Williams says. "We were gone for four days, surviving on purely coca leaves and potatoes. It was an unforgettable experience."

The same valley was struck by the heaviest rains the region had seen in more than 50 years during Williams' visit, causing the Urubamba River to flood and consequently destroying several houses in the villages along its banks. Williams ended the other projects she was working on to take food, blankets and clothes to the flood victims living in tents in the Urubamba stadium.

In addition to her travels abroad, Williams also has been involved in community service projects on campus and in Spokane. During her freshman and sophomore years, she worked with Food For Thought Community Dinner, an outreach project seeking to break down barriers between social classes in Spokane, especially between the homeless and middle class populations. She also served as a mentor for Spokane middle and alternative schools.

Founded in 1998, ProWorld promotes social and economic development, empowers communities and cultivates educated compassionate global citizens.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,900 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.