Earlier this month, Towson University senior Sarah Rowan joined the OCHO team as its first college intern. Sarah is already hard at work, assisting OCHO President Cristina Saenz de Tejada with logistics, and helping to organize the various task groups for the 2019 medical brigade that leaves this June.
Sarah comes to this role with an uncommon level of preparation, both academic and experiential: a Spanish major and Honors College student, she has been studying the language and culture for most of her life. “I’ve been taking Spanish since I was nine, when I was in the fourth grade – the year my family emigrated from Ireland. I loved it as a kid, and took it all the way through high school, where I had an amazing teacher, Señor Guillermo Brown, who had lived in Venezuela for 20 years and done community development work there. He inspired me to do Spanish in college.”
At Towson, Sarah initially studied journalism, she said, because she loves talking to people, and hearing their stories. What she experienced in Guatemala made her want to step beyond the role of neutral, objective observation, the stock in trade of journalists. Sarah wanted to be an advocate. “I had done some public health research before going to Guatemala – and there’s only so much research you can do before you have to get down there and see it for yourself. It turned out to be a country of extremes. Antigua is an absolutely beautiful city, with lots of rich tourists walking around the center of town, and just a few miles out, people don’t have access to even the basic necessities. One day, a woman walked up to me, selling scarves, and offered me this beautiful hand-woven scarf for 10 Quetzals – about $1.50 – and I later learned it probably took her a few months to make it. Everything was being sold for so much less than it’s actually worth, and it forced me to take a step back, and think about things on a systems level.”
Sarah’s minor in political science has given her the opportunity to research and write extensively about the issues she saw in Guatemala: women’s health, migration policy, and international development. “I really want to continue my research into the health care and educational systems in Guatemala, and the lack of cultural inclusiveness toward the Mayan-majority culture. My question is: what can the international community do to increase inclusive partnerships with indigenous communities, particularly in the reproductive health care system?”
She sees her work with OCHO as a bridge between the worlds of theory and practice. “I learned about OCHO through Dr. Leticia Romo’s Spanish translation class at Towson. Having read about what OCHO does, I was extremely interested because OCHO’s work is a real-world application of the research I’m doing on Guatemala. That’s the kind of work I’ve always wanted to get involved in. It’s all about sustainable development. What encourages me about OCHO is that it’s about training, and developing relationships – in this case, a partnership that’s lasted 20 years.”
So far, Sarah has been translating the voluminous email traffic that flows between the OCHO partners in Atima and Baltimore. She also has been doing organizational work to coordinate volunteer efforts, and will be serving as liaison between OCHO task groups here and in Honduras. Sarah has taken to her new role with gusto: “Even from a couple of weeks of working with the team, I can see how dedicated people are to its missions. I think that organizations like OCHO play a really important role in breaking down walls between cultures, and improving cross-cultural communications. It’s all about building empathy.”
Cristina Tejada said, “We are delighted to have Sarah on board. She’s a wonderful addition to our team, and she’s already making a difference for our organization. I’m hopeful that she will join us on a future OCHO brigade.”