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On co-​​op last fall in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Lindsey Voet helped more than a dozen young Spanish-​​speaking stu­dents learn Eng­lish by trans­lating Justin Bieber pop songs.

“It was cool to see the kids get excited when they fig­ured out what the songs they have been lis­tening to actu­ally meant,” Voet said. “Learning Eng­lish,” she added, “is impor­tant for many stu­dents who hope to com­pete in a more global market.”

From Sep­tember to December, Voet — a fourth-​​year North­eastern stu­dent with a com­bined major in human ser­vices and inter­na­tional affairs — vol­un­teered for Centro Inte­gral Warmi, a non­profit com­mu­nity center for working women and their chil­dren. She con­nected with the orga­ni­za­tion through the Foun­da­tion for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment (FSD), a San Francisco-​​based non­profit focused on capacity building in the inter­na­tional community.

Voet took respon­si­bility for sev­eral ini­tia­tives. For instance, she taught an oral hygiene class for more than two dozen preschool-​​age children.

“When I first got there, chil­dren weren’t able to eat snacks because of the gaping holes in their mouths,” Voet explained. “There was a lack of aware­ness for how much of an impact oral hygiene could have on overall health.”

She also designed both a busi­ness plan and an infor­ma­tional brochure to boost rev­enues and raise aware­ness of the organization’s soap-​​making fac­tory, for which she received a $200 grant from FSD to create the mar­keting mate­rials. Warmi opened the fac­tory in 1984 in order to raise money and create jobs for local women, who use llama fat to make the soap.

“I got really con­nected to the idea of empow­ering these women,” Voet said. “The problem is that they are com­peting with mas­sive cor­po­ra­tions that can pro­duce the soap for cheap with better packaging.”

She spoke Spanish on a daily basis, immersing her­self in a new lan­guage for four months. As Voet put it, “I was forced to get past my fear of making mistakes.”

Voet said the experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­nity rein­forced her under­standing of the com­plexity of global issues, including health, poverty and the power of microfinance.

The Sacra­mento, Calif., native expressed interest in applying her new­found knowl­edge to address prob­lems in her own com­mu­nity. “I am now more con­fi­dent than ever in addressing issues in this country,” Voet said. “People here need us too.”

– by Jason Kornwitz

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