By Alexandra dePolo
Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership Scholar, 2009
Temple class of 2011, School of Communications and Theater, Organizational Leadership major
Ali spent the first five weeks of summer in Yallahs, Jamaica in the Parish of St. Thomas. Through Temple University’s International Service Learning Program and the NGO EduTourism, Ali worked at a women’s farming cooperative, the St. Thomas Women’s Agricultural Initiative (STWAI) and taught art at Yallahs Basic school, the local preschool. At STWAI she worked with seven women farmers who had formed the cooperative to overcome poverty and provide for themselves as the community could not. Due to chronic problems within the group, Ali and a partner worked with the women to improve group dynamics and leadership skills. She also wrote an organizational assessment of the cooperative, putting the problems in the context of organizational and communication theory. At Yallahs Basic School she helped teach basic art principles to children, ages three to six. During evenings the group had class in their oceanfront villa, studying the history of Jamaica, poverty, race, colonialism, economics and education. On weekends Ali traveled with her professors and classmates to see the island. They experienced the fountains at Bath, experienced the life of a local fisherman and his day’s work, spent a week in Kingston at the University of the West Indies and spent the last weekend in the popular tourist location Ochos Rios. Through these varied experiences Ali was able to see not only a completely different way of life in a less developed nation but also learn about farming, education styles and the tourism industry in the Caribbean. The most valuable aspects of her trip were the in-depth experience working with and learning about a small not for profit, and the work she was able to do with the women’s cooperative, both which will be great experience for her future career in the non-profit industry.
When I first decided to do the summer Temple in Jamaica: International Service Learning Program, I did not expect it to relate as closely to my major as it did. In Jamaica we each chose one to three sites to work at. Although no one knew of this opportunity before we got there, one of the groups the students traditionally work with needed help with group dynamics at a local women’s cooperative. The St. Thomas Women’s Agricultural Initiative is an organization that has come together to work and help provide themselves, through their own efforts and others, with things that they haven’t been able to find elsewhere in the community like poverty alleviation and healthcare. However the leadership in the group was poor and their organizational structure prevented them from being successful. My major (Organizational Leadership) focuses on these issues and I immediately decided to make this my primary work site.
From this experience I learned how to apply the theories I’ve studied in school to real life situations where real people were expecting results. This was invaluable to me because not only did I begin to understand certain concepts more clearly but I saw how they were received and their level of effectiveness when put into practice. Because of this I learned that in my next two years I need to focus on conflict management more but I also need to learn about adult education. While education is my focus area in the Vira I. Heinz program, I didn’t realize how important it was to my major until Jamaica. It is one thing to know the concepts and understand how to use them to better an organization, but another to know how to introduce these ideas to an organization and implement them successfully. I now know that I need to focus on this to be successful and able to effectively help an organization.