Alexa Juarez is a freshman at Rice University in Texas, majoring in biochemistry and minoring in poverty, justice and human capability. She is 18 and has already travelled extensively and volunteered on numerous service projects in Latin America. Notably, she spent last summer in Ecuador helping to build a school in a disadvantaged community in the Andes Mountains.
Alexa is also the first UBELONG Campus Leader. With the support of her UBELONG Mentor, Cedric Hodgeman, who is also the Co-Founder of UBELONG, Alexa is organizing a team of her classmates from Rice to go to Huancayo, Peru next summer. The team will have the opportunity to work on the Volunteer Abroad in Huancayo volunteer projects, which cut across community development and environmental protection issues. We recently had the opportunity to interview Alexa and learn more about this bright, caring and inspiring young leader.
What motivated you to become a UBELONG Campus Leader?
After volunteering in Honduras and Ecuador I felt I had to volunteer abroad again. They were amazing and very important experiences in my life. By becoming a Campus Leader I can go back to the field and also share my passion for volunteering and inspire others to join me. I think it is important to live life outside of the American bubble and see different places, and I want to help other people do so.
In what way do you think your team members will benefit from this experience?
I think they will get different perspectives on the world. They will step outside of their comfort zone to reach out and work together with locals, in an unfamiliar environment, away from home. They will play a new role in a new place. In a way, they will reinvent themselves to try to make a difference. Volunteering abroad is a very positive experience that has the power to transform people. By volunteering you build character, you discover your own strengths and weaknesses, you shape your leadership skills. At the same time, my volunteer team will realize that we’re all humans who are connected. They will build new relationships with the people of Huancayo and experience how people from anywhere in the world can work together and care for each other.
What is the main contribution you think your team will make to the community in Huancayo?
My team is not going to change Peru in just a couple weeks, but I think we will bring different talents and skills that are very valuable. Whether it’s teaching English or working on the environmental project, we’ll enthusiastically share what we can do with the local people. Also, with the children in particular, I think we can plant positive seeds that will inspire them and open them to new cultures and ideas. We’ll also provide affection and friendship, which I think is important because many poor children in Peru do not receive enough. Even if the children don’t remember our names when we leave, I think they’ll remember the positive impression that we made. Finally, I hope the trip can become a reoccurring one for Rice students so that future students can also experience volunteering in Huancayo and work with the community on an ongoing basis.
Imagine yourself in Huancayo. What challenges do you foresee in your role as an international volunteer?
I think the biggest challenge will be receiving acceptance from the community. Especially when we first arrive I’m sure people will be unsure and a little shy about what we’re there for. However, I think through our actions and kindness we’ll build friendships and gain acceptance. We’ll also have to be culturally sensitive, and while not all of us speak Spanish very well we’ll do the best we can to be effective communicators. There will be challenges, but overcoming them is part of the learning and growing experience that we’ll be on.