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Cathy H.4

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Review for Partners of the Americas, Inc., Washington, DC, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

Volunteers in Partners of the Americas connect, serve, and change lives. There are as many ways to make good things happen as there are individuals who belong. Partners’ strength is it embraces flexibility and has faith—based on experience—that ripples from service will impact others.

Partners has given me a world of friendships. I’ve been able to serve, and I’ve changed many lives, including my own.

Here’s a taste of how Partners’ three-part mission works:

John Beattie, a retiree in the Colorado Chapter of Partners of the Americas, wanted to improve the English and teaching skills of public-school, K-12 teachers in their counterpart chapter in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The problem: English is a required part of the curriculum there, but few teachers are fluent.

A “skunkworks” personality, John piloted a solution: He motivated his chapter to build a program, which lasted until COVID. Every July (summer vacation in Brazilian schools), 14 teachers flew to Colorado, lived with families, and learned the local community college’s latest teaching techniques. Colorado Partners did deep pocket fund-raising; they paid the college professors and paid for plane tickets for the teachers when needed.

How could lives not be changed? One example: Marcîa Pinheiro, an ELL teacher from Brasília, was accepted for the University of Brasília’s highly competitive Masters in Applied Linguistics degree, now completed. Another: John recruited an ELL expert from the University of Northern Colorado to join the chapter. Soon, Professor Tom Griggs traveled to Minas Gerais to give ELL workshops on a Partners Travel Grant. When he retired, Tom spent last year as a visiting professor at a university in Minas Gerais.

Some volunteers thrive when they carefully create an enduring structure such as the annual Brazilian Film Festival that Illinois-Sāo Paulo State chapters sponsor. Other volunteers use their expertise to educate others, such as Denise Decker, Ph.D. in the DC-Brasília Partners. Denise has been blind since birth. Guide dogs are crucial to her mobility and have been a powerful reinforcement to her lectures on inclusion for chapters in the US and Brazil.

Inspired by President John Kennedy, Partners of the Americas was founded as the people-to-people component of the Alliance for Progress. More than 50 years later, it has evolved from the original concept of linking a US state to a Latin American country (or US state-to-Brazilian State.) Now Partners is more multi-lateral, with volunteers across chapters collaborating in projects with common interests.

I’ve been involved with Partners for more than 30 years and belong to the DC-Brasilia chapter. My pleasure and skill are to inspire teams that open opportunities for others here and there “organically,” meaning one action opens other possibilities, and so on. Our chapters’ most impactful project started when a fellow Partner and I organized a talk by a visiting TV morning show host from Brazil to DC teachers during a day-long workshop arranged by the National Geographic Society. He wowed them.

That led to DC and Brasilia exchanging four groups each of low-income students who earned their way by doing community service projects — with the chapters doing a lot of fund-raising. All, I believe, met with the US Ambassador in Brazil.

At some point, the US Embassy in Brazil started a Youth Ambassadors program for low-income English language students who had to do community service. Now the US State Department’s Youth Ambassadors program was operating, pre-COVID, in at least nine countries.

Most recently, volunteers from multiple chapters, both in the North and South, have been recruiting and training K-12 teachers to incorporate global exchanges into their required curriculum. We are working with the staff at Partners and the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN).

For a fitting “connecting-serving-changing lives” finale: I heard about iEARN when I became a founding member of Patagonia-Montana Partners. (Story for another time.) The first Patagonian Partners teacher that I met was an English-language instructor in a public high school who used iEARN projects in her classes. Today she is the retired director of educational technology for the Organization of American States, and we are still close friends.

Role:  Volunteer