This past 10th and 11th of September, Partners members, volunteers, board members, and staff gathered from all over the Americas in the beautiful state of Oregon for our What Works! conference hosted by our Oregon-Costa Rica chapter. The event was created to bring our chapter members from North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean together to share experiences and ideas, and to form new alliances with each other.
As an organization that focuses on international development work in many different countries, the opportunities we have to all spend a few days together in the same place and at the same time are rare, but very enriching and fruitful when they occur. The What Works! conference was no exception. For two days over 120 people gathered to teach, learn, and inspire, as well as welcome our newest members to Partners’ network. This year, we had the pleasure of welcoming five new chapters to our network, four of which are student chapters—Universidad EAFIT, Universidad de San Andres, Universidad del Atlántico, and Universidad de La Salle.
In 2011, Partners started an initiative to create a student chapter network within higher education institutions (HEIs), led by students for students. Since then we’ve grown to have 100+ students in four different countries throughout the Americas. Our mission is to connect students who are passionate about making a difference and having an impact on the global community.
It is this sense of responsibility to be global citizens and agents of change that brought 11 students from Latin America, against all odds, to What Works! for two days of workshops, sharing ideas, experiences, and more. For many of them it was also their first time in the United States and many, like Adriana Cardenas, were “happy to share and grow from this experience.”
These students would never have been able to attend What Works! without the support of their universities and communities. Sara Ochoa and Julio Daniel Hernandez received financial support to attend the conference from Universidad EAFIT; Luciana Tolaba and Alberto Castro were award recipients from our Education and Culture grant program; David Barcene was able to receive support from his chapter and Universidad de Panama to attend. There were four students who were able to attend from the Universidad de la Salle chapter with support from their universities and also as scholarship recipients from Partners. These students were Nicolas Cairasco, Laura Salamanca, Monica Peñuela, and Adriana Cardenas.
The event was filled with discussions around best chapter practices and ideas, and resulted in strong friendships that crossed many borders. Students commented that the support What Works! provided them is inspiration to continue implementing new projects and ideas – that solve some of the world’s biggest issues – at home.
What Works! created an opportunity for youth from across Argentina to discuss solutions for social, cultural, and economic problems. It taught students from disadvantaged communities in Colombia how to practice reading English at home. And it elevated the international department in the University of Atlántico through its newly-implemented Partners’ student chapter. It was evident that students attended What Works! not only for networking, but to positively impact society at large.
At the end of the conference, the students gathered to share their reflections. Everyone started with a short ice breaker, during which they shared just three words that summed up their experiences. “Passion, friendship, and commitment” were the words used most often. As we went around the room to discuss our experiences more in-depth, it was clear that there was such a mutual admiration and respect for one another. The conference allowed everyone to be inspired by each other and to realize, as one person put it, “volunteerism and making a change for the greater good is indeed possible.”
Below are quotes from some of the students who attended What Works.
"I am a full time student and I give 20 hours every week to Partners Campus UniAtlantico because I know it has a huge potential to make a difference in my university, community, and country.” – Alberto Castro
“It feels good to know that we’re not alone in making a difference, that there are other people committed to volunteerism and social change” – Monica Peñuela (left)
“We are so blessed for having it all, we have this moral responsibility to thank the world back what we’ve been given by helping others. That’s something that gives purpose to our lives.” – Sara Ochoa (2nd from left)
“Through my student chapter’s initiative, the Kids Project, at Universidad EAFIT I learned that we can all help people and give them the opportunity of learning and creating new experiences, and learn something from them as well.” – Julio Daniel Hernandez
“I thought it was amazing that during the conference there were younger and older people, it was a mix that allows an organization to function better in all levels from empowering youth to take action to sharing and learning from the expertise of volunteers that have been doing this for years.” – Adriana Cardenas (left)