Community-calling

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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 dual 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.”