As one of the first two North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dents to go on co-​​op in El Sal­vador, Kerry Ross cer­tainly made the most of the experience.

Ross, an inter­na­tional affairs major, worked for Epi­l­ogos, a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion that seeks to improve the lives of impov­er­ished fam­i­lies in Sal­vadoran vil­lages through com­mu­nity devel­op­ment. The orga­ni­za­tion addresses issues related to housing, edu­ca­tion, food and water sup­plies, employ­ment and public sanitation.

While on co-​​op in the vil­lage of San Jose Vil­la­neuva from mid-​​January until early May, Ross taught Eng­lish to local chil­dren and helped build new homes for seven fam­i­lies, some of whom were living in struc­tures made partly of card­board, tin, and plastic tarps. The new homes, he says, were con­structed with cement blocks and painted in vibrant colors, giving these fam­i­lies safer and more wel­coming places to live.

Ross says the expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity was “life-​​altering,” giving him a whole new out­look on life as he encoun­tered needy fam­i­lies rising above the adver­sity they face.

Every house that I went into, people offered me food. Little kids were giving me so much. It was from people who couldn’t afford three meals a day,” Ross says. “They were poor. They didn’t have clothes. But the chil­dren had such gen­uine laughter. It’s some­thing I’ll never forget.”

Ross is already plan­ning to make good on that pledge. After he grad­u­ates in December, he plans to return to El Sal­vador to estab­lish a local busi­ness for the com­mu­nity to make and sell pon­chos, which he hopes will keep the people dry during the rainy season. He was inspired by the real­iza­tion that many chil­dren there walk to school in the pouring rain and often show up ready to learn but drenched.

Toward the end of his co-​​op, Ross guided a vis­iting loan officer from a micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tion throughout the town, showing him small busi­nesses that could be strong can­di­dates for loans.

Coin­ci­den­tally, the work pre­pared Ross for his next global expe­ri­ence with North­eastern — a Social Enter­prise Insti­tute Field Study Pro­gram in Belize and the Dominican Republic working with two other micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions to help survey poten­tial borrowers.

This past month really showed me what you can do if you go abroad,” he says.