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Jasmine Gonzalez, president of the Association of Latinos Moving Ahead, says she aims to host at least one event each week for students.
We’ve seen how strong our current students stand in the face of adversity, but what becomes of a Merrimack College Honors Alumni when he or she graduates from campus? If you take a look through the eyes of Merrimack Graduate Alexa Emma, service and community are still at the core of her life after Merrimack.
Alexa Emma, Double Warrior ’18/M’19, from Suffield CT has seen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through a different lens. Much like our Spring 2020 abroad students, Emma was also on the other side of the globe when much of the virus was shutting down the world. For her, she was stationed in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, where she had been stationed since July 2019.
In regards to her service, Emma said, “Each Peace Corps country has their own unique programs depending on the host country’s needs. In South Africa, we have an HIV Awareness and Prevention Program for Youth, and an Early Grade Literacy Enrichment Program. I was a volunteer in the literacy program, and so my primary project was working with my local elementary school on their English as First Additional Language (EFAL) curriculum and practices (in US equivalent of Grades K-3 classrooms). I spent the first two months at site really integrating myself into the community: getting to know my host family, counterparts, neighbors, learning the local language, and developing goals and expectations with my fellow teachers. For me, this part of my service was the most rewarding and eye-opening.”
Of course, given the pandemic’s global impact, Emma’s service was cut short. Like many of us, she had to leave significant tasks unfinished while abroad, unsure if she’ll ever be able to return.
“COVID was so widespread and causing so much panic that Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen issued a global evacuation of all PCVs on March 15, 2020. This meant that over 7,300 of us worldwide were leaving our new home and getting on planes back to the US within the week. This meant that we would all be leaving our communities, dropping the projects we were working on, and settling in with the reality that we might not have a chance to go back and continue our service. My counterparts and I were just getting ready to begin implementing community and youth development projects, such as starting a ‘GoGirls Club’ at school and bringing Grassroots Soccer to the community. My teachers and I were just getting the grasp on co-teaching and utilizing literacy and classroom practices most effective for our learners. While bringing us all home was an action based on our health and safety, I still think about how my community may likely not receive these development projects and resources in the future.”
Emma commends the work she did with the Merrimack Honors Program during her undergraduate years for giving her early opportunities to begin giving back to her global community. In her words,
“During my sophomore year (2016) , the Honors Program announced they would be taking a service trip to the Dominican Republic with a program called Outreach 360. About 15 of us went down to Monte Cristi, DR for a week to learn about the culture, and volunteer in their schools and learning center. It was such a heart opening experience that 2 fellow students from that trip organized it a second time the following year with Residence Life so it could be open to more people. Those two trips inspired me so much, it contributed to everything I have done since then. I graduated in December 2017 so I could take what would have been my final spring semester and volunteered in Ghana with a program called IVHQ. I returned and completed the Fellowship program in English as a Second Language because I fell in love with learning about different cultures and getting to know people of diverse backgrounds. I love how amazing it is to be a part of bilingual education.”
For now, Emma has returned home until she can continue her service abroad once more. When asked what she would like to leave with her Merrimack community, Emma said, “With all that is happening right now, I think the most important thing any of us can do is to continue learning. Educate yourself on issues you care about. Find out how you can continue keeping yourself and loved ones safe from COVID. Research ways you can make an impact and be an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond. I feel very overwhelmed at times with all of the sudden changes and movements, I can only imagine how the Class of 2020 is feeling with the sudden change of their most exciting semester (kudos to all of you for persevering through distance learning)! Personally, I like to just take a breath and remember that there is so much good in the world. I know my Merrimack Community has a bit of service and action inside of them. Utilize your education, your voice, and your heart.”
Merrimack Honors continues to be proud of all its students (and alumni!) do when faced with uncertainty, adversity, and change. Alexa Emma and her work abroad speaks volumes to the degree of character held by Honors Program students, and the global impact it creates. We will continue to root for Alexa in whatever awe-inspiring journey she takes next!
June 9, 2020 published by Merrimack College Honors Program Northview newsletter