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 AYA Service Tour 2009 in Monterrey, Mexico (03/07-15/09)

Day 1: Orientation



            A colorful and far from homogeneous group of Yale Alumni, their families and friends as well as current students gathered in Monterrey this week to contribute their time and knowledge to make a change in Monterrey.

            Our beautiful service trip started in a beautiful, one could say isolated, place out of the city of Monterrey. We were fortunate enough to enjoy the natural surroundings and the hospitality of the facilities of the Chipinque National Park, a beautiful mountainous area that overlooks the vast city of Monterrey. On Chipinque, there is a very convenient conference center that served as the setting of the service teams teambuilding. Several speeches were offered to set the setting of the trip mission and the expectations of the participants as well as a round of introductions by the participants that meant to be very insightful of the diversity and the humanitarian motives of the whole group.

The speeches

            AYAs President, Mark Dollhopf, lead the orientation workshop and began by presenting the present of AYA. The Service Trip in 2008 in Dominican Republic being successful, gave rise to a new trip this year in Monterrey and gave more leeway to AYA and to Mark Dollhopf to envisage a new dimension of AYA and an alternative way of connecting alumni through philanthropy. Overall, according to Mr. Dollhopf AYAs new direction will be to connect alumni according their location, their vocation as well as their interests. Mr. Dollhopf made note of plans to connect the alumni of the 300+ Yale undergraduate organizations which have contributed through the years in the activities of the institution. The reason that the Yale Alumni were united in this service tour realizes the universitys aim to serve the world in its entirety. Mr. Dollhopf described the notion of serial reciprocity which is defined as a selfless act of giving to those that need our knowledge and resources with no expectation of reciprocity to the giver but with aspiration of continuity of the gift; those that will be benefited shall benefit others. Mr. Dollhopf also stroke a line between the AYAs goals and the universitys development office in relation to alumni. He said that what AYA seeks is for alumni to share their gifts to people that need them, but from their treasury of skills, not necessarily of material resources.

            The presentations followed suit with the Monterrey Prepa TEC, the Tecnológico de Monterrey preparatory high school professor who said a few words about the student volunteers that were meant to be invaluable in facilitating communication in the alumnis service. She made note of the students past involvement with impoverished regions of Mexico especially the English lessons and the construction of a library that students participated in. She did not omit to note the failures of their volunteer program by naming a trees donation effort that was unsuccessful in the long term due to water shortage, giving us a taste of the difficulties of sustainable change in the regions. The students of Prepa TEC were self-motivated and eager to volunteer for the program and their energy was obvious in the later days of the trip, when the volunteer work started in Allianza Real. Undoubtedly, these students example had a ripple effect in the population of Prepa TEC students that shall devote their skills and time in the future to make a positive change in the region.

            Next, Manuel Perez, TECs (Tecnológico de Monterrey) Associate Dean of Medicine gave a short presentation of the universitys aim and policies in terms of public service. First off, Mr. Perez said that TECs original statement of purpose was to become an engineering school that would help society though industry and enterprise. TEC made use of Mexicos policy that allows universities to have multiple campuses around the country to extend the mission statement in service that surrounds the country in the principles of active citizenship and ethics & values. TEC School of Medicine focuses not only on skills and knowledge, since it views medicine as a procedure of problem-solving, but also on the attitude of the future doctors of the country: for TEC, the point of focus is the community, not even the student, as other institutions would proclaim.

            The orientation lectures could not be complete without a talk on the Mexican culture. (?), Prepa-TECs professor, gave a multimedia snapshot of Mexicos several influences and cultural differences. We had the chance to get to know La Catrina, the cartoonish version of Death which in Mexicans public way of thinking is a fearful friend. As Mrs. (?) described, mexicos culture cannot come in all-in-one family size pack. Actually, Mexicos history is not linear; several historical changes happen concurrently and the several regions of Mexico maintain their autonomy in culture due to their uniqueness in historical influences, from the Aztecs, the Spaniards to the defined Mexicans. Fortunately, the arts and crafts of the Estados Unidos de Mexico expose the overlapping identities of the people such as the alebrijes, the mythological beings that appeared in drawings in the south of Mexico before Spaniards could even appear in the region. Mexico is divided not only by geographical challenges as well as by colonization stages so different cultures and customs evolved that in a unified country define a very constructed form of unity. For instance, for year, there was no Dia de los muertos (Day of the dead) in Monterrey but when the country was unified under a common flag, the state decided on some nation-wide celebrations irrespective of where these customs first surfaced. But even the common flag contains the Mexican national symbol that appeared in the culture of the South, through the ancient people of the Aztecs. The eagle that eats a snake sitting on a cactus on top of a rock is said to have been the defining spectacle that a group of Aztecs encountered and had hence become their symbol and faith. Also, the chinampas, the ancient floating garden in Tenochitlán (The Sacred City), known nowadays as Mexico City was full of chinampas until the Spaniards arrived and built chuches on the Aztec temples, in line with their plans of religious conversion of the local population, as well as building on the floating gardens, which was evidently worse than the saying of building castles on the sand. Then, (?) gave us a quick insight on the religious tradition on the region, including the Aztec Quetzalcotl, the Sun-god that (¡por supuesto!) created man. We were also exposed to parts of the Mexican history of Spanish colonization and the reign of the Hapsburgs in the region. The question of how the Aztec fell permeated the last part of the lecture where several reasons were offered ranging from the Aztecs being afraid of the Spaniards to internal fragmentation of society. The latest political history of the country was touched upon through the lives and times of two of the most important Mexican presidents of the previous century, Benito Juarez and Porfírio Diaz, as well as though the evolution of the revolutionary movements which were inspired by movements from abroad in France and the US.

The participants

            As the sun reclined behind the magnificent Chipinque mountains, it was time for the Yalies to regroup in the convention center for the last and probably the most bonding part of our talks. The participants had the floor for a minute or so to express their motives and expose their origins related to the trip. First off, Mark set the tone by prompting us to look into the expectations of the locals, of the people that we were about to help, which were probably less than ours; we were most likely to offer more in quantity and complexity that they would imagine. Celebration of the partnership between our university and the organizations in Mexico is key for such a program to be successful.

Then one by one the volunteering team had their say

Philip Sussler 79 has been an energy engineer in Latin America and wanted to give his business experience to people who need it in the Small business consulting group.

Darlene Cimino-DeRose MBA 89 has been a municipal financier for years and while she was contemplating on giving back to the community, sitting in front of her computer in San Francisco, the AYA email served as a calling for her to go ahead and do it in Mexico.

Donna Culley who was one of the brave ones to sustain the heat, the outdoors showers with special water bags and her purple hands (from her unfriendly connecton with nature) in Dominican Republic (the AYA Service tour last year) got back on the Yale Service tours early in the game this year since she has been helping prepare the trip since January.

Melissa Langerdoing a volunteer trip for the first time, let alone with Yalies, is very excited for what will follow in the rest of the week!

Stephanie Levy MMS 06 was also in Dominican Republic and shared a tent (as well as its ants) with Donna. She had an excellent experience and this is why she is back.

Pam Maletz is looking forward to giving back now that her children have left her house and moved on with their lives.

Debora Rose 72 is Chair of the board of directors of Dwight Hall in Yale, and was involved with it even before it she had attended classes at Yale. Deborah helped design the national health survey for Mexico, using her experience in doing this for the US, seeks to do the same thing in Monterrey:  first find the questions and then to find the answers to the community's problems.

Victor Alquicira 10 has conducted research in public health before and has participated in a public health program in Houston right before hurricane Ike struck the city. He did not feel effective in making a difference there but he expects this to change in Monterrey as he will do the utmost to teach public health to the community.

Peter Dickinson 60 has been volunteering for 11 years and he specialized in teaching having the classroom experience from downtrodden areas of Chicago. He has also served as President of the Yale Club of Chicago.

Carole Pritzker is now retired and has been giving back through the Habitat for Humanityand, inspired by Marks speeches in alumni reunions, decided to hop on this years Service Tour.

Fred Pritzker 63 was frustrated by corporate clients that he had to face for years in his work who never say thank you but; rather, ask for more and decided to selflessly allocate his time that really need him and would be much more thankful and receiving.

Bekah Derose, Darlenes daughter, is in still in school, at 10th grade and was feeling to be part of a privileged community in California and wanted to get away and offer something to the people of Monterrey, whether it is her Martial Arts skills or her artistic side of the brush.

Sarah Steele is an artist which is part of the broader Yale family, being acquainted with Tannis which prompted her to come along this service tour, will contribute to the community by teaching art.

Jeremy Gash is Sarahs husband and wanted to come to Monterrey to give back in his field. He will be leading a cooking class where he will not have the conveniences of a restaurant he was used to: he views this as a challenge. Mexican culture was also of interest to Jeremy, since he was yet to be exposed to it.

Patrick OSullivan is a filmographer from Toronto (and Tanniss third recruit in this service trip only!). He has been in the industry of commercial advertisement for years having produced advertisements for tobacco, NASCAR, weapons for McDonnell-Douglas, casino games, Kraft foods and has therefore decided to do some karmic cleanup and offer his professional expertise in filmmaking in producing a vivid keepsake for our Service Tour in Monterrey.

Tannis Arnett MAR 96 has been into art and religion throughout her career and has therefore decided to teach visual arts to the kids in Alianza Real. Tannis has imported the three previous people straight from her city: Toronto, Canada.

Cynthia Wandia 09 is studying Electrical Engineering in Yale and, having participated in other service trips including one in Portugal and a Engineers Without Borders project in Tanzania, chose to offer her dancing expertise to the community of Alianza Real.

Alex Najarian, an 8th grader in school and Sherries daughter wanted to come along with her mother on this service trip to have a different experience than usual vacation with her. When she told her classmates she was going to Mexico, they immediately assumed she was heading to Cancún. Thank god, they were wrong and Alex is with us ready to share her gift in dancing.

Wei Yin Chew MA 06 flew all the way from Singapore where she is working for the government there in the tourism department using her quintolingual skills and origami expertise for the educational advancement of the Mexican children.

Kevin, Remys husband, is currently a law school and classes be darned he joined all of us in the effort to make a difference in Monterrey.

Doris Iarovici 87, MD 92 is a psychiatrist who wants to contribute on the trip along with her daughter, Ariel. She deemed than mere tourism is unsatisfying and when she visited Ecuador she was struck by the needs and she thought that simply visiting is not enough. She was nervous for the week but she made sure to contribute her utmost.

Al Meyer 67 had always thought of service but had not encountered something made real change. Al has a childhood connection to Monterrey since his father ran a factory here, is full of childhood memories, has therefore an emotional attachment to the city and was naturally drawn particularly to this Service Trip.

Colin Griggs, Steve Griggs (our soccer coach) son, studied in Franklin & Marshall and has teamed up in the past with his classmates in a building a soccer field in South Africa. He jokes about Steve being his grandfather, the age difference being ambiguous.

Steve Griggs has been in Yale for 22 years, albeit not having studied there, as a tennis and soccer coach. He has studied languages and, having recently retired, he seeks to combine his interests in international commitment. In Alianza Real, he will be teaching Mexican youth how to play soccer.

David Simpson MAR 68 is the minister from Alabama that was bold enough  to drive all the way to Monterrey with his pick-up truck full of tools for the construction team. His wife rushed to call him irresponsible yet he is a risk-taker and with a track record in activism, in the field of civil rights, that nothing could stop him; not even the current crisis at the border. He was worked before in an orphanage in Puerto Rico where he saw emotions overcome the language barrier in a spectacular way.

Abraar Karan 11 was in the Service Tour in Dominican Republic too last year and was eager to offer his services in the public health group in Monterrey.

Nicole de Paz 10 is studying biology (pre-med) in Yale. This trip is her first time abroad because according to her, Canada does not count. Patrick was insulted by this statement and claimed that Nicole would not make the cut in the film only to be corrected by Nicole who rushed to claim that Canada feels like home.

Zikun Yu MEM 00has studied Management in Yale, has worked in a NYC hospital and runs a flegdling business and will thus offer his tips in the Small Business Consulting group.

Fred Cantor 58, MED 62 is a neurologist who came along the service tour to satisfy some selfish needs of his like travelling, meeting people who are not mere tourists and are full of energy from Yale, while doing selfless acts.

Jessie Gould 04 wanted to come along the trip to escape from her comfort zone (see: Manhattan), to practice her Spanish and work on social enterpreunership in the Small Business Consulting group. She has worked with the International Rescue Committee in the past.

Randy Wilmot MArch 89 is an architect who has travelled with Yale befote (not on a service tour though) and was unhappy that the problems he saw in Peru, for example, were not adressed. He expects this trip to be different.

Trip Wilmot is Randys brother is looking forward to a life-changing experience having been a recovery banker for years and now a nightclub owner in Los Angeles.

Jeff Harlowe 77 works in Levis, a company who he considers socially progressive. He has lived and worked in Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo, will be working in Mexico City soon so he wanted to contribute his Business experience and see a different aspect of Mexico before he gets settled in among denim in the capital.

Remy Shaber 98is the primary organizer of the Yale Service Tours and, having been in AYA for only 1,5 years, she has not wasted any time from her first time on the post to make this dream come true in both Dominican Republic and Mexico. She has worked in the non-profit sector in the past and has taught dance.

Joyeeta Dastidar 99 was part of the mission in Dominican Republic too and seeked a week off work. She has been volunteering in NYC, Michigan and in Los Angeles as a medical school student, during rotations. Needless to say, she will be part of our medical staff.

This is not the complete list of participants; merely the ones I could scribble down during the talk. The reader should definitely assume that the stories of the rest are equally noteworthy and here is mine

Ioannis Legmpelos 12 also known as Yanni came on the trip to have a week of inspiration and because, in his own words, he did not want to be downing margaritas in Cancun for his spring break. He will be teaching a Tae Kwon Do class in Alianza Real and is looking forward to making a difference there along with a spectacular group of Yale alumni.