BUILD to extend reach to India this summer

Jenny White, The Tufts Daily
Published April 13, 2010

Group hopes to lay groundwork for long partnership with new community

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A Building Understanding through International Learning and Development (BUILD) team this summer will be heading to India for the first time, in addition to participating in the BUILD: Guatemala mission now in its third year.

Both BUILD missions will follow the same pillars of learning and partnering with local communities to encourage sustainable development.

Sponsored by the Institute of Global Leadership (IGL), BUILD is an entirely student-run program that aims to form enduring coalitions with rural communities in order to catalyze the institution of sustainable methods of development. It began with a partnership in Nicaragua that has since branched off into a successful partnership in Guatemala.

BUILD: Guatemala will enter its third summer traveling to the agrarian community of Santa Anita la Unión and will continue to expand on existing development projects while implementing a new ecotourism project, according to junior Michael Niconchuk, co-founder and one of the leaders of the program.

BUILD: India, on the other hand, is just getting off the ground this July by initiating evaluations of potential partner communities.

“BUILD is at a position where we’ve been working in the community in Guatemala for two years now, so as a group we started to see whether there were other options to grow the program,” Nithyaa Venkataramani, a freshman member of BUILD, said.

Brainstorming for potential new locations ended with the selection of India, according to Niconchuk.

Venkataramani said the group already has a number of potential partner villages in mind in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The group aims to this summer visit prospective locations and conduct research on the areas based on the criteria of need and the ability to form relationships with the people and organizations at work there, according to Niconchuk.

“To decide where’s best, we’re going to talk to [non-governmental organizations] and do socioeconomic evaluations,” Venkataramani said.

The process will follow the model created and successfully employed two years ago by BUILD, which outlined four pillars on which to found the program — education, action, solidarity and leadership — according to Niconchuk.

“We’re building upon the model of Guatemala, using the same core values, the mission statement and four pillars for this project,” Venkataramani said. “It will be a similar development project, with a starting team that will establish a partner community.”

A third BUILD initiative was initially planned for the 2010 summer months to establish a partnership with a Nigerian village, according to Niconchuk. He said, however, that the proposed West African project faced too many obstacles to be feasibly implemented this year.

“BUILD: Nigeria was going to happen, but then there were too many security concerns given what we were seeing on the news,” Niconchuk said.

“[Nigeria] has become a lot more unstable in the past couple of months,” junior Kathryn Taylor, a co-founder of BUILD: Guatemala, said. “There was a lot of violence in the center of the country, and a couple months ago, a violent clash on a highway about 40 miles from where we would be staying. Then we found out the airport in Enugu was shut down for a year.”

Taylor is doubtful that the program will successfully launch in the future because a return to stability in Nigeria is unlikely to happen soon, not to mention the huge expense involved in a trip to Africa.

Though the anticipated BUILD: Nigeria program was cancelled, Niconchuk explained that the India initiative was successfully created because it could be implemented on a smaller scale.

He cited the fact that although the price of a plane ticket to India is as high as one to Nigeria, there will only be a maximum of three or four students traveling to India.

Niconchuk further explained that the participating students have ties to South Asia as well as the linguistic skills needed to communicate with local organizations in order to get a project started — another element that was missing from the proposed Nigerian trip.

One of BUILD’s primary aims for this year was to recruit new students who could become leaders for the program in upcoming years, Niconchuk said.

“The program has a less centralized structure than in the past,” Niconchuk said. “A lot of the leadership is in a transition phase. [This August] we’re going to make a conscious effort to introduce new leaders to the community. We plan to hold a meeting with the people of Santa Anita so they get to know them.”

Comprised of a younger generation of leaders, BUILD: India will be launched as a trial, according to Venkataramani, but one that has the benefit of using a proven method from the previous programs and taking instruction from experienced student leaders.

“What we’re able to do in India next summer, everything depends on this scouting trip,” Taylor said. “I’m not sure it’s possible that we will be able to create projects on as large of a scale in India as we did in Santa Anita. Guatemala and India are two very different countries; so many things will have to be done differently. But they’ll follow the same general philosophy.”

That philosophy is the backbone of the BUILD program and holds to fundamental goals like research, education, solidarity and development.

“Our goal is to learn and immerse ourselves in the theory of sustainable development,” Venkataramani said. “One of the ways [India] will be successful is to form a long-lasting, cross-culture relationship with the community we’ll be working with. We’re a student group, so we’re hoping to just learn as much as possible.”