Maielle Helman participated in AJWS Volunteer Corps in 1999 in Nicaragua. She responded to our interview questions via e-mail from La Paz, Bolivia, where she is working for the World Food Program as a Leland Fellow of the Congressional Hunger Center.
What motivated you to participate in Volunteer Corps?
For a long to time I had wanted to live and work in Latin America and was interested in starting out by volunteering. In 1999, I went to Nicaragua with AJWS to work with a local development cooperative on small business development. My placement with AJWS led me to return for a second year to work directly with the local host organization. This was one of the experiences that laid the foundation for my future work in international development.
What projects have you worked on since being in Nicaragua?
Since then, I have completed my master's degree in International Training and Education from American University in Washington, D.C. and have worked on education and health projects for the last seven years. These projects have involved teacher training, basic education and awareness of malaria, safe water and nutrition.
I am currently a Mickey Leland International Fellow of the Congressional Hunger Center, which is based in Washington, D.C. I am working with the World Food Program in Bolivia on their school feeding programs and assisting the government in nationalizing school feeding. I also work with small agricultural producers to promote their crops for production and consumption in schools. I enjoy this work because it works directly with both the education and health ministries and focuses on children's needs.
How do you see this work fitting into broader hunger and food justice efforts?
My work has a direct impact on reducing hunger and promoting food security throughout the country through policy change and improved implementation, monitoring and coordination of stakeholders. There is also an element of stimulating the local economy by means of local crop production and purchase.
How have communities responded to your work?
Most parents and school boards are quite responsive and concerned about their children's health; however the initiative and effort put forth by each community does vary greatly. If I could do anything differently, I would work more directly with children, not only for them, and get them more involved in the projects that target them as beneficiaries.
What do you do when you're not working on this project?
Explore the country, get to know the cultures here and meet people from all around the world. I also participate in the Jewish community here in Bolivia.