U21 Guatemala Social Entrepreneurship Project

The U21 Guatamala Social Entrepreneurship Project places students interested in international development work with Social Entrepreneur Corps field professionals and social entrepreneurs in Guatemala, to help establish new and grow existing micro-consignment supported businesses. Students experience living with the local families and working intensively with community service organizations, and local social entrepreneurs. 

We spoke to the U21 bursary award winner Maria Barlow to find out more about her experience participating in this exciting project.

How did your U21 bursary help you?

Truly without the U21 bursary I would never have been able to take part in the programme. The bursary supported me with all my transport costs to Guatemala, any vaccinations I needed to take as well as the programme fee required from Social Entrepreneurship Corps for the month I was in Guatemala, which included all food and board. This added up to quite a substantial amount. Therefore the bursary was really invaluable to my participation in the programme and I cannot thank U21 and UoB Careers Network enough for this opportunity!

What did you think were the most attractive things about the University of Birmingham when promoting it to other international students?

The huge amount and variety of opportunities available to students throughout the University, whether that is activities through the Guild of Students or Careers Network. There really is something to suit everyone, and whatever you are interested in you are able to find the relevant support to help you partake in this opportunity, or develop a skill set.

Also the support received as a student to partake in these opportunities, for example the support I received from the Careers Network and international Relations for this programme was outstanding from my application to the evaluation after my internship.

And the follow-up and ability to gain credit for activities taken part in through schemes such as the PSA award and Progress tool, which are not alwayspresent in some programmes. This has enabled me personally to better self evaluate and record all the activities and opportunities that I have had thechance to take part in at university and in particular to monitor how these have developed my skill set for my future personal and professional development.

What was the best thing about your experience?

It is almost impossible to choose one part of the programme as my favourite because as a whole my time in Guatemala really opened my eyes to many new experiences and challenges, from which I learnt an enormous amount. However I would say the opportunity to get hands on experience witha developmental organisation in a developing country was somewhat of a dream come true! I learnt not only a huge amount about developmental work, and the challenges faced but also about Social entrepreneurship and MicroConsignment, which gave me a completely different perspective on the ways in which developmental issues can be tackled.

Furthermore through this experience I had the opportunity to work with local entrepreneurs, giving eye examinations and promotingwater filters and also local organisations such as Proyecto Santo Tomas, which works with youngpeople in schools and the local community. With this organisation I had the opportunity to producea short documentary with some secondary school students.

Throughout my stay in Guatemala, wekept hearing about the current struggle with the Latin American “child migrant crisis” and so I was really interested to work with local children and hear what they thought about their country and their futures. Working with these children was one of the most inspiring parts of the month; their positivity and determination shone through and touched me deeply and this project in particular issomething that I would love to continue with in the future. In addition the opportunity to stay with local homestay families was a deeply humbling experience, where I really gained an intense appreciation for Guatemalan and local Mayan culture.

Overall, through this experience I had the opportunity to directly serve communities and the organisation, which was really a wonderful experience.

What benefits do you think you gained in relation to your personal development e.g. yourconfidence, competence, knowledge, future employability?

I think experience of working in an international development organisation, and the skills I have developed from this position such as communication and innovation and entrepreneurship skills will greatly benefit me when applying for future positions in any sector, but especially for working in International Development.

In addition, having direct experience of having worked in challenging developing country conditions shows I have adaptability and flexibility in working in challenging conditions and furthermore increased global and social consciousness of some of the problems faced in developing countries and different ways we can tackle poverty issues. Through this experience I have had the opportunity to develop my cultural awareness of living and workingin another culture, which is essential for International Development work.

By working in a different culture, this also shows that I have developed my language skills in having to communicate in a different language. This will be a huge advantage in my professional development as excellent communication skills, and language skills are fundamental to working in the International Development sector.

What advice would you give to students thinking of applying for a U21 Award in the future?

Firstly to just go for it! I had a few doubts about applying due to the competitive nature of the programmes and also because I am not on a relevant degree programme but if you really are passionate about a program then you should definitely not think twice about applying, my experience with U21 has definitely been one of the best I have had at university.

The experiences and skills I have gained and developed from this opportunity are invaluable. To take your time filling out the application forms and really fill them out carefully. I spent a fair amount of time filling out all the paperwork in detail, the more time and care you take over your application, then the better a chance you have got.