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“To Hell with Good Intentions.” Over a month ago, before our program even started, all the members of ACE were told to read this article by Ivan Illich before discussing it together with Dr. Eric Mlyn. The article and ensuing group discussion really transformed the way I view my ACE experience as well as civic engagement on the whole. Of course, for the majority of us, when we volunteer, it is because we want to make a positive change in the world in a way that is different from that which we do on a day-to-day basis through our careers and interactions. We want to lend a helping hand to those who are in need of support, who do not have the same abilities or access to resources that we do, or who have access to less privilege … And, certainly, we mean well by this. But if you listen closely, you may notice some bias…perhaps some inaccuracy. Because we may view those we are serving with through our own eyes as people of specific backgrounds who often have a strong affinity for the ideals of democracy, equal opportunity, and free enterprise, a sense of pride in our way of life, bordering on superiority.  It’s easy for these biases to easily emerge or be present when engaging in service. But how could one’s lifestyle make one person better than another or determine their value as a human? If we force our way into opportunities for civic engagement where it is not truly desired by those who will be affected by it, does that not say more about our character?

Through the ACE in Place Peru ‘22 program, I was able to witness first-hand how one can use their passions to drive incredibly impactful work.

– Katya Sander, Stanford Women’s Gymnastics

Now this isn’t to say that volunteering is only for the pretentious or the oblivious or those trying to “boost their resume.” (If I believed that, I would hope I wouldn’t have participated in this program!) Rather, with this knowledge, we are able to determine where and how we can volunteer to make the greatest possible positive impact. We can understand that we cannot most effectively serve with others unless we can understand the community we are working with: see through the lenses of their lives, walk in their shoes, and then know that we can offer them something of value and be partners together.

Through the ACE in Place Peru ‘22 program, I was able to witness first-hand how one can use their passions to drive incredibly impactful work. Twice a week, we got to meet with our community partner, director of CDS Florencia Trauma, to discuss their projects in conservation and sustainability and how we could best engage college students in their campaigns through social media. Every weekday, we got to meet with our country expert, Ricardo Rivera, and learn a great deal about Peru from its history to its economy to its unimaginably rich culture–especially during our cultural immersion activities, location presentations, and peer discussion sessions. (Note: There is SO much more to Peru than Machu Picchu, and if you ever get a chance to try the dish, causa a la limeña, TRY IT!) And throughout the entire program, we got to speak to experts in their profession during master classes, life coaches during coaching sessions, our dedicated supervisors, and such talented and inspirational student-athlete peers that I had never met before from both Stanford and Duke!

My whole life, I have loved being creative and seeing the best in people.  So combining these to figure out how to present others in this light through social media has been a really interesting and fun experience; and from the perspective of the audience, thinking about how I can empower people like myself to know that they can make a difference in issues that they really care about, even if they are taking place all the way across the world, has been extremely fulfilling! What I am taking away most, however–even more than these unforgettable experiences and skills–is excitement. After hearing about and getting to see and even be a part of just a small bit of the work done by everyone on the team, I am more motivated than ever to continue exploring my interests and finding what I am truly passionate about. And no matter where it takes me, I cannot wait to see how much we all can do to leave our mark on this world… which I know will be a lot! And not because some of us are students at prestigious universities. Or Division-l student-athletes. Or any other title that we can attach to our names. But because we want to listen to others when they need to be heard.

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