Michigan High School Gets Students Involved in Honduran Microfinance

A high school Spanish class in small town Michigan sought to make a big impact thousands of miles away in Central America. Their teacher, Sean Hill, knew microfinance is a successful catalyst to help people lift themselves out of poverty. This is their story of how getting involved in a service-learning translation project for Global Microfinance Brigades opened the doors to the world well beyond their classroom walls. Teachers take note! I wish every high school student had the opportunity to get involved in worldwide issues like this.

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Within the world language content standards, one of the most difficult objectives for teachers to reach is having students use their language and cultural skills outside of the classroom.  I teach in a district that is very separated from any sort of a Hispanic community, hence it is difficult to have students use their Spanish in a meaningful way in benefit of said community.  It was not until a conference that I attended this summer in New Mexico that I was finally able to get a truly viable idea for my students.  One of the presenters on service-learning mentioned another professor she knew that faced a similar situation.  She had figured out two different options: having her college students teach Spanish to elementary children and having students do online translation. She involved her students in a community where they translated requests for microloans from Latin America into English.  This would give students both a glimpse into the living conditions for many Latin Americans and give students a chance to use their Spanish in a meaningful and personal experience.  I was already familiar with the concept of micro-lending and the “Banker to the Poor”, Muhammad Yunus, and how his success won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.  His work to help people lift themselves out of poverty was credited as contributing to both regional and global stability—it is truly an admirable endeavor.

I began to search online for different organizations that were involved in micro-lending within Latin America and found Global Microfinance Brigades who agreed to work with my high school students.  After our conversations, we put the translation project into motion.  My students were able to get a glimpse into the life of rural Hondurans, learn about the country’s history and current events, gain knowledge about the organization of cajas rurales (community-managed MF banks), and of course, learn banking terminology within the context of learning the art of translation. The exercise proved to be both a great review of basic grammar topics and an opportunity to discuss how the meaning of Spanish words changes dependent upon the context of the theme and text.

In addition, the project also gave me an opportunity to incorporate new technology into a lesson.  My team of students worked on the online platform Google Documents for their translations which allowed them to access an online version of the Powerpoint that was sent from Global Brigades.  From there, the group was able to work concurrently on different slides in real time and from any site across the globe, incorporating 21st century classroom ideas into Farwell High School’s Spanish program.  As with any new technology, there were a few bugs to work out with the program but overall we were successful.  In a time in American education that looks toward developing global and technological competence, my students are definitely on their way!  One of my seniors spoke to a college advisor about this project and she received ecstatic support because the advisor was a professor that was involved in international microfinance.  It is important to note that I am appreciative of how enthusiastically Global Brigades worked with us to provide my students with the opportunity to serve the people of Honduras. We look forward to continued opportunities to work with this organization and I personally look forward to the possibility of videoconferencing shortly so that my students can put a human face to this Honduran project.

– Sean Hill, Farewell High School Spanish Teacher

Student Comments

“Translating for the students who went to Honduras was a major project for me.  Knowing that what I was doing was going to help the people of Honduras made me feel like I had a purpose. It was an amazing feeling, and one that I have never before had the pleasure of knowing.  This sense of purpose combined with the learning of Spanish and how to translate documents only made the project that much better.  I hope that I can have a hand in many more to come.”  –Megan McIntosh

Front left to right: Rebecca Holley, Hattie Archbold, Ivy Whitmore. Back left to rrigh: Megan Mcintosh, Steven Williams
Front left to right: Rebecca Holley, Hattie Archbold, Ivy Whitmore. Back left to rrigh: Megan Mcintosh, Steven Williams

“As out teacher, Sr. Hill is focused on more than just strict facts about the world of Spanish.  He wants us to use what we learn in the classroom to reach out to the world around us.  This project is revealing in that we aren’t just here to get credit for school.  We are able to use our abilities in everyday life, even though we are located in a minimal-culture society.  It is great to know that my desire to learn Spanish is not going to be deferred by this “mono-lingual” area. I can continue learning through real-world projects and in the future, travel into the Americas and have previous experience and knowledge through these projects.” –Ivy Whitmore

“This was a great opportunity for me.  I was nervous at first to do the translating but once you get the hang of it you can determine what makes the most sense.  I am so happy to be a part of this and to be able to help in need.  I have always wanted to do something like this where people could benefit from it and it’s nice to know that something so little will help so many people.  Learning Spanish has been very beneficial and could be even more.  I hope to do more projects similar to this or completely different that will help the well-being of people around the world.”  –Kodee Bowlen

Kodee Bowlen in front, Rebecca Holley behind
Kodee Bowlen (front), Rebecca Holley (back)

“Helping translate for the Honduras project was an amazing experience.  It gave me an idea of what I could possibly do in the future and a chance to help people.  It was also a wonderful opportunity to learn more words in Spanish, as well as English, and open my awareness to the conditions in Honduras.” –Hattie Archbold

“Translating for the project to help out Honduras was great.  It helped me out by teaching me about Spanish and about banking.  I know my part in it was small but in the big picture it will help out countless numbers of people.  If I had the chance, I would do that type of project again.”  –Steven Williams

Sean Hill
Sean Hill

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