A group of School of Business students have forgone the classic spring break destinations of Cancun and Punta Cana to spend a week in the remote village of El Jute, Honduras, to help locals address the issues facing their community and its businesses.
Now in its fifth year, the mission trip is part of a three-credit international social enterprise and development course taught by Marvin Gonzalez, associate professor of supply chain management and Rene Mueller, professor of marketing and director of the International Business Program at the College.
The travel component of the class — an opportunity to put lectures and lesson plans into practice — is organized by Su Frost, director of international admissions, in partnership with Global Brigades, an international nonprofit that provides third-world communities with assistance through academic and professional programming, or “brigades.”
As part of the nonprofit’s Microfinance Brigade, the business students will conduct home visits to identify community issues such as inconsistent earnings, lack of educational opportunities for women and children as well as resource shortages that affect villagers’ ability to create and run sustainable micro enterprises.
In addition to their home visits, the Brigade brings resources. Over the past five years, CofC business students have contributed over $100,000 — in money and supplies raised through fundraising — toward the creation of new micro enterprises in five rural mountain villages throughout Central America.
Two students who participated in last year’s trip to El Jute helped spearhead the fundraising efforts for this semester.
Seniors Alexis O’Toole and Dain Silvestri may both hail from New Jersey and study business (supply chain and information management and business administration, respectively), but it wasn’t until the Microfinance Brigade trip to El Jute in 2016 that they first met.
The chance to use their skills to help an underserved community and the opportunity to travel abroad first attracted the seniors to the program, but it was the people of El Jute that would bring them back to the small village for a second year.
“Words can’t really express how much my experience with Global Brigades has changed my life,” O’Toole says. “I became so invested in the community and the people of El Jute that it was really important we raise enough money to make an impact when we returned this year.”
The young women did just that. Through various fundraising efforts, including a late-night bake sale and a “support El Jute” bracelet campaign, O’Toole and Silvestri were able to collect over $4,500.
The pair say, regardless of how the money gets distributed within the community, they are looking forward to returning to the rolling hills of El Jute and reuniting with the families they have grown to love and miss.