While it is common for most immigrants in the US to stay back and send money and resources back to their homeland, some choose to improve the lives of their community by transferring the knowledge and skills gained in the US for the development of their country. This can often be more challenging than what most students expect.
During the recent Kojo Nnamdi Show on NPR, foreign students and first generation immigrants discussed the challenges they face when trying to improve their communities back home. With a dream of becoming a successful computer science professional, Duquesne Fednard, arrived in US 9 years ago. Today, Fednard is a social entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of D&E Green Enterprises-a non-profit organization in Haiti that works for creating sustainable economic, health, and environmental solutions to benefit charcoal users. He launched a project named “ECORECO” the fuel-efficient charcoal stove aimed at reducing the use of charcoal by 50% in Haiti. (see video here) Fernard decided to do this project to overcome the shortcomings of the typical NGO and international aid agency model that only focused on short term solutions, but not on longer term impact. Raising money for the project has proved to be the biggest challenge, and thus far the project is funded from his savings in the US and the money donated from his friends and family.
Daniela Martinez, Co-founder of the Engineers Without Borders Johns Hopkins University Project in Ecuador also wanted to give back. To help women of her community, she decided to build a Day Care Center in Ecuador in 2006. Her dream took time to come to fruition, as to get a permit to build a building took her more than 6 months due to the bureaucratic structure in Ecuador. While she was used to getting quick solutions as student, working for her home country served as a reality check in how things really work on the ground.
With the beginning of Harumbe Cameroon-an independent branch of a much bigger alliance Harumbe Entrepreneur Alliance, Olivia Mukam current student at Johns Hopkins came up with an idea to engage the intellectual capital of her community. She initiated a competition among local students to reward the best project idea to solve local problems in her community. After 1 year of trying, Makum mentioned corruption, embezzlement of money, political talk and empty encouragement were some of the stumbling blocks to her project, yet she continues to persevere.
The arrival of foreign students to the United States is at rise. According to Institute of International Education (IIE) published Open Doors report, the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by 3% to 690,923 during the 2009/10 academic year. For the relatively fewer students who aspire to contribute to their homeland after studies, the rubber meets the road at the political unrest, rampant corruption, religious fanatic, and unpredictable environment in the country. Initiatives and endeavors by students to contribute in improving lives of their community need to be amplified. The biggest assistance to development countries are not the great saviors of the so-called developed world, but rather citizens of the developing countries themselves, and students studying in the US who want to give back to their communities of origin are one of the greatest untapped resources in development.