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 Learning to Work for Social Justice

Fifteen Santa Clara students are set to engage in a transformation unlike any other this summer, and the only people who can deeply understand that experience are the alumni who were in their shoes once before as Jean Donovan Fellows.

Jean Donovan was an American woman who lived, worked, and died in solidarity with the impoverished and oppressed people of El Salvador in the 1980s. SCU created a fellowship in her name 10 years ago to encourage and support students who desire to deepen their understanding of social justice issues through a summer community-based learning experience. The Ignatian Center has given students a $1,500 grant to help cover costs for travel, lodging, and program fees. Students have traveled to remote places in Burkina Faso and Nepal to more familiar cities such as Portland, Ore., and even Salinas, Calif. Their trips, though, are far from a typical student’s summer vacation.

In the summer of 2004, Neil Ferron ‘05 spent five months in Calcutta, India, where he worked with Mother Teresa’s Sisters.

“The Jean Donovan Fellowship radically altered my life. I witnessed things I have never witnessed since, taking part in work that emptied me, filled me, and emptied me again,” says Ferron, who is now studying playwriting at Trinity College Dublin on a Mitchell Scholarship. It’s awarded to students for both excellence in their field and dedication to community service. Ferron believes he would not have received a Mitchell Scholarship had he not received the Donovan Fellowship.

“The Donovan Fellowship deepened my understanding of what it means to be human. There can be no greater gift,” says Ferron.

Sophomore student Liliana Palma, who is studying political science and Spanish, is about to embark on an incredible journey that could parallel Ferron’s. She is one of this year’s recipients. Palma decided to apply for the fellowship, because she learned that Jean Donovan was murdered by the Salvadoran military, who considered her to be problematic for helping people.

“I really felt connected to her story and felt it would be an honor to be a fellow,” says Palma.

Instead of returning home to Santa Monica this summer, she will be working with children at an orphanage called Ciudad de Los Niños in Oaxaca, Mexico. The orphanage is home to 147 abused children, mostly newborns. Palma will be assisting three to four times a week helping with physical education and other activities. She chose Oaxaca because her parents were born there, and she wanted to fully immerse herself in the city where her parents grew up.

“I’m hoping this experience allows me to see the reality of life for many marginalized people and understand some of the suffering my parents experienced as children,” says Palma.

She also hopes to share her experience with others so that they will be more conscious of the injustice people in Mexico regularly face.

The 14 other Jean Donovan Fellowship recipients and the places where they’ll be spending their summer are: 

  • Zena Andreani '12, Santa Clara
  • Allison Baker '11, Ecuador
  • Diana Bustos '11, El Salvador
  • Tim Carlson '12, Guatemala
  • Michael Garcia '12, Peru
  • Drew Hodun '12, Peru
  • Nhu-Nguyen Le '12, San Francisco
  • Kadee Mardula '11, Washington, D.C.
  • Jenny Nicholson '12, Costa Rica
  • Tanya Schmidt '12, Peru
  • Jackie Tasarz '11, Ghana
  • Kristen Williamson '11, Costa Rica
  • Clare Wylie '11, Chicago
  • Sergio Zepeda '11, El Salvador & San Jose

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