Lauren Browne, the Chapter Founder at the University of Virginia, became passionate about international service after going on several alternative spring break trips. “My trips opened my eyes to public service and the international development field,” says Lauren. “Nourish presented an opportunity to explore that potential interest.”
Like most other starting organizations, Lauren’s Nourish chapter initially experienced some obstacles. The group had to compete with hundreds of other organizations for membership, attendance at events, and funds for projects. “After numerous setbacks, I also found it difficult to motivate my executive board members, so that wound up being a challenge as well,” says Lauren.
Despite a rocky start, the UVA chapter went on to have many accomplishments under Lauren’s direction. The chapter was able to send five students abroad during its first year to work on a summer project in collaboration with other Nourish chapters. Lauren’s chapter also hosted a successful date auction with several other public service organizations at UVA.
Last summer, Lauren’s chapter sponsored a project in Ecuador in collaboration with community partner Triple Salto. Lauren’s job was to ensure that the participants had a positive trip experience. The project team constructed greenhouses at elementary schools, planted tomato seeds, installed an irrigation system, and built a wormerie. They also painted murals related to nutrition and world geography. The goal of the project was for the schools to use the vegetables in school meals, sell the surplus for profit, and teach the students about gardening and nutrition.
Throughout her time as the UVA Nourish chapter director, Lauren successfully balanced her school, work, and volunteer responsibilities while still finding time to relax with friends on the weekend and apply to the Peace Corps. For students struggling to find such a balance, Lauren advises, “Figure out your priorities, focus only on the most important, and stick to a schedule.”
Lauren’s involvement with Nourish impacted her life in many ways, causing her to rethink her future career plans. “My sole interest was in medicine until I became involved with Nourish, which cemented my interest in international development,” she says. “The Ecuador trip re-confirmed my belief that sustainable development was a cause I should dedicate my life’s work to.”
Currently, Lauren is volunteering with the Peace Corps in San Cristobal Totonicapan, Guatemala, where she implements the Healthy Schools program in 20 schools. After the three-week teacher’s strike that occurred during her first month at the site, she began visiting schools, meeting faculty and students, and working on baseline surveys. Most recently, she has been applying for grants to fund water projects at schools lacking consistent access to water.
After gaining field experience in the Peace Corps, Lauren plans to work for several years and apply to graduate school. She hopes to obtain a Master’s of Public Administration in development practice or a Master’s of Public Health. Eventually, she would like to find a career where she can work in the United States for most of the year and facilitate development projects overseas for the rest. “I know that I’m not going to change the world,” says Lauren, “but I can at least change a small part of it.”
Lauren plans on staying connected to Nourish by networking with alumni, reaching out to the UVA chapter, and sharing her story with as many people as possible. “I highly recommend that every incoming university student with a slight interest in poverty reduction gets involved in some way with Nourish International,” she says. “The rewards are numerous and you will undoubtedly walk away not only a better person, but also a better leader.”
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