Williams College Rotaract Club Funds Two Computer Labs in Mexico

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., August 30, 2010 — The Williams College Rotaract Club has raised money to furnish computer labs in two orphanages in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Although Rotaract had previously existed on campus, the club regained momentum last September under the leadership of President Katerina Belkin ’11.

“I thought there was a significant lack of organizations at Williams that pertained to global service and volunteerism,” Belkin said.

The project began as a way to forge connections between the Williams and San Miguel communities. Rotaract Vice President Laura Villafranco ’13, a San Miguel native, came up with the idea to partner with the San Miguel Rotary Club (SMRC). Her knowledge of the area’s strengths and weaknesses informed their decision to focus on technology and education.

According to Villafranco, most people in San Miguel cannot afford personal computers. Instead, they go to Internet cafes called “cibers,” where they can use a computer for a dollar per hour. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the basic skills to take full advantage of these computers.

“Small tasks such as formatting a document or using e-mail with attachments become a real pain,” Villafranco said. “Also, some cannot afford to spend a dollar an hour on a computer.”

To raise money to furnish the computer labs, Rotaract held a variety of fundraisers throughout the 2009-2010 school year. The club, which runs on a core of five to seven students, held an informal holiday concert featuring local musicians, organized a Valentine’s Day flowers-and-chocolates sale, and hosted a Mexican-themed dinner at Driscoll Dining Hall.

Additionally, Rotaract members wrote, edited, and translated a 50-page computer manual aimed at children with little to no technology experience. The manual was originally designed as a template for a technology workshop that Rotaract will conduct at Williamstown Elementary School this fall.

In late July, Villafranco traveled to San Miguel to install computers and test the manual’s effectiveness. She hopes that the computer manual may eventually be used throughout the San Miguel public school system.

“Overall, the girls saw me as a maestra, or teacher, but also as someone who truly cared about the community – my community,” said Villafranco, who grew up attending the same schools and playing the same childhood games as many of the orphanage girls.

Over time, the project has evolved into an ongoing promotion of technology and education for San Miguel youth, and will be maintained and expanded in coming years. One of Belkin’s ideas is to create a long-distance tutoring partnership between Williams students and the orphanage girls.

“This is the beginning of many great things to come with global volunteerism at Williams,” Belkin said.

Villafranco is a prospective history major and leadership studies concentrator from Jarrell, Texas. Belkin is a psychology major from Sioux City, Iowa.

Rotaract is a Rotary-sponsored service organization that focuses on at least one international and one community project each year. There are more than 7,000 Rotaract clubs in 163 countries and geographical areas, each sponsored by a local Rotary club. The Williams Rotaract Club is sponsored by the Williamstown Rotary Club.

The Rotary Foundation is a not-for profit corporation supported solely by voluntary contributions from Rotarians and friends of the Foundation. It aims to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty worldwide.

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Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

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