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La vida latina

By improving undeveloped regions of South America, some University students maintain strong ties to home

Even when students come to the University and begin to regard Grounds as a kind of "home," many individuals - particularly those who have traveled across seas and country borders - are driven to do what they can to maintain strong ties and help their respective countries.

One such effort is Towards a Better Latin America, a student organization founded in 2002 by a group of international students who dedicated themselves to raising money and awareness for Latin American communities.

The purpose of the organization is to focus on giving back to underdeveloped and underprivileged communities back home, TBLA President Ana Quijano said. At the time of TBLA's founding, similar clubs at the University solely focused on assisting local Latin Americans rather than those in communities abroad.

According to the World Bank, the household final expenditure per capital growth in Latin America and the Caribbean was decreasing by 3.3 percent each year as of 2002. In comparison, other developing countries saw a 1 percent annual increase. Meanwhile, 9.1 percent of children younger than 5 were suffering from malnutrition.

Because the organization's members are often personally invested in these communities, Quijano said the club's project proposals come from group members themselves. Other times, members make a point to research certain areas or problems. At the beginning of each fall semester, group members present project ideas to the rest of the club, and members vote on which project they think is the most challenging, exciting and will further the group's goal of improving the state of Latin America.

Last year's project, for example, raised money to help women in a refugee camp in Colombia by establishing micro-credit programs that have been successful in other developing nations. The money University students raised went toward the purchase of chickens, which the women in the camp raised. They then collected and sold the eggs for profit.

Not all of TBLA's members have personal experience with these areas. In 2002, all of the founding members were exclusively Latino, but as the group expanded and became more well-known on Grounds, the group has become more diverse. For example, Secretary Elliot Rosenberg grew up in the United States.

As the only non-Latino on the club's executive board, Rosenberg said the club is emphasizing involvement by non-Latinos in the club's various fundraisers, such as the Copa America soccer tournament, the Valentine's Day date auction and X Lounge fundraising parties.

Overall, the club is committed to raising awareness about Latin America.

"We have a cause. We have a purpose," Vice President Ana Fraguada said.

Rosenberg, Quijano and Fraguada used the TBLA photography exposition as an example of how the club seeks to spread Latin American awareness. This past spring, the group was able to display the work of a photographer from National Geographic in their exposition.

In the future, the group hopes to host ambassadors from several different countries to discuss Latin American relations with the United States. Exclusive discussions at the organization's meetings also would aid group members by better informing them of current events in the region, thus increasing their involvement.

At the end of the day, though, the members still best connect to the cause because of their experiences.

"I joined TBLA because I want to give back to the area where I'm from," she said. "It's a link to people back home"