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Alumnae launch volunteer program in Guatemala

Amanda Gray | Thursday, January 14, 2010

Recent Notre Dame graduates founded HANDS Organization — a volunteering-oriented venture based in the United States and Guatemala — co-founder, director and 2008 graduate Mariana Diaz said.

“We incorporated HANDS in Indiana in February 2009. Along the way, we participated in the Notre Dame Business Competition, we made it to the finals which helped us develop our model,” Diaz said. “As we received a lot of support, when the girls graduated, we decided to open a branch in Guatemala to promote that culture of volunteerism that exists in other countries. We incorporated in July 2009 and inaugurated the branch last December.”

HANDS has its roots both at Notre Dame and the country of Guatemala — all three of its founders attended the University and are Guatemalan.

“The organization was legally incorporated February 13, 2009 in Indiana, but it was born in the summer of 2008 in Guatemala in a little café,” co-founder, director and 2009 graduate Maria Bosch said. “Being the case that our country, Guatemala, is poverty stricken, we all wanted to make a difference in our nation. Who better to help Guatemala than [Notre Dame] students?”

Diaz said HANDS acts as a connection between volunteers and volunteering efforts.
“We felt committed to do something to help alleviate poverty in Guatemala while at the same time involving the Notre Dame community. During the summer, we visited organizations and realized that there was no need to create new projects as there were great projects out there already assisting the people in Guatemala,” Diaz said. “However, most of the projects lacked the human capital resources to make a greater difference in local communities.”

The lack of opportunities and information out there for students interested in helping led to the formation of the organization.

“This resulted in what is HANDS today — a unique platform that promotes the development of Guatemala through a movement of volunteerism. We connect volunteers with existent organizations where they can participate in service opportunities. With the help of volunteers, organizations can maximize their impact and we give others the opportunity to help, to make a difference.”

The group is looking for volunteers to work this summer in Guatemala, Diaz said.

“Since HANDS in its conception was made by students, we know how a student’s mind works,” Bosch said. “Trying to find some service opportunities ourselves we know how difficult it is to find the perfect service program for the typical student.”

According to Diaz, the organization has various organizations with programs focusing in community development, health, education, housing and infrastructure and micro-finance.
“In order to see what programs are available, [students] need to let us know their interests by filling out our application through our Web site,” Diaz said.

Diaz and Bosch said the organization intends to spread all over Central America, including Panama and El Salvador, most likely by 2012.

 “Each time we meet new people and learn about who they are, they are heroes who have come across so make difficulties in life and yet, they are still willing to improve their living conditions and provide a better future for their children,” Diaz said. “This gives us the strength to continue working and making a strong effort to help others. When you live in a country where the incidence of poverty is everywhere you go, you realize it is your duty to make a difference.”

To learn more about HANDS, including volunteering efforts and donation opportunities, go to www.handsorganization.org or e-mail [email protected]