International Inspiration: Study abroad leads student to create successful philanthropy project


When Woodrow Holder left for a week-long study abroad trip to Belize in Spring 2012, he expected his views to change. What he didn't expect was how drastically that would happen.

Since his return nearly two years ago, Holder has worked to raise funds for the area, and especially for the inspiring individuals he worked with during his time in Belize.

The study abroad trip, associated with the course HSC 516D: Travel Course in Health Education, brought the Allen Park senior, as well as 20 undergraduate students and 30 physical therapy students, to the country. The trip, a medical mission visit of sorts, worked to teach students how to have a healthy lifestyle.

“We did house visits, a mobile health clinic and educated people in schools about mobile health,” Holder said.

He was particularly moved by the state of one schools they visited, the Succotz Roman Catholic Primary School.

“While in one of the schools, I noticed what bad repair it was in,” he said. “Since there is no public education system in Belize and the school we visited was in a poor area, there was no hope of changing things.”

After speaking with the principal of the school, Holder was inspired to take action.

Holder's first attempt to raise money included forming a registered student organization to aid his cause, but things didn't go exactly as planned.

“I did form an RSO — it was called the Social Change Network – but it didn’t work,” he said. “It wasn’t until I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon that I was able to reach a large enough and active enough audience to raise enough money to do some good."

Holder put his bid in for philanthropy chair and proposed the idea of raising money for the students in Belize at a meeting.

“Last semester, we did a (fundraising) cookout with Alpha Sigma Alpha," he said. "Their half of the money went to the Children’s Miracle Network and Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s half went to the school in Belize. We raised $1,200.”

The money raised was used to pay tuition for five students out of each of the eight grades in the school. In addition, those 40 students each received a backpack filled with all the school supplies they would need for the year.

Despite the fact that his graduation date is approaching, Holder said, he hopes the Belize philanthropy will remain a priority for the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

“When I was there, I met a lot of the students (and this) was the best social change I could ask for,” he said. “This has been a dream come true for me and I would love to spread the awareness about this scholarship program we have established in the hopes of more support for these children.”

Allen Park senior Tessa Mac accompanied Holder on the trip to Belize and described the experience as one she won't soon forget.

“We were in Belize for 10 days and we spent our first week with the locals on the mainland and then spent a weekend island hopping off the coast," she said. "My favorite part of the trip was how receptive the children were and how much they appreciated us being there.”

Grand Ledge senior and Sigma Alpha Epsilon scholarship chair Chase Wight said his favorite part about helping raise money for the students in Belize was being able to work with the Greek community toward a common goal.

"Being able to combine efforts for the betterment of children in Belize was inspiring and it's exciting to know that we in Mount Pleasant have the ability to change the lives of students around the world with a single cookout," he said.

While the fraternity's traditional philanthropy is geared toward the Helen Devos Children's Hospital, Wight said he was happy to participate in philanthropic activities surrounding the school in Belize.

"My favorite part about helping the school in Belize was knowing that if it were not for the efforts of the Greek community, these students would be limited in the opportunities available to them," Wight said.


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