Team Tabuga will spend spring break aiding in Ecuador

Spring break may be only one month away, and while most students may be busy planning fun getaways with their friends, some are looking to give back.

A variety of Alternative Spring Break programs have been designed for students to help out community areas, but a new program has hit closer to home.

Team Tabuga, a new registered student organization on campus, is designed to bring together a group of University students looking to make a difference in a less-fortunate community.

Dena Goldberg, senior in LAS and president and founder of the organization, came across the small community when she was studying abroad in Ecuador last spring.

“I was working with the Ceiba Foundation (for Tropical Conservation) as part of an internship within my study abroad program, and Tabuga was part of the program,” Goldberg said. “The people lived without medicine and technology, and I wanted to help.”

When Goldberg returned back to the United States, she contacted one of her professors about her desire to go back to the community the following year.

“I wanted to get a group together to come and meet the community and work with the members,” Goldberg said.

The organization has 20 members, and seven of them will volunteer their time in Tabuga during Spring Break.

Cate Tambeaux, junior in SOCW, is one of the members going on the trip.

“I have been abroad and have volunteered before, but this was something different and unique,” she said. “I hope that I can gain a sense of accomplishment knowing that I’ve made a difference in a community’s life.”

Over the next few weeks, the organization will be collecting donations to raise money for the trip, which includes a wish list on Amazon.com.

“A majority of adult residents have not graduated from primary school, and the illiteracy rate is approximately 70 percent,” Goldberg said. “With these statistics in mind, I wanted to provide a resource that would enhance their learning.”

Writing to her friends and family, Goldberg donated one computer and collected $500, enough to purchase 43 books and supplies to give the community.

Along with former Peace Corps volunteer Kari Pillsbury, Goldberg decided to establish the town’s first community library. In June 2011, the library was built.

In addition to the library, the group is working to establish a health center to provide medical attention for the residents of Tabuga and surrounding communities to improve their awareness of health-related issues, said Goldberg.

“I worked with a local herbal medicine man, and he wanted to spread his knowledge, but didn’t know where to go,” she said. “I knew we couldn’t waste such valuable information, and wanted to build a health center, too. The community needed to be educated on health matters that they didn’t understand, such as sanitation and water safety.”

Later that summer, Pillsbury raised thousands of dollars to build a community center. The center is a two-story building that houses the library, a doctor’s office and a large meeting room.

The organization is also busy fundraising for the library and the community center.

“We are currently working with the SORF board to get funding, and we can use as much help as possible,” said Tina Djenge, senior in LAS and treasurer of the organization. “We want to reach out because everyone has something to give.”

While in Tabuga, Djenge hopes to teach the children about science and expose them to new skills.

“I want to inspire them to take opportunities that they don’t have otherwise,” she said. “I want them to get out of the community and be more involved in their school.”

Djenge, who grew up in Serbia, knows the hardships of living in a developing country.

“I understood the culture and lifestyle that they are going through, and I wanted to help them out,” she said.

Stephanie Puma, a 2011 University alumna and a community ambassador for the trip, already has a head start on contributions.

“I started fundraising in Chicago, writing personal letters and collecting books in Spanish,” she said.

Puma, who is Ecuadorian, started her search for donations with Ecuadorian businesses, which praised her efforts.

“I actually met with Galo Franco, who owns the Ecuadorian newspaper in Chicago, and he helped spread the word to all of the business owners,” she said.

Throughout the trip, the volunteers will be working with a few different groups and will be paired with a “buddy” between the ages of 4 and 11.

“We are working to experience their culture and organizing their community center,” Puma said. “We will also be working with a women’s group on health issues such as heart disease and exercise and diet.”

Djenge, who is fluent in Spanish, said she wants to lead a couple of projects while she is there.

“A lot of people drop out of school to take care of their families, so they lack basic education and are thus unable to get jobs outside of their hometowns,” she said. “Since they do not speak English, we are working with the kids on math, science and literacy skills. I want to teach the kids about science and lead experiments. I want to inspire them to go further with their education.”

Though the organization’s members are from a variety of years and majors, Puma said all of the members have the same drive and motivation to help.

“We are sending a foundation for the kids,” Puma said. “We want to teach them ideas they can use in the future.”

For more information on how to help, visit “teamtabuga.com”:teamtabuga.com.