The Power of Connections: Partners of the Americas

Our brains love coincidences. We simply enjoy the feeling of puzzlement that we get when two apparently unrelated things connect in strange, inexplicable ways. Today is one of those rare days filled with delightful coincidences. For starters, it’s a Thursday, the day we typically look back at things we were doing years ago so we can post them on social media followed by #tbt.

And look I did.

I was happy to find that four years ago I was in Guadalajara-Mexico for my first international conference held by Partners of the Americas (POA). Only one year after, I was closing the event of the biggest challenge in my career as an educator: to design a PBL curriculum for 300 public school teenagers based on the development of global competencies, hire teachers, and teach them in a 40h intensive course for a whole week before they traveled to the USA on the Goiás Without Borders grant. Guess which organization was responsible for that course? Partners of the Americas Goiás (POA-GO)

For those of you wondering what is Partners of the Americas, here’s a quick explanation: POA is a nonprofit NGO whose mission is to connect, serve, and change lives through targeted actions, volunteer work and international collaboration, which include grants, exchange programs and many chapters spread out in the USA and in Latin America. Read more about it here.

Before I carry on with the coincidences, let me just tell you about how POA came into my life. I was an MA Political Science student at the Federal University of Goiás and worked as a library coordinator at a binational center in my city Goiânia. I often liaised with the EducationUSA department, which was managed by Rejane, a very special friend who saw something in me and felt I could become a member of POA-GO. I still remember our first meeting with the former president of the Goiás chapter and Waldeir, our friend and member who’s been with us for a while. We met in a room and discussed many possibilities that seemed quite distant at that time.

It was in 2015, however, that we hosted Kari, a teacher from Laramie-Wyoming in the USA who came through the Education and Culture travel grant and marvelled us with her competence and charisma as an educator. She’s the one who taught me about brain breaks! It was also in that year that I met Vander, a brilliant youngster who I hope will become president someday. We had the chance to spend a few days in Brasilia training at the USA Embassy and connecting with incredible members of their staff, such as Walter Kerr, Abigail Dressel and Marion Lange.

In 2016, now as first secretary of POA-GO, I had the chance to meet Dorly Piske, president of the Wyoming Chapter, our sibling state, who had to deliver an immersion course in association with the State University of Goiás. That’s when we made it official. I was going to spend one month in Wyoming through the Teacher-in-Residence travel grant learning about the American educational system and interviewing teachers on their best practices. That’s when I realized that my MA in Political Science didn’t make much sense anymore. I had the most amazing time in Wyoming and the whole experience made it clear to me that I wanted to focus all my efforts on a different area. That area was education.

Back to Guadalajara in November 2016, not only did I have the chance to connect with enthusiastic leaders and educators from all over the continent, but I was also a witness to the official announcement that POA was partnering with iEARN, a massive global education network that promotes projects and connects classrooms. Vander was there for what I believe was his first international trip and I can’t stop thinking of how far he has come. I still remember how touched he felt inside the beautiful Teatro Degollado for a concert.

Our chapter started to grow beyond our dreams. Our members, old and new, got involved in different projects, applying for grants, making change. I can’t forget when we all got together to make feijoada, a typical Brazilian dish, to raise some money. Keila was the masterchef, Rejane and I were the helpers, Elisa was doing it all, as usual, and Guilherme helping us chop things.

In 2017 we expanded and started sending more people to the USA through the grants. We also had the honor of delivering a 50K dollar donation to Goiânia’s recently inaugurated breast cancer hospital through Dorly’s fantastic biojewelry project in Wyoming. Our chapter was directly involved in a campaign to donate food to charity institutions and special needs education kids and adults. And then the big news came. We had a chance to work with those 300 public school teenagers but we had to make a tough decision. We didn’t have a lot of time or resources and we needed to design the curriculum, find and hire teachers, and even deliver some of the classes ourselves. Rejane, as president and the wise woman she was, felt a little apprehensive. Elisa, Vander and I were more eager to grab the chance

And that we did

It turned out to be of the best professional experiences any of us had. We worked with brilliant teenagers, full of dreams, people who had so much potential. Elisa and Rejane hired around 20 teachers in two day’s time, I designed the curriculum and delivered the assynchronous training, Vander worked on games and activities. Everything fit except for one thing. More than half of those young students never traveled to the USA as promised by the government. Our hearts were broken as much as theirs. We only hope the learning experience they had with us will stay with them forever.

Before that, our younger chapter was born and Vander took the lead. Partners Campus created wonderful projects to such a professional degree that they were definitely ahead of us. Empowering girls, giving LGBTQIA+ a voice, and teaching Portuguese to refugees are some of the examples. They also strengthened relations with our latinx siblings, particularly Colombians, went to conferences and started planting a tiny seed.

I became president in 2017, just as we entered the new year. I felt such a privilege and honor to serve and the incredible responsibility to deliver. Then I learned I was going to leave for one year to study at the University of Bristol. I tried to convince our board members that we needed a new election. Nevertheless, they chose to get stuck with me. While I was trying to write all my essays and get my degree, the amazing people who were here in Brazil kept things moving. We managed to send more people to the USA on exchange programs, we expanded connections, we worked on projects.

In 2019 I got the amazing news that we were going to host the first international conference in Brazil. After Vander’s connections and Elisa’s persistence, Washington saw that we had potential. The POA What Works Conference was held in Goiânia. And here’s another coincidence for you: it happened last November. The conference brought together people from different countries to discuss the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It was certainly one of the highlights of our trajectory as POA members. We delivered an amazing event with the help of phenomenal volunteers, members, and friends. I felt incredibly proud of it all and owe much of this feeling to Vander and Elisa, who took the lead. It was also the moment that we brough together the Brazilian chapters and launched the Partners Brasil initiative to strengthen our connections.

November 2016 sent me to the Symposium, November 2017 gave us the chance to work with the Goiás Without Borders teens, November 2019 gave us What Works. What a ride! Lovely coincidence, don’t you think?

My time as president of this amazing organization is over. Elisa, my friend and certainly one of the most competent people I’ve ever met, a person who can do it all and beyond, is now president of POA-GO. And I couldn’t think of anyone better. I’m grateful for meeting these incredible people and being part of what I now know has changed my life. But now I’m pursuing different projects, chasing my dreams. I’m still vice-president, though, and will always support POA-GO, but on the sidelines now because I know and trust the people who are taking care of it.

Five years, more than ten people traveling through grants, a partnership with the state government to benefit 300 public school kids, empowering girls, LGBTQIA+, refugees, an international conference, projects, including Daianne’s Free English initiative that empowers low-income student by teaching them English, connections, connections, connections.

I’m proud of the legacy we’re leaving and I hope more and more people can join POA-GO and other chapters to help connect people, serve, and change lives.

My love to all of those involved with us for many years. There are many so many now!

But you know who you are.

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