LEWISBURG, Pa. -- As a first-year student on the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua in January 2008, Grace Han met a group of banana workers camped out near the National Assembly in Managua.
Many of the workers and their children were sick, dying from illnesses thought to be linked to exposure to pesticides at the banana plantations where they worked. They were living in "tents" consisting of black tarpaulin and scrap material, Han recalled. They stood in line for rations of government-issued food.
An encampment leader approached Han and the group of about 25 other Brigadistas and explained that the workers who no longer had jobs hoped to convince government leaders and the fruit companies to protect future generations from a similar fate. The workers had walked from their homes in Chinandega to the capital city to protest multinational companies' use of Dibromochloropropane, a toxic chemical banned in the United States but exported for use in Latin America and other parts of the world.
The encampment leader challenged the brigade to join the effort.
"One of the most meaningful things he said was that we were American students, and that, as American students, we had all this potential, all this ability to be able to make change," Han recalled. "We were just sort of taken away with how much trust they had in us to make change."
The students reflected on the conversation but were not convinced at first they could make a difference.
When they returned to Bucknell, however, Brigadista Christian Etherton, Class of '09, found out about a $10,000 grant available through 100 Projects for Peace and the Davis Foundation. Etherton, Han, Alex Madsen '08, Connie Low '08, Emily Rath '09, Kylie Brandt '10 and Muyambi Muyambi '11 worked on a proposal to raise awareness about the banana workers' plight.
"It turns out the proposal was due in a day and a half," Han said. "We wrote a two-page proposal saying we wanted to go back to Nicaragua and film a documentary to tell a story about the struggle the banana workers have gone through. We came up with a budget and everything, sent it in, and I think two months later we heard back saying we had $10,000 to come back, which was a really amazing feeling."
The students are raising awareness through their website, www.hearoutyellow.org, and through the documentary, "Missing Seeds," which is available on YouTube. Han attended the Clinton Global Initiative event in Austin, Texas, to promote the documentary.
The banana workers are using the film to educate other visitors to their encampment.
Han's experiences on the brigade and since have shaped her career path. She plans to join the Peace Corps after graduation and possibly start a non-governmental organization or microfinance agency.
"The brigade is what prompted me to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life, and that is to help people who don't have access to help themselves," she said.
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