Beyond the Office Syndrome

By Andrea Becerra ’13

There’s a lot that changes when you transition from being a student to an employee. To begin with sitting in front of a computer from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. is a real strain on the body. Human beings were just not made to sit still all day. I’ve read every article online on how to prevent back pains and I’ve incorporated some exercise routines to practice under my desk.  I recently started doing jumping jacks in the bathroom and when no one is looking I do a couple of lunges to the water cooler.  Andrea Pauw and I have even incorporated a run to our apartment during our lunch break, mainly to get to our food quicker and make the most of our break, but also to remind our limbs that we know they exist. I took for granted all of the nomadic freedom and privilege I had at Davidson—to roam from Summit, to the library, to my apartment, and then back to Summit.

Beyond the Office Syndrome

The juxtaposition of refurbished and worn out homes is noticeable throughout the downtown area where we work and live.

While I’ve been making active efforts to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s not what I spend most of my days thinking about. Regardless, once we get our visa issues resolved we’ll be working one on one with the Mayan communities involved in our development projects. So besides the new crafty ways of exercising in an office space, there’s plenty more that has changed now that I’m a Davidson Impact Fellow.

As students our duty was to work long hours in the library, take a broad range of classes offered by a liberal arts education, binge on coffee in order to compensate for the failure to balance life and to finally finish that paper in the wee hours of the night…only to receive a B—dang, there goes the GPA. In our new world as DIFs, per Davidson’s definition, we are expected to “create and implement solutions to some of the most urgent problems our society now confronts.” I have the opportunity to be a part of something big, to make a change that extends beyond my academic progress. This is not to say I don’t miss Davidson, to do so would be blasphemy; the world of academia opened up numerous doors for wonderment and discovery—it sparked conversation, invited debate and it created a space to contemplate solutions to the world’s problems. As graduates we can finally put all of this knowledge and understanding to use. I’m currently spending my days researching ways to solve a debt crisis in a Mayan community via a project I just got approved (more on this in future posts). It’s daunting to think of the adverse effects a project can have in a community of 400 people, but on the other hand, the potential to make a positive impact on that many lives is incredibly motivating.

There are plenty of thanks in a lifetime, and in the non-profit world, gestures of appreciation must be bountiful. A couple of weeks ago I helped an eleven-year-old girl plant a tree along a soccer field in Sihunchen, a community of 336 people on the outskirts of Merida. Her older cousin decided that it was a perfect spot for it since once its branches sprang out it could offer shade to local community members watching the game. In the middle of our digging an elderly man approached me. He looked at me and then looked up towards the sky as he raised his hands in prayer; he did this three more times as he thanked me for my work in the broken spanish of his native mayan tongue. His eyes, tired and wise from the uphill battles of a lifetime, are what truly stood out—they softened when I looked at him and revealed the complete truth of his gratitude. And to think that seconds before I had wondered if the tree would even survive.

Beyond the Office Syndrome

A tree planted during the reforestation project.

As memory fades only a few of these moments will actually stand out, and the thanks that this man gave me will probably be one of those; it happened right after thinking that what I was doing was so small in comparison to the grander plans I had in mind—complex development proposals that can change the world—to halt global warming, end inequality, and give every street dog a loving home. While I’m still naively optimistic about these things, the moment I shared with him will serve to remind me to also take into account the day-to-day interactions and to appreciate all of the small ways people welcome me into their lives.