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Flagler scholarship helps student pursue teaching overseas

Sep 29, 2014

An $800 scholarship might not sound like much, but for Flagler College junior Elizabeth “Mookie” Whitten and a small village in Laos, it makes a world of difference.

The Retired Flagler College Faculty Scholarship Whitten was awarded will help her free up funds to travel back to Laos this summer where she will continue to teach subjects such as English to poor families.

“I’ve wanted to teach overseas ever since I was little,” said Whitten, an elementary education major. “My sophomore year I did a program where I lived in Southeast Asia and traveled around seeing how people lived, and I just fell in love with Laos.”

More importantly, Whitten was introduced to a company called Bolaven Farms, located in the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos.

“Laos is a super poor, mostly agriculture-based country. They grow a lot of coffee, but most of the companies there do not really operate under fair trade,” Whitten said. “Bolaven trains these employees to work the farms, but not just as workers. They train them how everything works, about agriculture and planting methods.”

And Whitten isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She spends her days farming with the villagers.

“When I first got there I had no idea what I was doing,” Whitten said. “The people at first were intimidated, like I was this untouchable American. But they began to open up when I worked the fields with them, and they really began to teach me.”

After two years, Bolaven workers are either given a loan to begin their own 7-acre family farm or are hired as contract farmers for the company.

“It’s really empowering for the workers,” Whitten said. “A lot of people go there and feel they need to help them and do all of this stuff for them. But this helps them keep their dignity and aids them in helping themselves.”

Aside from learning a trade, Bolaven has enlisted to Whitten to teach workers even more life skills like English and typing.

“I get to go there and be creative and teach students from ages 4 to grown adults,” she said. “I was originally teaching just English, but now the students want to learn other things, like how to work a computer, and about issues they face, such as how to protect themselves from risks like sex trafficking.”

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