Rebecca Garofano '10
Rebecca is a 2010 Calvin graduate who double-majored in IDS and sociology. She currently works for the Asia Impact Center of ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization), an NGO focused on finding sustainable solutions to world hunger. Although the organization was originally focused on Haiti, it now has centers across the globe, including in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where Rebecca lives.
Describe your path since graduation.
Since graduation, I did one year of working through AmeriCorps, at a nonprofit community-based housing organization in Buffalo, NY. There, I coordinated programs related to environmental health and housing. Following my time there, I did a 14-month internship at ECHO in Fort Myers, FL. I helped facilitate their community gardens program while studying development and tropical agriculture. My time with ECHO in Florida eventually led me to a position with their regional office in Chiang Mai, Thailand - the ECHO Asia Impact Center. I've been working here since March of 2013.
What are your current activities, and what is your official position where you are working now?
I'm just the Office Manager! ECHO's mission is to reduce hunger and improve the lives of the poor through assisting agriculturalists with technical information, geared towards the small-holder farmer, internationally. ECHO will soon have three "Regional Impact Centers," aside from their headquarters and demonstration farm in Florida. The Asia Impact Center, the oldest of these three, assists a network of 1,500 development workers throughout Asia, working in agriculture. There is a staff of eight at this center - they run a seed bank and act as "extension agents" to that network. I support them by doing the administrative work - coordinating trainings/workshops/conferences, publishing our technical documents, and other tasks along those lines. I really enjoy working with the staff here - I've learned a lot!
What is your most memorable experience in the field?
I don't always think of it as "in the field" - but my favorite moments have been the opportunities where I've been a part of, or had the opportunity to observe, exchanges among ECHO's network. For example, we had an agriculture conference with delegates from over 10 different countries throughout the region. I really enjoyed welcoming those delegates, listening to stories about the work that they are doing, and getting a sense of how the information ECHO provides will equip them to serve their local communities better. Those exchanges can happen anywhere - at a workshop, a random visit in the office, while purchasing seed from local farmers, on a visit to a farmer's field - I just really enjoy listening to people's stories. Those moments are always the most memorable for me.
How has your faith influenced your work in development?
I don't think I would have said this as a college student, but I've come to understand that my faith has framed how I understand all of it. I still don't see being a "Development Practitioner" as an isolated compartment in my life. Perhaps because of that perspective, books such as New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton have probably influenced me in how I understand development just as much (or easily more) than some of the books I read in my IDS capstone (though those were important, too). I think it's because of my faith that I'm continually brought back to the notion of grace and the deep indescribable importance of humility in how we approach the world. Those are lessons that aren't easily or directly taught in an "industry" - even if we'd like to think they are inherent. They're lessons I've found in listening, in relationships I hold with others - lessons of faith.
What is your favorite aspect of Calvin and what do you wish you would have done differently while attending Calvin?
My favorite aspects were the opportunities to learn "outside" of the classroom, and the ways in which Calvin promotes a holistic understanding of how learning and vocation are one and the same. That environment definitely helped me thrive. If I could have done something differently, I probably would have studied something a bit more technical - either a "hard science" or a language. I am very much naturally geared towards the social sciences, but it wasn't until after college that I realized how much I enjoy other disciplines!
What advice or words of hope and wisdom would you give to current IDS students?
How about this poem?