University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

CAS Alumnus Meets Secretary-General of U.N.

Jesse Schauben meets with Ban-ki moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Jesse Schauben, Class of 2008, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology.  He was a member of the Boulder Society and a student ambassador for the university.  He reflects on his time at UVM, his reasons for moving to Guatemala, and his recent meeting with Ban-ki moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland:

"Three years ago, after graduating from UVM, I moved to the jungle in Guatemala. Reminiscing, it sounds like the tale of someone trying to lose himself (or find himself, as the case may be). After all, what else does one do with a sociology degree? In my story, it turned out to be the latter, and I recently met with Ban-ki moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations to explain what I found in my new home.

During the summer entering my junior year, I took a trip with my sister to Guatemala. Inspired, and having traveled on a shoestring for the first time, I looked for any way to get back. I saw my opportunity through a UVM winter session Intercultural Communication course.

It was on this trip that we stumbled upon Ak' Tenamit and my course was immediately changed. On that trip to Guatemala, I met people who were poorer than I’d ever met; who, if lucky, had finished elementary school (only 10% of indigenous boys study through secondary school; 5% of indigenous girls); who had suffered the brunt of a 36-year armed conflict. Needless to say, my Guatemalan introduction was a sad one.

But by stumbling upon a project that was allowing people to change their own destinies through education, I felt hope and inspiration, and it was that feeling that brought me back after graduation. Since then, I’ve lived at Ak’ Tenamit, a community development organization owned by the indigenous villages of the jungle where the project lies. Because of its outstanding results, the United Nations chose us as one of several projects to share their methodologies with over governments and organizations from around the world.

Twenty years ago, this project started with just a handful of young boys in a makeshift classroom – the first classroom in the area. Today, 500 students (almost half of whom are young women) are studying and we are working to open up a second boarding school of equal capacity. This recognition from the United Nations is a validation of the hard work these villages have put forward and I am proud to be a part of the process.

The most common question posed when studying Arts and Sciences is “What are you going to do with that?” What do I “do?” What have I “done?” Amongst other jobs, I’ve taught English, helped advance women’s art cooperatives, designed curriculum and written grants. And while these weren’t skills directly covered by my degree, it was the wide array of subject matters and of experiences that taught me how to learn to do each one well. So, when it came time to present Ak’ Tenamit’s work in Geneva, Switzerland, to share the story of the young people who are changing their communities, their country for the better, I knew I had the necessary preparation."