Magazine Feature / People

Wafer accepted into Harvard’s WorldTeach

Hitchhiking and ending up on a milk delivery route. Wading chest-deep in crocodile- and shark-infested waters. Flying out of a raft into raging, rapid whitewater. Welcome to Erin Wafer’s world.

But it’s a world she asked for. 

Last year Wafer (BA Spanish, gender and women’s studies ’05) applied to WorldTeach, a nonprofit run by Harvard University that teaches English, math, science and other subjects in developing countries. 

In January she was accepted and in a few weeks she was off to teach English to 60 elementary students in a two-room school in Costa Rica for the rest of 2007.

While Wafer explains that the adventures she describes are true, her typical day isn’t quite as exciting: Up by 5 a.m. for a walk, breakfast (coffee with bread or gallo pinto, rice with beans), then another walk down a dirt road to the school.

So, does she feel she’s making the kind of difference she had in mind? 

“To be completely honest, it’s hard to say. It doesn’t feel like it sometimes, when the kids complain about class. But I know many of the students and their families think that English is important.” 

In addition to teaching, she’s also raised $700 from friends and family in the U.S. for a new floor in the kindergarten classroom. And she started a women’s craft group that meets every Saturday. 

“It’s a lot different from how I used to spend my Saturdays, but I love it all the same.”

Wafer says she began to notice that the women there rarely took time for themselves, and spending most of their time cooking and cleaning for their families. “The group has created a tiny place that’s solely dedicated to them,” she says. 

“I think the simple act of crafting has become something more powerful and more political; it’s created an all-women’s space where they can feed off each other’s knowledge — not just about crafting.”

Cristina Costa, a WorldTeach publicity assistant, says Wafer was accepted into the program because of her “commitment to education and public service.” 

Wafer says some of her DU professors inspired her to become passionate about service work. “[They] helped me see the inequities in our world that motivated me to … dedicate myself to work that would work towards a solution to society’s problems,” she says. 

WorldTeach has placed teachers in Costa Rica’s schools since 1989. Education officials there say they view the learning of English as essential in preparing children for success in a global economy.

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