Operación Impacto

Everyone has a story to tell, that’s the idea behind the youth writing workshops at 826DC. But what happens when there’s a language barrier preventing young writers from sharing the story they want to tell?

That’s where Hezouwe “Happy” Awide steps in.

A junior in GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Happy volunteers at 826DC twice a week as a tutor and mentor to Spanish-speaking students as part of a special Spanish course taught by GW Professor Dolores Perillán.

“I know the feeling of being an immigrant child and feel like I know what they are going through,” says Happy, who is originally from Togo. “It’s really cool to see how being able to communicate with someone in their native language helps them open up to you.

“I’m learning from them as much as I’m helping them,” she adds.

That dual benefit of serving others while also learning is at the heart of Professor Perillán’s Advanced Spanish Service Learning course.

Operacion Impacto

Professor Perillán (L) with junior Hezouwe “Happy” Awide (C) and senior Martin Quirk (R)

A long-time advocate for incorporating service into her curriculum, Professor Perillán launched the special course several years ago with a grant from GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service (CCEPS). She says that she could feel a “restlessness” from students on campus to get involved, and a Spanish service-learning course made sense with D.C.’s demographics.

“Spanish-speakers, especially Salvadorans, make up such a large part of the people in Washington, D.C., so Spanish is an obvious and direct way to connect to the community,” says Professor Perillán, who also serves as CCEPS’s Academic Service-Learning Coordiantor. “The students in my course are excited about integrating themselves in the community through service.”

Senior Martin Quirk took Advanced Spanish Service Learning as a sophomore and felt that it was a great opportunity to work in the community, something that appealed to him because he aspired to be a teacher. When he graduates from GW this May, Martin will teach English as a Second Language (ESL) as a Teach for America corps member in Rhode Island.

“I’ve learned not just a second language, but also how to give back,” says Martin, who currently serves as director of Puentes GW, a student service organization for Spanish speakers and learners founded by a group of Perillán’s former students to continue their community service efforts in D.C.’s Spanish-speaking community.

Recognizing the success of the course and the drive in her students to have an impact on the Spanish-speaking community, Professor Perillán wanted to expand the opportunities available to her students.

In 2013, she launched Operación Impacto to do just that.

Open to any GW student enrolled in a Spanish course, the program promotes service-learning, communication, and introspection.  There is a service hour requirement, and members gather regularly to discuss and reflect on their service experiences in Spanish.

Sophomore Andrew Van Buren is one of more than 50 George Washington students actively participating in Operación Impacto this year. Every Thursday afternoon, Andrew leaves Foggy Bottom to volunteer at CentroNía, a D.C. organization dedicated to bilingual education, and their Eat Healthy, Live Healthy program. There he assists a nutritionist and food education specialist develop the program’s early childhood curriculum, helps to translate materials, and prepares healthy recipe cards for students to take home and test out with their parents.

“Through Operación Impacto, I have learned a tremendous amount about the needs of the Spanish-speaking community in D.C. and how easy it is to get involved in a meaningful way,” says Andrew. “I now am able to practice my Spanish in real life situations while contributing to a worthy cause.”


GW students have a profound commitment to serving others—support them in their efforts to have an impact on the community by making a gift today or on Tuesday, December 2, as part of Giving Tuesday at GW.

Author: GW Impact

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