“Women cocoa farmers in West Africa were not getting fair wages and their living conditions were horrible and they worked for companies like Nestle and Mars,” says Diana Mendez ’15. “So what Oxfam did, because the companies are located here, Oxfam advocated for the cocoa farmers, and took thousands of Crunch bars, M&Ms, and Oreos and rewrapped them in their own slogan and gave them out for free. We as consumers have so much power. We’re trying to say that we bought them all and gave them to you for free so you have this knowledge.”
This summer, the Business Management and Sociology double major put her classroom knowledge to use through the Oxfam America CHANGE Initiative, which empowers a select group of college students around the country to become engaged with the organization’s work and shape a new generation of global citizens at their own universities. Working outside of the U.S., Oxfam America develops long-term solutions to poverty, campaigns for social justice, and, ultimately saves lives.
“What I love about Oxfam America is they have headquarters around the world and each Oxfam aids other countries,” Mendez says. “We empower people all over the world by presenting them the information about company or government policies, resources, and materials they need. When people think of helping people in poverty, you don’t have to change their culture—just give them their human rights. That’s something a lot of people can relate to.”
And Mendez was no exception. This summer, she participated in a study abroad trip to Italy to learn more about the world that she wants to change. There, she met with the director of Oxfam Italia, who had spent seven years doing missionary work in Santo Domingo, where Mendez found an interesting connection.
“He helped fertilize soil of cocoa beans and he was able to feed 7,000 families in Santo Domingo. That helped the community where my mom was born and grew up. That’s how I want students to see it—you make a connection with the work you’re doing,” she says.
Through a rigorous training and leadership program, Diana was empowered to create CHANGE…and she’s starting right here at Pace, finding passionate students to join her new student organization—Oxfam America at Pace University.
And while Mendez has created her own change, she credits several Pace mentors for helping along the way.
“Sue Maxam has forever changed my life,” she says, of the University’s Interim Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Education, who mentored Mendez throughout the Oxfam application process. “There was no way I could have done the work without the people who have helped me and believed in me.”
Through Maxam, Mendez met the Wilson Center’s Program Coordinator Lisa Heisman and found Latino U College Access at a Pace Career Services Fair. The organization’s founder and executive director, Pace alumna Shirley Buontempo, was speaking to a man about empowering Hispanic youth, which drew Mendez’s attention.
“She was talking about how passionate the Hispanic culture is, how much they care about work and education, how hard they need to work, and how important it is to empower them,” she says, prompting a fist-bump between Mendez and Buontempo as well as a unique connection. “I e-mailed her to say I would love to get together to talk about possibilities and opportunities, and how we and Sue could use our energy and passion to help the community, not to get a special edge to the internship.”
Buontempo saw Mendez’s passion and she was awarded a Wilson Center-funded internship at Latino U, where she used her experience and struggles as a first generation college student to help students with their college admission process and also helped secure Latino U an office right on Pace’s White Plains Campus.
All that, and she still had time to attend the International Young leaders Assembly at the UN this summer.
“I work hard doing what I like to do, which is helping people and communities. If you’re passionate about something, you should go for it… The best thing about being a Pace student is when you work hard, it all pays off. It’s kind of like Hogwarts—when you ask for help, help is given to you,” she said.
If you want to help Diana and the people around the world working with Oxfam America, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in sharing your success story for The Pulse and Pace website? E-mail email@example.com.