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Sara Kurtevski, right, with workshop participants

For Sara Kurtevski ’17 (BA Spanish, BA Psychology, summa cum laude) the summer of 2015 proved to be an important turning point. Sara had always had a love for travel, language, and culture, and as a pre-med student, she sought opportunities to combine her dual passions for the sciences and the humanities. So when she stumbled upon SPS’s Service Learning study abroad program in the Dominican Republic, Sara felt she had found a perfect solution. She participated in the program in the summer of 2015. Alongside the incredible natural beauty that the country has to offer, Sara also became aware of inescapable environmental pollution and the suffering of the people from preventable health conditions. She noticed that many of the health problems had causes originating in environmental contamination, or in a lack of resources and information about basic health. Her newfound awareness motivated Sara to organize health and environmental contamination workshops with the help of Service Learning Program Director Kathy Navajas and Acción Callejera, a non-profit organization with which the program has a close relationship.

“My Spanish skills, adaptability, and creative thinking were all being challenged on a daily basis, and this experience has helped me in every aspect of my life.”

Throughout the past year, Sara has independently led two trips to the Dominican Republic and taught workshops on health and environmental contamination to Dominican youth from impoverished neighborhoods. The workshops cover topics such as personal hygiene, nutrition, sexual health, drugs, and mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and Zika, as well as the impact of pollution on health. This work has allowed Sara to apply what she learned in her science and Spanish classes at UF to make a difference in a community.

“Education empowers by giving people knowledge that is indestructible and can be passed down through generations, thus improving the conditions of many in the future as well,” observes Sara. Her ongoing work allows her to spread positive change, and the impact of this experience continues to shape her and to give her an experience that could never be gained in a classroom. She is immensely grateful for the support she has received from her family and friends, from people in the Spanish department who have made this possible, and from all of the people in the Dominican Republic who have helped her every step of the way.

If you would like to learn more about Sara’s ongoing project, you can see the manual she created here. She is accepting donations to help fund this work here.