Yasmin Tadjdeh, News Editor

Between exams, papers and assigned readings, the workings of third world countries often seem distant to college students, but for one group of graduate students, they have made the advancement of impoverished nations their priority.

The Inter-American Development Fund is a non-profit international development organization that aims to help build infrastructure in Latin America.

Led by a small group of George Mason University graduate students and alumni, the group helps to coordinate development in various Latin American countries such as Bolivia, El Salvador and Mexico.

Masterminded by Rudy Mareno, a public administration graduate student, the idea for creating the non-profit group came after visiting Latin America.

“Through traveling around the region I was able to talk to and interview mayors and senators,” said Mareno. “I got to see the whole experience of Latin America . . . [and] I knew I could do more for Latin America . . . There is an urgent need for infrastructure there. There are small communities where they ask their governments for schools and don’t get them.”

Mareno cites government inefficiency, lack of funds and lack of political will as factors as to why essential infrastructure has not been created.

“They just need an extra hand,” said Mareno. “Someone who can help them.”

According to their website, the mission of the Inter-American Development Fund is “to build and improve the infrastructure of schools, health establishments, libraries, sports installations, cultural centers, parks and other works that stimulate a more uniform development of Latin American society, an improvement in the quality of life and the cultural enrichment of all.”

So far, the Inter-American Development Fund has coordinated the building of parks in Agua Prieta, Mexico and Cochabamba, Bolivia and also a beach soccer arena in Cochabamba.

The coordination of the Parque Ver con el Corazon, or the See With Your Heart Playground, in Cochabamba, Bolivia was a project that meant a great deal to Mareno.

The project gave children in a local blind child center a place to play, whereas before, the children would have to travel a few blocks through roads to the nearest playground, according to Mareno.

“The kids in the center had no place to play,” said Mareno. “[So we said] ‘Let’s bring them a park.’ It was a very simple but important thing, the first thing.” The park included swings, seesaws and slides, among other things.

The Inter-American Development Fund’s largest project to date has been the beach soccer arena in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

The project, which cost $40,000, was an initiative to keep local children out of gangs. According to Mareno, children there had very little options when it came to places to play and spend time. The beach soccer arena gave children a safe option.

“We had a lot of help from the community, especially the parents [of local children] ,” said Mareno.
“The moms cooked for a party, where people could buy food . . . [We also] partnered with a modeling agency and a summer clothing company and had a fashion show to raise money.”

The beach soccer arena has since become the home of the official Bolivian Beach Soccer team. One of the most important aspects of the Inter-American Development Fund is integrating the community in their development projects.

“If you are an outsider and say, ‘We are going to build a library,’[the community] will take the gift ,” said Mareno. “But if you invite the community, they feel empowered and they protect it.”

Because of this sense of ownership, communities will not only protect the buildings, but feel empowered to create other projects in their community.

“[We are] starting small, but starting strong,” said Valerie Rosas, a government and international politics Mason alumni and committee member of the Inter-American Development Fund.

The Inter-American Development Fund, which is affiliated with the Latinos on the Move group, hopes to create more infrastructures throughout Latin America through fundraising and corporate sponsors.