Panhellenic should focus on local service instead of overseas projects

Each year, Tulane’s Panhellenic Council participates in Circle of Sisterhood, a national program that promotes women’s education around the globe. Historically, these service trips have been made to countries like Senegal, Malawi and Nicaragua. Our efforts have been applaudable, but Panhellenic could serve so much more effectively if we assisted New Orleanians who need our help instead of making costly trips to distant cities.

Panhellenic has made an incredible difference in the lives of the girls we’ve worked with. Women’s education remains an issue throughout the developing world, and educating impoverished girls remains a vital goal for all of us in the coming decades.

That said, we don’t need to travel across the globe to find people who need support seeking an education.

In Orleans Parish, the graduation rate is more than 11 percent below the national average, meaning more than a quarter of students never earn a high school diploma. That’s only the average rate. Many schools in New Orleans produce considerably fewer graduates – at Crescent Leadership Academy, only 23.1 percent of high school students will ever walk across a stage in a cap and gown.

New Orleans is a community in need of exactly the kind the philanthropic help Circle of Sisterhood desires to provide. Circle of Sisterhood states on its own website that education is the best way to combat poverty for girls and that they strive to help girls everywhere gain access quality education.

When so much work is needed just a few miles from our campus, it’s incredibly wasteful for us to squander resources on excessive transportation to nations like Senegal. Panhellenic pays the costs of transportation for the sisters it sends abroad. That means paying round trip international airfare for 16 people. This year’s trip to Senegal will cost about $1,500 in airfare per girl, which comes out to roughly $24,000 total.

The money we would save on travel expenses could easily provide desperately needed materials for local school districts. The funds could cover half a year’s salary for a teacher who would make a more lasting impact over the course of a semester than a group of Tulane sorority girls could make over eight days. When we go abroad to serve instead of serving locally, we choose not to provide these resources.

Traveling abroad limits more than our financial potential – it also limits the amount of service labor we are capable of providing. Due to budget constraints, many girls who wanted to volunteer with Circle of Sisterhood were denied the opportunity to get involved. If we focused on local philanthropy, we would never be forced to turn down eager volunteers. We would be able to leverage a much larger team of volunteers, which would allow us to work with more students and make an even more meaningful impact than we do abroad.

Given all that we can do by simply serving our local community instead of volunteering abroad, it’s difficult to justify lavish excursions across the globe. It’s vital that we revamp our approach to service before we miss our chance to help students in need.

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