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Commitment to service sends student to the other side of the world

May 05, 2010

Before joining ASU, Robert Brecht was unsure of his academic path or where he was going to work, but he had one clear interest – to experience first-hand the disparities in quality of life around the world.

In time, Brecht’s big picture interests narrowed-down into an opportunity to do service work for an NGO, the International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS (IAPA), a student-founded, student-run organization, he found through the honors listserv. Brecht applied to IAPA’s Summer Volunteer Program and was sent to India to teach HIV/AIDS prevention across the City of Chennai.

“I spent my first summer in India as a volunteer, working with Indian college students to teach a fact-based HIV/AIDS curriculum in high schools, colleges, fishing villages, slums, IT parks, and various other venues,” says Brecht.
The IAPA curriculum is geared toward helping people make better-informed decisions and reducing the stigma surrounding HIV positive individuals.

Brecht’s performance was so thorough; he was invited to go back to India for a second summer, but this time as a volunteer coordinator and recruiter.

However, helping others, especially while addressing the touchy subject of sexuality and HIV/AIDS exposure wasn’t always well received.

“We faced some skepticism from principals, about whether our material would be culturally appropriate. When we arrived to schools thinking we would have 8 hours for the entire week, we were sometimes told we only had 2 hours for that single day,” says Brecht.

He attributes the success of his endeavors and positive experience to the full-time staff he worked with in India.

“They do all of the legwork for the summer volunteer program, and they are really the heart and soul of the entire operation. Without them, it would be hard to navigate some of the more difficult parts of working in India,” says Brecht.

Reaching audiences was also a physically challenging activity. Brecht describes everything from travelling in rickshaws and trains to being squeezed in buses filled with people. He shrugs all of it with a smile: “part of the fun of working in India.”

Brecht’s passion and hard work transformed into a double major study plan. He will be graduating this spring with a B.S. in economics and a B.A. in global studies.

“Obviously inequality is a big issue, so I thought that studying economics would provide me with useful analytical tools and global studies would help me see issues from a number of different perspectives and provide some context,” says Brecht. “I hope to use the knowledge, skills, and experiences I have gained at ASU in a policy career.”

Born and raised in Chandler, Ariz., Brecht hopes to celebrate his graduation with his parents and younger brother.

“I hope that I will be able to do some traveling in the future as part of the celebration,” he says.