More Than Just “Helping”: Students GO! to Brazil


For her last outreach with GO!, Lau spent her spring break in Nicaragua. (Courtesy of Michele Lau)


As students impatiently anticipate the end of spring semester at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), Global Outreach (GO!) participants eagerly wait to begin their summer projects. This summer, accepted GO! students will embark on service outreaches in Brazil and Chicago.

For those who are unfamiliar with GO!, according to its website, it is “a cultural immersion and service program where Fordham students learn about various issues of social, economic, political and environmental injustice while living a simple lifestyle that fosters communal and spiritual growth.”

GO! also incorporates Jesuit teachings and beliefs such as “Magis,” which means “striving for the better” by encouraging its volunteers to learn about the inequalities in the area they are visiting. “We really contextualize your Jesuit education,” Paul Francis, director of GO!, said. “By taking you out of the class, you have a hands-on experience.” 

GO! offers applications for both national and international programs. They also provide scholarship opportunities for students.

Francis stated that GO! tries to do the same projects every year to maintain a consistent relationship with their partner organizations. “We’re not going someplace, starting something and leaving, but we have an ongoing, continuous relationship with the organizations,” he said. “We really try to work through the organizations, our partner organizations.” 

For the Brazil program, students will be working through St. Sebastian’s Parish and their outreach efforts. In Chicago, students will be working through the David Darst Center for Service and Peace, Spirituality and Education, and the project will be LGBTQ-focused.

GO! is a little different from other outreach programs in that it is student-founded and student-led. While Francis manages the budget, aids in maintaining an ongoing relationship with the partner organizations and reaches out to donors, the students are expected to take the initiative with planning most of the project and gathering their team.

“I think [GO! is] a little bit unique, we’re different from a lot of other schools where there’s someone in a staff position basically dictating what happens,” Francis said. “We really try to be more supportive rather than pulling the team.”

The GO! Brazil student leader this summer is Michelle Lau, FCLC ’19. A student participant in GO! Nicaragua’s spring project in 2017, Lau has taken on the responsibility of choosing the chaperone, interviewing and choosing her team (in conjunction with the GO! professional staff), planning weekly meetings and managing the finances of the trip through fundraising.

Another shot from Lau’s last outreach in Nicaragua. She is the GO! Brazil student leader this summer. (COURTESY OF MICHELLE LAU)

Although most of the finances for the trip come through fundraising by the students, Francis stated that the organization gives out over $60,000 annually in scholarships, and is working towards increasing the scholarship fund every year. The GO! Brazil team has been holding bake sales each Thursday in April. They have most recently made empanadas and quesadillas and delivered them to McKeon and McMahon Hall residents. They also held a thrift shop event on April 23. 

 “We really try to get them to be leaders and take leadership. I think they learn how to be hands-on leaders,” Francis said.

Lau’s success in forming a team that worked well together was simultaneously her greatest reward and challenge. “What I find so rewarding is the community that’s forming. I’ve been really lucky where my two teams have been such great people,” Lau said. “Challenges, I would say, [however,] is getting that community started. You’re bringing in different people, different perspectives, different personalities, so just trying to find that connection between people [is a challenge].”

The current GO! Brazil team on their team bonding/development retreat. (COURTESY OF MICHELLE LAU)

Although the Brazil project is still a work in progress, Lau stated that they will definitely be addressing environmental protection, food justice and education. She said they will also encourage social inclusion through creating a community garden and visit schools to learn about social justice issues that are prevalent in Brazil: racism, colorism and colonialism. 

“We do have a mantra in GO!, that’s ‘participate, don’t anticipate,’” Lau said. “I’ve heard that there’s a misconception of GO!, where people think we’re just going in there to ‘help’ people, but that’s not necessarily the case, because we do prepare to go into the host communities that we’ll be staying in, whether that’s learning about the social justice issues we’ll be facing.”

Lau is having her team learn some Portuguese in preparation for the trip. Joshua Somrah, FCLC ’20, one of Lau’s team members, is “very excited to learn about a new culture and work with the people in Brazil to help them with the two main things we’re working on, which is food insecurity and education.”

Students who wish to apply to a GO! program can apply online. According to Francis, the program typically receives a surplus of 150 applicants. “It’s heartbreaking, because we really want to try and find an opportunity for all those students to participate with Global Outreach,” Francis said.

Lau and her group will be leaving May 21 for Brazil.