Wisconsin Idea Fellowships: Building community in rural Honduras

For UW-Madison junior Hasan Nadeem, what began as a journey of independence, became a life-changing adventure in community.

Since high school, Hasan has traveled each year rural Santa Ana, Honduras, providing health and clinical support for a population living with scarce resources. But after the fourth trip, he realized there was something else he felt he had to do for the village and the community.

“It wasn’t enough just to go every two weeks out of the year and just sit in the clinic and move around pills and stuff,” Hasan said. “And that’s where I first had the idea.”

The biology, economics and global health student dreamed of an ambitious six-month nutrition project for the village. He believed he could move beyond the parameters of his usual service trips to build something of his own.

“I wanted it to be my own thing. I wanted it to be an independent project.”

After a three-week study aborad trip to Sri Lanka, trip chaperon Shafia Powell told Hasan to look into the Morgridge Center for Public Service at UW-Madison, where Hasan found the Wisconsin Idea Fellowships. The Fellowships helped his ideas become reality.

Hasan’s proposal, guided by faculty mentor and Global Health Institute Associate Director Lori DiPrete Brown, was one of nine accepted for a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship in the 2014-15 school year. But a series of unforeseen events ended up leading Hasan on a much different journey than the one he proposed.


The project was scheduled begin in spring 2014, with Hasan set to spend his entire summer in Honduras.

But a partner who was to travel three months ahead of Hasan to begin the nutrition program had to cut his trip to only a couple weeks. And then Hasan’s departure was pushed back four weeks. With only two months left, Hasan arrived in Honduras in July and soon after, learned that his project supervisor on the ground would no longer be available because of a family emergency.

“I’ve gotten used to things not going to plan,” Hasan said. “But I had to have an extremely open mind. Obviously you have to expect the unexpected, but I did not foresee that at all.”

But Hasan remained determined to make use of his time and embraced his new situation.

“I ended up getting much more autonomy than I could have expected. I wanted to go alone and have some structure, but I was entirely alone. And I think that was awesome.”

Hasan turned his focus to teaching English. He saw it as the most logical thing to do and the easiest to accomplish with what little preparation time he had. His students ranged in age anywhere from 12-20+ years old.

Incorporating nutrition lessons where possible into his English classes, Hasan soon formed a close bond with the teachers and the students.

“I ended up working with them more than I’ve ever worked with people here in the Untied States,” Hasan said. “I had to work with them on a personal level. Especially with the language barrier present, you had to find other ways to communicate.”

Hasan quickly broke through the language barrier, having dinners at the principal’s house and playing basketball often after school with the students.

“I think just doing the little things like that—not the actual teaching—but the intangible extra-curricular activities—were the ones that helped build a lasting impression.”


Hasan says his Wisconsin Idea Fellowship allowed him to be a conduit to say that there are people who want to work with community for the long term. He says the community should know there’s a partnership and that it’s not just a one-way street.

“We’re not doing this to make ourselves look good.”

But most importantly, says Hasan, the Wisconsin Idea Fellowships gave him time.

“It basically gave me the opportunity to spend time in the community,” Hasan said. “Which I think the main part of this WIF project is to better a community. And regardless of what you do, as long as you actually spend time and you’re some member of the community, then you end up doing that.”

And in the end, Hasan found his journey was thoroughly personal after all.

“The Wisconsin Idea Fellowship grant has helped me better myself. Which is an invaluable experience.”


Current UW-Madison students interested in a Wisconsin Idea Fellowships project of their own can find more information here. Applications are now open through February 13, 2015.