Walton Scholarships Spread Education Through South America

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  

Emilia Faraj of Honduras and Gary Torres of El Salvador are recipients of the Walton International Scholarship and attend Harding University in Searcy. Other Walton Scholars attend John Brown University at Siloam Springs and University of the Ozarks in Clarksville.

“We need people of high character that will keep their word and go back home,” Boyd said. “We look at grades; this is an academic scholarship. It’s also pretty important that their English is decent.”

The factors may seem to preclude a student of a lower socio-economic stature, but Boyd said the review teams try to visit families of lower to middle incomes, especially ones that couldn’t otherwise afford to send a student abroad.

One scholar, Boyd said, was a shoe seller in a market in El Salvador. When his family couldn’t afford local English classes, he sat outside the classroom and listened to the lectures. After graduating from college, he was immediately hired by Empresas Adoc, a large shoe manufacturer. Boyd said he was now an executive with Wal-Mart in El Salvador.

At Harding, the scholars form a small community.

“We tend to get together and meet,” Faraj said. “Even though we’re all from [different] countries, we are kind of the same. The guys get together and play soccer.”

Gary Torres, a junior computer science major from El Salvador, said he never thought he could actually qualify for the scholarship. “It was just a dream.”

Torres wants to start his own business in El Salvador, perhaps developing mobile apps. There aren’t many software developers back home, he said.

“Right now, I only know that Costa Rica has a lot, but a lot of other countries don’t,” he said.

Education in America has changed the way he looks at his country, Torres said. For one thing, he said, the professors in El Salvador tend to go on strike and call off classes. That doesn’t happen in Searcy.

“The teachers here try to help you a lot,” he said. “They’re in contact with you. They’re very close.”

Torres also feels the style of education he’s receiving at Harding will help him when he returns.

“I realize that there are so many resources we can use,” he said. “We know that there are needs there, but we don’t know how to tackle them. Now that I’m here, I have some ideas that can be put into practice.”

Rickey Casey, director of the program at the University of the Ozarks, said that in the 25 years he’s worked with Walton scholars he’s never seen anything like it.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “The kids understand the importance. They make the most of their time to take the education home and make a difference in their home countries. I could not imagine University of the Ozarks without those students on campus.”



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