Deborah Allen

Why did you want to serve on this board?

Both my son and daughter participated in the Youth Cultural Exchange that we did for many years at First Universalist Church in Minneapolis. That’s how I first learned about Project Minnesota/León. The trips were just so great trip for my children, and I got to be a chaperone, and we got to know more of the people. I served on a committee that represented these cultural exchanges at our church, and that put me more and more in touch with people with PML.

So, I totally believe in these exchanges and the host-family experiences and creating these reciprocal exchanges, so we bring the Nica youth up here as full partners.

It’s exciting to see a program that’s more about the people getting to know people and intercultural understanding. You go down there, and everyone else on the plane is on a mission trip. It’s a good thing that people want to help other people, but I really like the context and manner in which PML does that better than just going down and building a building and maybe not even interacting that much with the people.

How much more impact we have, really making a difference, when people get to know other people and understand their situation better. I think this is a much more powerful model.

How do you see PML changing the people we reach in Minnesota?

There’s a generation of people who were younger when the civil war was going on in Nicaragua who were the original PML supporters and were eager to go on trips and find out what was going on there.

Now Nicaragua is just one of many countries where people can go to do “social justice work” and get to know people. Some people want an experience that’s very different from what we offer. We’re not willing to offer a tourist experience—“Come down, and we’ll show you around, and you’ll stay in a hostel in your group.” 

I think we need to figure out how we can help people in Minnesota partner with people in Nicaragua. Maybe we’re going to need to partner churches  here with churches there or set up partnerships between people who want to work on specific issues—like a group of physicians assistants from Augsburg College who want to learn about healthcare down there.

We need to help people understand what’s different about our philosophy.

What are your hopes for the future of PML?

I’m so excited about this new community development model. When we first started talking about it, I thought, “Oh, my gosh! We can’t afford that. It’s more staff to worry about.” I just couldn’t see it working. But the fact that we got someone who has already been trained in this technique …

I’m sure other people have told you about the hugely powerful experience we had at our cumbre [summit meeting] in Nicaragua in August 2013. We went to a community and saw a group of women who had been convened in the same way Rosa is doing in San Carlos. They went to the mayor’s office at 4:30 in the morning and just staked it out until he showed up … It was just amazing!

I also love the fact that it was women. They usually stay so quiet in Nicaragua. The men are in charge. But the women got so animated, talking about demanding services they are entitled to, like electricity and water. And now they know what they can do. They didn’t need PML to stake out the mayor’s office.

In San Carlos, where we had seen a health clinic failing and people nervous about what they could do, people are eager to see what they can do. So that’s the project side, and I’m really excited about what we can do there.

I also hope we can have more groups go to Nicaragua, maybe every other year, and then occasionally also bring groups to Minnesota.

What do you think you personally bring to the board?

I bring this enthusiasm and belief in the power of delegations based on what I’ve seen happen. I’m pretty organized; I’ve run a research program as a faculty member at the University of Minnesota and hope I can translate some of the skills from that work. I bring some Spanish, but not as much as I wish I could. But mostly I bring my passion. I just love it when I go down there, and I’ve stayed in some pretty basic conditions that are also very hopeful. I’ve met the people my kids have stayed with. I feel like we’re going to know one another for the rest of our lives.

What do you most want people who visit PML’s website to know?

I most want them to know that we can help them make an intercultural experience that will be transformative and life changing. We don’t have any assumptions about what that has to be. We can talk to them about what they want, help them find partners, and help them build something unique that fits their needs.