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Brentwood Student Takes Social Justice to Thailand

By Kelly Hartog

While many freshman college students celebrate completing their first year of academic studies with relaxing vacations, 19-year-old Brentwood resident Becca Rosenzweig was busy setting up a sustainable café in Mae Sariang, a rural town on the Thailand/Myanmar border.

Rosenzweig, a student at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., came up with the idea after being introduced to the Projects For Peace grant through the Rustic Pathways service program in college. She received the $10,000 grant, which enabled her to build the student-run café to help youth in the poverty-stricken area develop business skills and improve their future prospects.

Rosenzweig told Brentwood News she first fell in love with Thailand several years ago when she took part in a volunteer program with Rustic Pathways. “I was so inspired by [my trip], I wanted to go back and create change.”

After brainstorming ideas and speaking with people in Thailand she came up with the idea of her café – Six Degrees – because, she said, “Food generally brings people together. It creates a space that can be multi-faceted and self-sustainable.” For those who worked in the café it was an opportunity for them to “have fun, learn, make money, learn to cook and to serve as well as practicing their English and mingling with people in their community,” Rosenzweig added.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Rosenzweig spoke of times where she had to learn to become one with the environment, given that the café is surrounded by animals and plants. “Once a snake slithered out of a cabinet,” she said. Also, because electricity and water were sporadic in the mountain region, there was a rush to wash dishes very quickly. “Once, we washed all the dishes and left them to dry but then we saw a frog hopping on them.”

Initially Rosenzweig planned to stay only a week and a half in the region, but said she quickly realized she needed and wanted to stay longer.

The experience, she said, was something she’ll never forget and she came away with some strong life lessons. “I learned that I can be a leader and stand my ground no matter what. Even though I’m only tiny – 4’11’’–  I can still make an impact. I came back feeling empowered and strong and excited.”

For now, Rosenzweig is back at school, studying Spanish, Buddhism and psychology, although she’s still not sure what her major will be. She says if she were to win another grant she’d like to open another café in another community.

“Eventually,”’ she said, “If I had the money, I’d love to open a chain of vocational training cafes.”

You can read more about Rosenzweig’s experiences on her blog at  http://6degreescafe.weebly.com

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