While most people are planning to return home or work internships this summer, Huntsman freshman Menelaos Mazarakis will be returning to a remote area in Peru for the fifth summer in a row.
After spending the previous four summers helping to build an elementary school and dormitories for students, he plans to return to work on an on-site consulting project with five other Penn students.
During his first trip to Peru in 2011, Mazarakis came up with the idea for the Princeton Peru Partnership, an organization that aims to raise funds to help with educational access in Peru. Mazarakis is originally from Greece, lived in Mexico for six years and now lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
“Since I was young, I’ve always loved traveling and going outside my comfort zone to see how other people live,” Mazarakis said. “For me, it’s so amazing working in communities like Taray and Ollantaytambo because you’re in an environment that is foreign yet intimate at the same time.”
The idea that triggered the idea to build dormitories was a three-hour walk each way to and from the community of Socma. “These areas are completely isolated from civilization, small communities with no access to basic electricity and to water,” he said. In the morning, he walked with a girl named Nohemi at 4:30am down the mountain to get to the school, Mazarakis said.
For Mazarakis, the moment was very life-changing: “I realized how privileged we feel in the U.S., especially walking down the mountain with a 12 year old girl who gracefully walked down the mountain while I was struggling the whole way down.”
Since then, he has been involved in the management of the construction of the dormitories, which were built with the help of international volunteer groups. Now after four years, Princeton Peru Partnership is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
According to Mazarakis, one of his hopes is to promote the access to early education in developing countries. “I hope to help with social mobility in developing areas and especially underprivileged children,” Mazarakis said.
Because of his active involvement in the international community, Mazarakis have given two TEDx talks at Princeton University about how average high school students can make positive impacts in international communities.
Mazarakis’ efforts have been recognized by the Peruvian government when he received a gold medal of service from Peruvian Ambassador Harold Forsyth. “It felt like the team had really made a difference in Peru and I was so ecstatic that the Peruvian government was coming on board to try and help us,” Mazarakis said.
Moreover, Mazarakis has been awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama.
At Penn, Mazarakis has continued to work on this project. “It’s one of the coolest thing in high school that I haven’t let down.” Mazarakis said. Princeton Peru Partnership will be a client for the Management 100 class, one of Wharton’s core classes. He said he submitted his proposal to Wharton professor Anne Greenhalgh and she was very supportive.
Princeton Peru Partnership also collaborates with on-campus organizations such as Penn International Impact Consulting, through which Mazarakis worked closely on both on-site and off-site projects. Mazarakis hopes to reach out to professors to help mentor the project and give feedback as Princeton Peru Partnership progresses. In addition, he hopes to create a “Penn Peru Partnership”.
This May, he will represent the United States in the American delegation at the G20 Youth Summit to create policy recommendations for G20 leaders.
Mazarakis is recipient of a $6,000 Wharton Social Impact Research Experience grant, so he will also be spending a month in five African countries to conduct research related to social impact.
Mazarakis envisioned his future engagement in non-profit organizations and social entrepreneurship.
“I would either continue Princeton Peru in the long term, or create another long term project that involves access to education and gender equality, somewhere in the developing world,” he said.
For Mazarakis, helping others is where his passion lies.
“I do [these projects] because I enjoy them and because it doesn’t feel burdensome to me,” Mazarakis said. “It’s kind of like an adventure because when I do these projects, I always feel exhilarated.”
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.