Brielle Preskenis ’19 Writes Grants to Fund Literacy Programs at Tandana Foundation in Mancos, CO

Breakfast Burritos are Good: Literacy is Better

“8 dollars can buy the supplies for one women in Mali to take a literacy class… that is the same amount as it takes for me to buy a breakfast burrito,” rattled around in my head as I sat in my parking space up on a hill that over looked the greater Mancos Valley. The old F-150 wheezed and struggled as the engine failed the turn over for the third time. Only as the engine died and my phone buzzed did I realize that I had been sitting thinking absentmindedly about a grant application for 5 minutes when I should have been driving to work. Jerking to life and pushing the thought of the grant momentarily to the back of my mind I stepped on the gas pedal as I turned the key in the ignition. The truck roared as it came to life. Patting the dashboard of “Red” I put the truck into reverse and pulled out of my parking space. As I began to drive towards the La Plata Mountains, that scrape Colorado’s endless sky at 13000,’ I thought about how lucky I was to work with so many people on a variety of important issues in one of the most beautiful places in the US.

My name is Brielle Preskenis. I am a rising Senior Politics major with minors in Geology and Spanish from Ashland, OR. This summer I am the administrative intern for Tandana Foundation in Mancos, Co. They are an international non-profit that focus on supporting community-based initiatives in Ecuador’s Highland and Mali’s Drogon Country. Some of my responsibilities are coordinating the Board Retreat for the Board of Trustees in July, creating Spanish and French versions of the official website, and writing grant applications.

When I first arrived in Four Corners I was struck by the sweeping valleys, the 1300’ peaks and the constantly clear blue sky. Moving to a new place where I didn’t know anyone, and the total town population of 1336 people, was terrifying. However, I quickly fell into a routine that allowed me to truly find meaning and a home in a new place. Every day I get up, eat breakfast watching the sunlight travel up higher on the Mesa Verde National Park and drive 6.8 miles to my work where I get to work on projects that have an impact on people on three continents.

One of the most meaningful projects I have worked on thus far was writing a grant application for funding of a literacy program for women in Mali. The program has so far allowed for over 250 women to gain basic literacy skills that had previously been unavailable to them. This program expands access to literacy women who speak Tommo So – the common language of the region — where approximately 87% of the women are considered illiterate. Literacy increases women’s confidence, ability to generate income and independence. If Tandana receives this grant it will help fund the increase of the Women’s Literacy, Leadership, and Enterprise program to 20 new villages and opening access to literacy classes to an additional 600 women. Through research for this project and grant I discovered that it only costs 8 dollars to pay for the supplies of one women in these literacy classes – forcing me to think about how often I spend 8 dollars without thinking about it.

Other than working on grant applications I also work daily with the Founding Director of the Tandana Foundation which has provided me with the opportunity to get an unparalleled view into how running an international non-profit works. The Tandana Foundation has allowed me to apply the skills I have learned at Whitman through meaningful work that is opening the door to access to clean water, literacy, and higher education in Ecuador and Mali.

I am incredibly lucky to get to call Southwest Colorado my stomping grounds for the summer and even more fortunate that I get the opportunity to work for a non-profit that is actively combatting colonialism and working to create respectful intercultural relationships. This internship has taught me a lot of things, one of them is that I will never look at a breakfast burrito, of an extra 8 dollars, the same way again.


Experiences like Brielle’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

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