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PwC Belize program: Teach, serve, travel

Accounting , Alumni , Areas of Study Stories | Aug 21, 2012 |

People’s expectations of a Big Four accounting internship might not include a week spent in the Central American nation of Belize, with mornings and afternoons spent teaching personal finance, budgeting and basic entrepreneurship to 9- through 12-year-olds. But for summer 2012 interns Philip Bellissimo (GSB ’12, GBA ’13) and Domenico Giovine (GSB ’12), a special PwC program made that their reality.

As veterans of Fordham’s Global Outreach programs, Domenico and Phil were natural candidates for the PwC experience. Both said that the week in Belize City reminded them of GO, especially because its emphasis was on helping people in another nation develop skills that will allow them to sustain themselves.

“This was not an act of charity in the sense that we just gave something away, just like Global Outreach is not,” Domenico said. “It was a program designed to work hand in hand with the people of Belize so that they can structure and foster an environment where business leaders and businesses can develop and thrive. We were there to teach skills and share ideas, not give handouts.”

Each week for two weeks in July, about 250 PwC employees, from firm leadership down to summer interns, hit the shores of Belize to teach in local schools and perform other work for the long-term welfare of children. Along with their coworkers, Domenico and Phil woke up around 7 a.m. each day, grabbed breakfast and boarded a bus to their teaching site. They taught financial literacy to the students all morning, had lunch with them, and ran activities in the afternoon until about 4. The end of the day included a debriefing session, dinner and time at the hotel, wrapping up around 9 p.m. each night.

Long days, to be sure — but Phil and Domenico said it was more than worth it.

The students from Belize each spent three days in the PwC-organized classes, accumulating knowledge toward a final project: a basic business plan for a new entrepreneurial venture. The children had to develop a business idea, draft a budget for the company, create promotional materials and design a mini-storefront. On the third and final day of each teaching cycle, students presented their projects at a “business fair” where they could share their concepts and see their classmates’ ideas.

Phil said the impact of the PwC volunteers’ work was palpable. “We did pre- and post-tests, which showed impressive improvement,” he recalled. And, he added, “When we were leaving the schools, several of the kids got emotional and wanted hugs. It was nice to see that in just three short days, we could make an impact.”

Domenico and Phil both said it was difficult to see such enthusiastic, capable students and know that those children would never have the same advantages as an American student.

“It does not take much to realize that if they had had the opportunity to go to a wonderful school such as Fordham, many of them could easily be part of the next class of PwC employees,” Domenico said. “The fact is that they do not have access to such opportunities. This was hard for me to swallow.”

“However, I think Project Belize is an excellent start to addressing such issues,” he said, “just like Global Outreach is at Fordham University.”

Photographs courtesy of PwC.

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