Invictus: Latin; meaning unconquerable, undefeated.
The Invictus Initiative held an informational meeting Monday, April 6th in Marquez Hall to discuss their newest announced trip to Nicaragua this summer. Their third visit there, this trip, as told by Co-founder Mike Kmita, will focus around humanitarian aid that focuses “… less about helping, more about learning and collaborating with them [local individuals].” and developing personal relationships with the people there rather than administering aid and leaving without really coming to know the people met.
The Invictus Initiative is “A non-profit organization that develops relationships with the unconquerable people of the world.” who travels to countries across the world including Brazil, India, and Nicaragua to better understand and relate to the people of the world and assist them in helping themselves. This relationship-driven approach to aid focuses on four main groups of aid, of which the multi-discipline and multi-school group of students has experience: Agriculture, Education, Engineering, and Business. The group is not strictly localized to Mines: students from Denver University and Red Rocks Community College have attended trips, adding invaluable experience in medical and other assorted backgrounds to the group.
This past Spring 2014 the group traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to meet with a local NGO (Non Government Organization) who owned a community center that fostered free classes for children in the area called CIA (Community In Action). On this trip was current President Carmella Caltagirone among “10-11 others, mostly Mines students.”. During their stay the students helped renovate an empty storage space above the center into a fully functional apartment that brought in a steady cash flow into the community center, allowing for the low cost and free services to remain so. Interstingly enough, a graduate student from CU Boulder rented out the space, hoping to learn more about the local community and culture to round out his work for a PhD in Anthropology. “We got to see the impact we had made,” said Carmella, who was one among many of the students on many trips who have reported feeling a great sense of purpose and self-understanding resulting from the work they do, including the tendency to “… walk away with a bigger picture…” and the sense that “My knowledge can help people.”.
Safety is often a concern for new travelers, and the Invictus Initiative is sensitive to these concerns. The safety of each trip was strongly supported by both Mike and Carmella, who both agreed that common sense habits like staying together, always having a guide, and partnering only with known local NGO’s have always kept the group safe on their trips. Additionally, it was Carmella’s opinion that “… we felt protected.” even in the favelas of Rio, due primarily to the strong local relationships forged from the group’s activities and connections with local leaders. It is also common that each trip hosts well-traveled students and leaders to guide newer travelers in learning the ropes, so no group is ever unprepared for travel.
While the Invictus Initiative is “secular” in nature, it is not religiously structured or managed. Indeed, many members have former experience with mission trips in the organization, but its purpose is not to spread religious belief nor does it require religion to join: “No evangelistic tone is set.”.
This current trip, estimated to cost approximately $2,000 per person and last “nine days, at a minimum…”, is intended to focus on three of the four focuses. In engineering, the group hopes to create a freshwater well to supply a village in Yugo Lica, which has never had access to clean, drinkable water. Additionally, the group intends to assist a well-known friend known as “Gato”, a coffee farmer, to transition from growing coffee to growing avocados – a switch, he claims, is due to the changing climate, which affects his coffee crops. Lastly, the group intends to advocate the importance of education to local communities, as many young, school age children view public education as a waste. It is their hope that they can reinforce the value and possibilities of public education not only to the children in the areas they work but also to the families, instilling a value that will trickle down from generation to generation.
Visitors who attended the Invictus meeting will likely agree that the group seems largely different from many community action groups, missionaries, and humanitarians in their scope of activity, tendency to return to previously visited places, and strong bonds with friends across the globe. It is a unique and ambitious collection of individuals who are compelled to change the way we see each other across the world through strong relationships with many people of varying culture and background. While relatively young, the Invictus Initiative at Mines is poised to become a highly reputable organization with great potential, filled with friendly people who are bent on affecting the world for the better.