“Lumos was an opportunity to design my own experience,” Alum Eric Taft (Social Entrepreneurship, ‘12) said. His wife, Hilary Hambrick-Taft (Business Administration, ‘13) called it a chance to “choose your own adventure.” The Lumos Travel Award offered these two young adults the opportunity to explore a different culture and engage with local communities in a meaningful way–together.
The couple was newly engaged when they applied to travel on this funded gap year experience with a social entrepreneurship bent. They had been married just two months before departing for their year-long adventure. “The Lumos Travel Award was an opportunity for me to go abroad and live out a dream that I had had for a long time to work with a local organization, contribute as much as I could, and learn from people that knew what they were doing in international development,” Eric said.
Eric had studied abroad in Guatemala twice during his time at Belmont. He “just absolutely fell in love with the country and the organizations that we met. And so I knew that after graduation I wanted to go back and contribute in some way.”
The two worked through a family-run rural community development center in Chimaltenango, about 45 minutes outside of Guatemala City called Centro Monte Cristo. They worked with them to start a new business called Queen Bee and later started an English language school. “They came up with the name, they came up with the logo,” Eric said. “Then that grew into us making hundreds of units a month and selling those in 15 stores across the country. That moved them away from some of the industries that were common in Guatemala, like making textiles or carpentry, furniture, catering.” Now, a decade later, those businesses are still running profitably as well as contributing to the education and nutrition and health care of people in that village.
Eric currently serves as Program Manager for a USAID agriculture development project called Colombia Producers to Markets Alliance (PMA). Hilary works as a Technical Specialist for Youth Issues at USAID, a federal agency that provides millions of dollars of contracts and grants to local organizations. The couple counts their Lumos experience as formative not just in their careers but in their marriage as well. “Spending our first year of marriage abroad doing the Lumos experience really set a strong foundation for our relationship because we were able to see each other in situations that maybe you wouldn’t see if we had just stayed here in Nashville,” Hilary said.