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Alumnus Recognized for Efforts Teaching Spanish and Working in Honduras

by Web on April 11, 2017

Michael Franklin, a 2007 graduate of Millsaps College who teaches Spanish to high school students in Tennessee and volunteers as an advocate for justice in Honduras, is being honored for his activities in education that contribute to international understanding and motivate youth to work for world peace.

He is the 2017 recipient of the National Education Association's Applegate-Dorros Peace and International Understanding Award, which will be presented at the NEA Representative Assembly in Boston on July 1.

“This is truly an honor and a reflection of what a Millsaps education provides,” Franklin said. “When I learned almost 20 years in the field would be recognized in front of educational leaders from around the United States I was overcome with validation. I was also overcome with the notion that these first two decades of outreach were just preparation. There is much more to do.”

Dr. Marlys T. Vaughn, professor of education at Millsaps, said Franklin deserves recognition.

“Michael was an outstanding student at Millsaps,” she said. “His passion for teaching was fueled by his understanding that solving problems of inequalities and social injustices begins in classrooms. Putting his beliefs into action, Michael is a high school teacher and has been a volunteer worker in Honduras for more than 18 years.”

A teacher at Franklin County High School in Winchester, Tenn., and vice president of the Franklin County Education Association, Franklin spends about 20 days in Honduras each year. He is a team leader, team leader trainer, public relations officer, and community development coordinator for the Alabama Honduras Medical Educational Network and co-manages its web presence.

He grew up in Montgomery, Ala., and Atlanta, and began volunteering in Honduras when he was 13. The poverty and injustice he saw in Honduras motivated him to return year after year, Franklin said, but he grew jaded after there was no significant change.

“It was not until arriving at Millsaps that I was challenged to reflect on the structural poverty we experienced in Honduras and given the power of intercultural dialogue to overcome it,” said Franklin, who earned a B.A. in history and minors in secondary education and women’s studies from Millsaps and an M.A. in women’s studies from Texas Woman’s University.

“I have fought my purpose in Honduras for many years, but God kept pulling me back,” he said. “The value of work I learned at Millsaps kept drawing me back into the fold. Now that I’m comfortable with the fact one of my purposes in life is to advocate for justice in Honduras, I feel freer to explore the variety of ways volunteers can make a difference.”

Franklin serves as the domestic coordinator for the Alabama Honduras Medical Educational Network’s community empowerment program, Agentes Comunitarios de Salud Integral, which means Community Wellness Agents.

The program hosts workshops and trains women to be change agents, so they learn to work together to determine local health problems, why they exist, and how they can be overcome.

“Topics vary by location, but all include lessons on issues affecting women worldwide such as mosquito-borne illness, HIV/AIDS, clean water, smoke inhalation from wood burning stoves, and abuse prevention,” he said. “Graduates from the workshop series are then charged with developing new contacts to replicate their training in a new location for new students.”

 While the community-based practical health skills training is vitally important to improving local living standards, the act of multiple towns collaborating to plan and cover the costs of hosting a workshop every three months for three years is equally beneficial, Franklin said.

“I propose that the development of the ‘We Can!’ mentality is what leads to the most meaningful permanent change,” he said.

Speakers from the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura, the National Agriculture University of Honduras, have been so impressed by Agentes Comunitarios de Salud Integral that they are developing an internship scholarship at the university for the change agents, he said.

There are now 150 change agents, and Franklin is working to expand the concept in the Río Plátano bioreserve, Intibucá region, and the island of Roatán. Overcoming structural poverty, racism, and sexism is accomplished through advocacy and education, Franklin said.

“If four years at Millsaps College taught me anything, it is that education is a means to activism, not a singular pursuit but a group obligation, for it is together that we are the difference,” he said.

Read more about Franklin’s work with the Alabama Honduras Medical Educational Network on his blog.