Janeen McAlister

Why did you want to serve on this board?

I came onto the board because Keith Olstad, who was president at the time, invited me. I had worked with Keith and Mike Troutman at my previous position as the program director at the Center for Global Education. I had done a lot of work with both of them and knew them really well. So that’s why. I don’t think I’d even had the organization on my radar. I thought it would be a really good fit with the work I had been doing. I could use contacts I had in Central America, especially in Managua, where the Center has an office.

Plus, my husband and I did a lot of travel throughout Central America early in our marriage. We drove to Panama and back one year, Costa Rica and back another year, to Guatemala and back, all the way to Brazil and back. And so we’d been through Central America and knew a lot of the countries, the people and issues, and they really got in our hearts. He was born in El Salvador; his mom worked in the embassy and his dad was an executive with a trucking company, and thirteen days later his family moved back to the States.

How do you see PML changing the people of Minnesota?

My hope—sometimes we do this really well and sometimes it languishes—my hope is that over time, people who have been to NI or somehow connected—through the fiesta, the newsletter, the website—that we continue to help them keep NI and the social justice issues in their minds and, I hope, inspire them to some type of action. Some people will go on delegations and never have a connection again, but other people will keep in touch. I think it’s important that we somehow nurture that for people who have a connection. 

What are your hopes for the future of PML?

What we’ve been trying to do for so many years is to really provide the model and mentoring and information so the local people can do their own organizing, projects, development, because they’ve learned how. Either they’ve developed their own contacts, or we’ve given them the money to get started, or we’ve taught them. This new project model is taking that even a step further. But we’re not like other organizations that just send money down and we do a project and we’re done with it and go on to the next thing. Because the purpose of the projects is not to do the projects but to teach the people—how to work with the mayors office, how to work with a contractor, how to organize local people to get the support they need.

What do you think you personally bring to the board?

When I was first on the board, I did a lot of work with delegations, because my work with the Center for Global Education was organizing travel seminars. A lot of the materials I developed there we were able to use as masters or as ideas for PML. I’m not fluent in Spanish, so I can get along, and it’s been nice to work on Spanish as part of the Skype meetings and the two times I’ve been down there with the board as a guest. And I’ve hosted people up here.

What do you most want people who visit PML’s website to know?

I want people to see themselves or people they may have read about in the newsletter—Rosa or Elizabeth or various members of the board, both north and south, or if they went to Xuchialt, someone they met there. I think the focus on more photos is good. I also think people will remember stories more than they’ll other things. The more anecdotes, the better, although we have to be careful about that.