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Melissa Wenger ’09 is “Being the Change” in Peru

Maria (2nd from right) with the children of the Shipibos

Melissa Wenger ’09 (2nd from right) with the children of the Shipibos

When Melissa Wenger ’09 left the small town of Middlebury, Indiana, and headed to Robert Morris University, she had dreams of a successful career in business.

Today she lives in Peru as a member of Matthew 25 International, a Christian-based outreach organization, providing medical, evangelistic, and humanitarian aid to needy people. Currently the organization provides assistance in Haiti, India, and Peru.

“I am doing exactly what I’d like to do with my life:” says Wenger, “seeing lives changed for the better.”

Wenger started working in Peru in the summer of 2009. A good friend of hers had done some work with Matthew 25 International, and he was taking a team of people there for two weeks to help at a children’s home. “I decided to go along and loved what was going on there,” says Wenger, who went back for two to three weeks each summer over the next two years.

After her 2011 trip, Wenger saw a lot of opportunity to make a difference there if she were living and volunteering full time. So she decided to move to Tingo Maria, at the entrance to the Amazon jungle, where Matthew 25 International had built a children’s home. Today Wenger lives and works at the home, helping kids with homework and serving as sort of a “house parent” for them.

She’s also helping to build a church that will serve as a school for the Shipibos, a native tribe who have no access to public education. And she does all this without a regular salary. “I live off of people who believe in what I’m doing and who support me financially as a result,” she says.

It’s a big change from where she saw herself heading into the business world, but Wenger is just fine with it. “I am blessed daily, seeing these kids’ lives changed in a positive direction,” she says. “I have been able to see abused children come out of their shells and learn to live again. I have seen a 10-year-old boy who couldn’t read learn the alphabet, and he can now even spell his name! I see kids who were living on the street realize that they now have a home and they will always have a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear, food to eat, and a place to shower. It is an incredible thing to see the life of a child transformed.”

Shipibo Christmas

Shipibo Christmas

When she first came to RMU, Wenger entered the actuarial science program. A year later, she decided to switch to business management and minor in international business. She was in the honors program , a student leader in Chi Alpha, a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, a student worker in RMU’s Department of Management, and a recipient of RMU’s Presidential Scholarship. She also competed as a four-year member of the women’s golf team.

Wenger also studied abroad for a semester in Costa Rica. While there she visited Proctor and Gamble’s headquarters as well as the headquarters of one of Costa Rica’s top snack foods producers. “It was one of my most productive, hands-on semesters at RMU,” she says. “There are some things you can try to learn from a text book, but getting hands-on is the better way.”

As for her life’s path, Wenger’s not sure what the future holds. “I do know that I can never do something where I’m not affecting and changing people’s lives for the better,” she says. “The rewards are far better than what money can buy.

“RMU taught me to ‘be the change’, and that is exactly what I’m doing.” ~

Written by Valentine J. Brkich

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