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UNC Junior Extends a Helping MANO

Seman says hello to the children first, crouching to their eye level and tousling their hair to make them laugh.

She greets the mothers with smiles and hugs.

Seman, a UNC junior from Raleigh majoring in Spanish and sports science, serves as head director of Mujeres Aprendiendo por Nuevas Oportunidades, which translates into "Women Learning Through New Opportunities."

MANO's success hinges on the concept of women teaching women.

About 40 volunteers, most of them University undergraduate students, pair off with Hispanic women in 90-minute sessions to teach them basic English skills.

The tutors integrate lessons on job interviews, grocery shopping and driving skills along with reading and writing.

MANO, a University-sponsored program, has been helping local Hispanic women for three years.

Seman started her freshman year in childcare, where she helped older children with homework and helped keep mothers informed of their children's progress in school.

"Once I started, I was just sucked in," Seman said.

"The cool thing about Carolina is that people can find something they believe in and work hard for it."

Seman's background in Spanish includes a six-week stay in Seville, Spain.

She stayed with a native family while taking two language classes through a UNC study abroad program.

The experience gave her a new perspective on her work with MANO, she said.

"It was really helpful to be immersed in the Spanish language and culture," Seman said. "Of course, my Spanish improved. But it was even better in connection with MANO because I understand the feeling of helplessness you can feel if you're in another country."

She said she remembers how kind the people in Spain were and how they helped her adjust to the culture shock. "In Spain, I basically found myself in the same position as the Hispanic women who come to MANO."

Her experience as a stranger in a strange land has directly factored into her approach to leading MANO.

She tries to show the women and children at MANO the same compassion and understanding she found in the streets of Spain. She knows many of the women, like Paula Smith, on a first-name basis.

Smith, a native Peruvian, and her son Jessie have been attending MANO for three years.

Smith said she looks forward to coming each week because of the friendships she shares with the "wonderful teachers" like Seman and the other women.

Seman agreed that her favorite aspect to MANO is the community atmosphere.

"I really value the friendships I make with the women and the friendships they make with other women," she said.

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"It's great to see so many women learning together."

Seman finds time outside of MANO and school to volunteer three hours a week with a Chapel Hill physical therapy clinic.

She said she is interested in a career in physical and occupational therapy and one day would like to open her own clinic.

"MANO is definitely the biggest thing I do now, though," Seman said. She commits about 15 hours a week to the organization.

"This is where I've found my niche. It's become such an important issue for me."

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