Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers

Featuring Shannon Rudy, MSW ’18

Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Partnership
May-June 2017

Shannon Rudy, Syracuse, MSW 2018

“They have taught me more than I ever feel I could begin to teach them about the human connection and what it means to be a good person in the face of adversity.  I cannot wait to learn more!”

Part 1:  Elation, anxiety and what to pack 

Yesterday, I stood at the foot of my bed for what seemed like forever, staring at the open luggage with my personal belongings neatly packed away. I went through my list about a dozen times, making absolutely sure that I had everything I could need. Frustrated, I dumped the luggage and repacked everything again. How can I possibly be ready for this kind of opportunity?

It’s hard to coherently put my feelings about studying abroad in Malawi into a blog. I’m elated, nervous, anxious, while at the same time I’m not really feeling anything at all because it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I don’t think it will until I’m on that 14-hour flight across the Atlantic. On another note, I got sick this week, so I haven’t exactly had the chance to get too excited about anything. I hope this throat thing goes away by the time I get on the plane.

All these worries and trivial things to get anxious about make me laugh as I type this. I’m going to Africa! My worries about what clothes I’ve packed and what snacks I’ll bring or what I’ll do on the plane will be null and void. It doesn’t matter there. What matters is the work that will be put into empowering the lives of teachers, grandparents and the kiddos in Malawi. I’m so excited to meet them all, and I’m hoping they’ll like me.

Life will be so different for the next three weeks. I keep forging scenarios in my head of what it might be like, feel like, taste like, but I know there’s no possible way to know. This unknown is what makes me most nervous. Will I succeed in what I’m trying to do? Will the people benefit from our work? Will it last on both them and myself? How can I carry this experience with me for the rest of my life? How will I change? These are just a few of the hundreds of questions bouncing around my head, and I hope to answer a fraction of them by the time the wheels drop back onto the U.S pavement.

This will change my life forever, and I am so ready.

Part 2:  A case of the cankles, the beauty of Africa and “oh my gosh, the kids!”

I have been in Blantyre, Malawi for a week already, and there is so much to reflect on that I hardly know where to start and how to finish. Being in Africa has surpassed all expectations and has quieted the initial anxieties I felt before the journey here. The flight itself was excruciatingly long, but the swollen ankles and tired crankiness of myself and my cohort made the arrival worth it.

The drive to our lodgings gave me my first look at Africa, and how beautiful and vast it is. The mountains in the distance and little shops on the side of the streets welcomed me temporarily home as people waved back at me and my eagerness. If random strangers waved at locals in the States, the general feelings would be confusion, disinterest or probably annoyance. Every person I smiled or waved at here greeted me with a genuine smile and wave in return. I was honestly surprised!

We were all welcomed by the exceedingly friendly staff at Annie’s Lodge, with Ms. Pauline quickly trying to teach us Chichewa. “Wawa!”, “Mulibwanje?”, “Dzinalakondani?”. Hello! How are you? What’s your name? She is still a VERY patient teacher. We were brought to our rooms, completed with mosquito nets over the beds to protect from the bugs and mosquitoes.

The next day we met our drivers, who have continued to be incredibly patient, protective and wonderful to us  slightly-boisterous Americans. Charles, Japhet and Peter have become part of our little family, and their knowledge of Blantyre and the culture has helped deepen our own understanding and learning experience. They never seem to tire of all our questions!

The first few days in Malawi were so emotionally demanding and overwhelming. The first ride to MCM was physically rough and none of us were prepared for the experience. I wasn’t prepared for many things, especially the way the staff and students at MCM made me feel.

Phoebe (pictured below) was the first to meet us, and I think she looked as nervous as I felt, only probably worse considering there were 20 pairs of eager eyes boring into her! Phoebe must be the most gracious, kind woman I’ve ever met. The love for her work, community, and kids at MCM clearly shows, and I can only hope to retain a fraction of that passion for my own pursuits in life.

Prof Youjung Lee and Phoebe Kufeyani, MCM Social Work Director
Phoebe Kufeyani, MCM Social Work Director (right), shown here with Prof Youjung Lee (left)

After touring the facilities, we got to walk in on the classrooms and get our first glimpse of the students and teachers. The rooms, while small, were inviting and emanated a positive learning environment. The teachers were very welcoming as well and were excited to have us and introduce us to the kids.

Oh my goodness, the kids! I was not prepared at all for how instantly loving, trusting and excited they all were to meet us! They made posters and songs in welcome and blessings, yet I was the one who truly felt blessed. I was very surprised that small clusters of kids seemed to “choose” each of us, and the same groups have stuck with me ever since! They held my hand, took an abundance of pictures and videos with me, attempted to teach me Chichewa, and played any and every game they could with me.

I never felt so important to a person before, and I was so humbled and happy to meet them and learn from them. However, it was also very exhausting. They are definitely an energetic bunch! The physical exhaustion was closely aligned with mental and emotional exhaustion as well, partly from the jet lag and partially from the mere experience of it all.

The first couple days were village visits, and seeing where the kids lived was kind of bittersweet to me. On one hand, seeing the poverty and struggles of daily survival with their families and community broke my heart, I felt anguish for them. Yet interacting with them at the school and seeing how much love and kindness they have for others completely floored me. They have taught me more than I ever feel I could begin to teach them about the human connection and what it means to be a good person in the face of adversity. I cannot wait to learn more!

Part 3: Sex, beauty and the life-changing impact of kindness

Working with the Young Women’s Initiative, I realized that I had begun the work under the impression that young women in Malawi would be so much more culturally different than young women in the U.S. However, I found this to be untrue as I got to know the girls more. While some topics about womanhood and sexual education are considered taboo in this culture, I understand the reasoning behind that and the significance it holds on the girls attending MCM. For example, since MCM is a faith-based organization, abstinence is the primary focus in regard to sex education.

I struggled with this, especially since it is my personal belief that safe sex and preventive measures against pregnancy and STIs are crucial to young women’s education. Therefore, the service learning group working with the initiative could not teach these preventive tactics or discuss them in depth.

To promote safe sex in the culture emanates the idea of promiscuity. If a young woman attending MCM becomes pregnant, she is to leave the school. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I also find it frustrating to be unable to provide the knowledge and resources in possibly preventing that pregnancy to begin with.

Sex education and woman’s health are still relatively recent and controversial topics to openly have in the U.S. Even my own education consisted of scare tactics among the students, showing pictures of the worst diseases and encouraging abstinence. However, I feel that it is important and empowering to learn about our bodies and functions early in life, regardless of discomfort.

Despite inability to heavily focus on sex and health, I feel that the Young Women’s Initiative was a very inspiring group to work with. Chikondi was the group facilitator, and she was a wonderful asset to my own learning and experiences. She was very knowledgeable about what the girls were going through, and helped my group determine what topics we could and should not discuss.

One day we had a discussion on self-esteem and what that meant for all of us. While many of the girls said true beauty consisted of kindness, treating others well and being strong, they did not see themselves as beautiful based on physical features. This saddened me, but it sounded just like any girl their age ranging from 11-19.

“I am smart, I am beautiful, I am worthy.”

We had the girls take out a piece of paper, write their name at the top, and write one thing they loved about themselves. They then had to pass it to the person next to them so they could write what they loved about that person.

This was repeated multiple times until the papers were filled with positivity and what the women liked about each other. This moment was so empowering and I could see the joy it brought the girls to see themselves as others did: beautiful.

We had the girls repeat a mantra to say to themselves every morning; “I am smart, I am beautiful, I am worthy.” Each repetition of the verse grew louder and more confident, and I could feel nothing but pride in the love they had for each other and the gaining love for themselves.

Part 4: Lessons in termination, non-assumption and cultural competency

A week ago today I said goodbye to the staff at MCM and the kids I worked with. It was such an emotionally hard and exhausting day, and I could  feel the sadness of my classmates as they also said their goodbyes. That day was hardest for me when the car was pulling away, and I could see one of the little girls I was closest with crying and trying to hide it.

It broke my heart because she didn’t shed a single tear the entire day or even act bothered by my pending departure. This in itself taught me not to make assumptions about what people may be feeling or how/when they express those feelings. It was a lesson I will carry with me throughout my career, and a moment I will never forget. I wish I could have comforted her.

Termination became a focused theme throughout our time in Malawi, but I don’t think it became a realistic process until we were already gone. Professionals discuss the importance of terminating with clients from the beginning of work and service, in order for it to be less painful for both workers and clients at the end.

For me personally, I realized that I had put termination on the back burner of my mind because I was so consumed with the present work I was trying to do. I was thrown into a whirlwind of emotions, practices, relationships, culture change and experiences that I didn’t have time in the short 3-week period to truly think about and prepare for what happens at the end. I was engrossed in my busy schedule, debriefing, then sleep.

How could I possibly prepare to say goodbye to the people I’d grown to love? It helped to write and receive letters from those I grew close to and I think it also helped that the students we served were used to groups coming and going throughout the year. However, this fact didn’t make it hurt any less for me.  I think these hard lessons about termination will help me later in my professional development.

This experience was so unique in regard to client/worker relationship building, because the relationships grew instantly and intensely in such short span of time. I think that is what made it difficult for me in the end to part ways. This will not always be the case throughout my career, but now I know how important it is to take that time aside to work through the end with my clients.

It’s difficult to concisely describe all the ways in which I know this service learning experience has helped shape my personal and professional development. All nine social work competencies were practiced while in Malawi, something I could not even say happened in my last field placement for a whole year.

18891640_1316728695043045_491104959336792479_oI learned the utmost importance of cultural competency and sensitivity to different belief systems, as well as beginning to understand where I stand as a white American woman with privilege and opportunity.

Hopefully, I will be able to practice in ways that fully encompass all that I have learned, and how to use my privilege in ways that empower instead of oppress.

This learning opportunity was incredible in so many ways, and I can only hope to share a fraction of the experiences, emotions and work with others to inspire people to do the same.

“We say goodbye, goodbye, but not forever.”


Watch for more Moments from Malawi, sharing the first-hand experiences of Binghamton University student volunteers in the Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Program.


Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers

Featuring Thomas Mastro, MPA-SSA ’18

Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Partnership
May-June 2017
Tom Mastro, MPA-SAA 2018
 “He handed me a canvas that said “I love you Thom. Feel Freee.” This moment was filled with emotions and will be something that I remember for the rest of my life.”

Part 1: Excitement, challenges and a nervous mom

Never studying abroad before or even leaving the country prior to this trip, made me and more importantly, my mother very nervous! As a CCPA student in both undergrad and now graduate school, I always heard of study abroad opportunities throughout both CCPA and the University as a whole.

Starting as a graduate student this past fall I stumbled upon this program through an email list serve. What attracted me to the Malawi program over others was the sustainability aspect to the project that I saw and heard from students who attended the program last summer.

One of the struggles I faced leading up to this trip was how close my brother’s wedding was to the day that we’d be returning. With my brother’s wedding being in my parents yard a great deal of preparation around the house needs to be done leading up to the big day.

Another challenge…leaving the country has always been a major fear of mine. Being actively involved in student government, I’ve always been very interested in federal politics and international affairs. With everything going on in the world it has always frightened me to leave the U.S. and then have something happen, either here in the  States or abroad.

Two days before leaving for Africa it really hit me. It really came full circle that Malawi was no longer just a thing that I was going to be doing in May, but rather something that was really happening in a few days. Walking into JFK and seeing everyone ready to get on the plane, I became even more excited.

As I sit on the plane right now and look around at all the people from around the world, I couldn’t be more excited and thankful for this trip and all that will come out of it.

Part 2: Unexpected emotion, the shock of educating in poverty and a life-changing friend named “Chimwemwe”

Week one in Malawi, complete. There is and has been, a lot going on in my head throughout this week, much like many of my peers on this trip. Growing up, my friends have always made note that I don’t have “emotions” and if I do, you certainly won’t be seen me showing them in public.

This week, my emotions were tested. I have always had a passion for working with children and in the education arena. Driving up to MCM on Monday this week, my view and scoop on education, children living in extreme conditions and poverty, has drastically changed and changed for the better.

This week, I threw myself into as many activities and opportunities as possible. As a leader of the community schools work group, I visited classrooms and meeting with teachers. This experience was eye opening.

It was difficult for me to follow along with the class lecture because of the shock I was feeling as I looked around the classroom. Conditions seen in this room was ones I’d never seen before. For example, this classroom had no desks, but rather plastic chairs that the students worked at. Supplies for students are minimal in all classrooms and something that was discussed prior to our arrival, but I wasn’t anticipating it being to this degree.

Following my classroom visit, I was walking back to the main MCM building when I heard a voice behind say “Uncle!” This is when I met Chimwemwe. He stood there holding a soccer ball (football), smiling and eager to play. I knew this would be my buddy throughout my stay in Malawi.

Tom with Chimwemwe

We ended up playing soccer every day since. Our soccer games started off as just the two of us and have grown to a large group of boys. I instantly came to the realization that I was not only out of shape, but every time I would get the ball I was reminded that my foot skills were not up to par with Chimwemwe and his friends at MCM!  Chimwemwe, myself and other boys at the school played not only soccer but basketball, baseball and made paper airplanes.

On Friday, Chimwemwe, grabbed my hand and brought me over the arts and crafts area and started drawing me a picture. He used a mini canvas board and shielded what he was writing from me until he was done with it.

He handed me a canvas that said “I love you Thom. Feel Freee.” This moment was filled with emotions and will be something that I remember for the rest of my life.

I am eager to return to MCM on Wednesday after the Lake and enjoy the five days left at MCM.

Tom and the boys. Chimwemwe sporting the Cowboys tee and big grin.

Part 3: Program gratification, the importance of internet access and hopeful plans for the future

This past Saturday was one of my most enjoyable days here in Africa. For the second time, fellow classmates, Dr. Blitz and myself met with MCM’s teachers and administrators dove into the of best ways to teach and educate students who might be struggling with trauma and toxic stress. In my opinion, this was both engaging and informative.

The partnership MCM has with Binghamton University is unique in that the projects and initiatives such as teacher training, soap making or young women’s initiative, to name a few, are all looked at as long-term projects.

From the start, it was understood by all those attending this trip that whatever we provide to MCM with our projects, it needed to be sustainable and able to be continued once we leave. I believe we accomplished that across all our programs. The teachers’ who attended the training showed both enthusiasm and eagerness to learn from us, which was exciting.

Following our three-hour training, myself and my peers immediately started to discuss ways to make trainings such as the one we assisted with more consistent and frequent. We discussed why it would be difficult to provide additional trainings throughout the school year from the U.S.

I believe the biggest issue and difficulty is the poor internet and Wi-Fi in Malawi. Hosting an online video training from the U.S. would be challenging.

Exciting for both the partnership between the University and MCM is the possibility of bringing Malawi educators Phoebe and Henock to the U.S. for an education conference in New York and a visit to the Binghamton area.

This opportunity would allow them to attend a professional development conference surrounding education and meet like-minded educational professionals. Bringing Phoebe and Henock to the Binghamton area to visit local K-12 schools would be an amazing experience.

Watch for more Malawi Moments, sharing the first-hand experiences of Binghamton University student volunteers in the Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Program.

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Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers

Volunteers who work with the Malawi Children’s Mission Partnership (MCM) repeatedly say they come away feeling they have received more important life lessons than they delivered.

Beginning with our next post, we’ll be sharing thoughts and experiences from student participants in a new series:

Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers


About the Malawi Children’s Mission Partnership (MCM)

This partnership is a collaboration between a local businessman and members of CCPA that helps students from a broad range of disciplines address the profound intergenerational cycle of poverty in Broome County and the far-flung African country of Malawi.

More at Malawi Children’s Mission Partnership (MCM)

The Work Is Far From Over: An MPA Student’s Perspective on Service Abroad and Language Barriers


We are now nearing the end of our third and final week here in Cusco, Peru, and I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed. Now that our bodies have adjusted to the ebb and flow of Peruvian life (our eyes and ears have begun to readily absorb Spanish, our stomachs have acclimated to big lunches and small dinners, our lungs have adapted to the higher altitude, our legs have strengthened from climbing a montón of stairs), it is hard to imagine another normal. It is inconceivable to think that soon enough we will all be returning to our regular lives in the United States and our time in Peru will be but a memory, with nothing but our pictures and souvenirs to complement what we may inevitably forget. To me, that is always the most surreal part about going abroad – your environment and therefore your reality changes in the instant that you step off the plane.


So what?

When it comes to going abroad, especially participating in service abroad, coming home poses an obstacle in that once we return to our home environments, the lasting impressions of our time abroad may be lost. There has been a lot of emphasis placed on this phenomenon, and how it is important for us to retain what we have learned abroad once we return home. I am reminded particularly of our experience in Saylla with the organization Corazón de Dahlia. The professors and students of the organization held a small thank you ceremony for us on our last day of service and Laura, the director, had a few choice parting words for us. She urged us to keep Corazón de Dahlia in our memories and our hearts, and to recognize that once we leave Saylla, our work with the organization is far from over. There are many ways that we can continue to support the organization when we return to the United States. The founder of Corazón de Dahlia is a Binghamton University alumna, and so there is an associate student philanthropic group on campus that raises money to send to Saylla. By participating in the Binghamton chapter of Corazón de Dahlia, not only will we be able to reinforce our memories and experiences in Saylla, but also, we can ensure our service there will perpetuate into the future.


In addition to this valuable lesson about continuing service work past our time abroad, I also learned a lot about the importance of communication when it comes to implementing service. There was one student at Corazón de Dahlia who stood out to me in particular who was from a nearby rural community, and his primary language was Quechua. A large population in Peru speaks Quechua, however, many of them are bilingual and speak Spanish as well. Although the young boy understood Spanish, he had trouble speaking it, and as a result, he experienced communication difficulties as activities were directed and implemented in Spanish. Luckily, Laura spoke Quechua and was able to serve as a mediator between him and the other students and professors. I have had the privilege of being able to study Quechua during my time in Cusco, and so I had many opportunities to practice with him during our time in Saylla. The young boy, in addition to other bilingual students at the organization, expressed great surprise and excitement over the few Quechua words and phrases I could muster. They were eager to speak with me and teach me about their language that possesses so much inherent cultural importance to them.


Now what?

When I first began my Quechua classes, my professor, Ursula, a well-known anthropologist and Quechua teacher in Cusco, expressed to me the importance of speaking Quechua in her field. She asserted that her ability to speak Quechua grants her a level of communication with the indigenous peoples that could otherwise not be attained. By speaking their language, she is able to express a sense of community, respect, and understanding. As a result, she does not appear as some outsider seeking to ogle and probe them and their culture, but rather, someone who seeks to truly understand and learn from them.


As a future public administrator, I take this to be a very valuable lesson that I will carry with me throughout my career. Service abroad can be very fleeting and impersonal, and has the potential to lend itself to the savior-complex. This can be avoided through dedication to understanding the people who you are seeking to help. Speaking their language, in my opinion, is one of the most profound ways of expressing this dedication because it requires commitment, respect, and appreciation. Prior to coming to Cusco, our group spent many hours researching, discussing, and writing about the culture of Peru, and I believe that experience set a solid foundation for effective service.

Juliana Pereira

B.A. Spanish Language and Literature, Binghamton University 2017
Master of Public Administration Candidate, Binghamton University 2018



On Volunteering At Home and Abroad-Problems and Recommendations

The Volunteer. The Organization. The Task

Last night we finished working with our second service project. The Co-Founder of Corazón de Dahlia, Señora Laura left us with a heartening speech where she told us to remember and never forget what we saw here in Saylla, and that we can all do our part for the children in Peru. Señora Laura spoke with such passion and love that everyone felt moved. On the bus ride back to Cusco I began to reflect on my role here and the future role I can play while living back in the United States. Working with these children made me understand many aspects of their daily lives and how much they enjoy the activities implemented by organizations like Abre Puertas and Corazón De Dahlia. These two social programs exceeded my expectations with their devoted professional staff, passionate volunteers, regional and international outreach, and the number of participants they serve. These programs are essential for the children living in the working-class communities of Coya and Saylla because the parents don’t have the luxury of time to be home. Sometimes parents from these far-out communities work before sunrise to after sunset, and the children are left without care and supervision. I had the honor of talking personally with Ellyn from Abre Puertas and Señora Laura from Corazon De Dahlia about their opinions about volunteers and how we can improve our approach. They both expressed how each volunteer is unique in their way, and their strengths and weakness highly vary. However, both shared the same concern on how many volunteers’ expectations didn’t coincide with their reality. Another questioned asked centered on what makes a volunteer significant? They both answered with the same word: Attitude.

I’ve been actively volunteering within my communities since I was 15 years old. I grew up in an underprivileged neighborhood in the U.S where we relied on volunteers in social programs to expand our horizons, and because of my experience, I view volunteering as a civic duty. For the past two years, I worked for the Center for Civic Engagement on campus as a Volunteer Ambassador. My role consisted primarily of assisting any walk-in students trying to navigate the volunteer process in Binghamton. I was able to gain a well-rounded understanding of the service organizations in the surrounding area and grasp the needs of the community. In our classroom reflection session this past Friday, we revisited in- depth the theme of our role as volunteers in a developing country and our impacts on these children and their communities. We mentioned how volunteers’ perspectives differ when they fail to acknowledge their privilege and as a result approach volunteering with a savior complex. We emphasized how fruitful and significant the women-empowerment workshops for young girls in Corazón De Dahlia was because it will have a lasting impression on the confidence of those young girls. We agreed later on that the women-empowerment program should become an annual event and briefly mentioned the possibility of a male empowerment workshop to encourage and support young boys as well. We are targeting these types of events because they’re more impactful on a long-term scale. We reevaluated how to engage with the children, our responsibilities once we are on site, and we reshaped our attitude towards of civic engagement aboard.

We must acknowledge each role’s responsibility, from the organization, the volunteer and the requested task to complete a successful service project. Volunteers who understand their expectations will allow for more independent research beforehand and an open-minded attitude on site at the service project. Volunteering is mutual benefit scenarios where both sides receive a new wealth of knowledge. We must avoid any feelings of pity and survivor’s guilt because people do not want to be looked down upon instead we should appreciate their values and customs to truly immerse ourselves within their communities. I truly believe attitude is the biggest contributor to a volunteers approach. Both Señora Laura and Ellyn emphasized that the attitude of the volunteer is the determining factor in how they perform. Ellyn from Abre Puertas said, “I had volunteers who didn’t speak Spanish be more interactive with the kids than volunteers who were fluent Spanish speakers.” The attitude of a volunteer will influence their reliability, their expectations, and level of engagement and/or productivity at the service sites. Volunteers should approach every service project with an upbeat, ready to go with the flow attitude to fully immerse themselves in the experience.


Kaelin M. Hernandez
Master of Public Administration Candidate, Binghamton University 2018


First Week in Cusco, Peru- An MPA student’s perspective

The what: 

It is the end of day 4 on our abroad trip here in Cusco, Peru. In only 4 days it feels as though an entire lifetime has passed. I’m starting to get comfortable walking around the city without a map and life here is starting to normalize. One of the most shocking aspects of Cusco that I did not expect were all the protests. From what I understand, the buses raised their ticket prices without informing Cusceños of their plans. University students rallied together and created a strike of all transportation in Cusco (including taxis). The city was shut down for an entire day; banks, stores, and restaurants all closed. As someone coming from a country where this would never happen, it was a very powerful image. The second day of the strike a variety of community members were protesting in the streets, not only university students but professionals and business owners with police in tow. The media portrays the protestors very differently than they do in the United States. In Cusco, they are respected and almost praised. I have enjoyed seeing the protests, almost giving me goosebumps as they walk by.

I studied abroad in Uruguay during my senior year of high school and I thought I would see a lot of similarities between Uruguayan and Peruvian culture however this has not been the case. Although they value family the same, Peru has richer cuisine, is cheaper than Uruguay, and projects fewer stereotypes. Using my knowledge of the Spanish language has also been incredibly transformative of my experience. I am able to connect with Cusceños more profoundly because of my conversation skills. This has allowed me to understand their culture and hopefully understand the community here.

One of the most amazing parts of Cusco is being in a bustling city and looking up into the beautiful mountains. They seem to go on forever. I feel so lucky to experience the contrast between nature and city on a daily basis. Looking around, my roommate Juliana and I, always comment on how fortunate we are to live such a privileged life. Although drawing comparisons between Peru and the United States is practically inevitable, idealizing life back home can be dangerous. Both cultures and countries have their flaws.

So what: 

To avoid idealizing life in the United States, I have found it most beneficial to keep myself occupied with activities in Cusco. Whether eating the local cuisine or walking around the city people-watching, I have been able to disconnect from life back home. The less I’m around wifi, the more I can appreciate and experience life as Cusceños do. When I studied abroad in Uruguay, I found myself occupying my time as much as possible to avoid homesickness. Although I do not think I will necessarily be homesick during this abroad experience, I do believe in order to maximize my time here, it is best to disconnect from technology. As beautiful as the views are, pictures will never do it justice therefore constantly having my cellphone out is unnecessary. I am actively trying to leave my cell phone in my backpack. I could share my point view with other students. My understanding of idealizing life in the United States has changed. I now see the dangers in constantly comparing both countries and cultures. Comparisons create judgements and easily generate stereotypes.

Now what: 

As someone working in public service I need to be hyperaware of the stereotypes that are formed. Talking to other students on this abroad trip can be a way to combat certain stereotypes. Discussing our host family’s way of life rather than criticizing them can be a constructive way to express ourselves.  Although we are all experiencing culture shock in one way or another, it is imperative to remember: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different. As a public servant, we should not judge someone’s way of life. Rather understanding who they are and what we can do to help improve their situation – as they see fit. Public service is a collaborative effort, connecting the community to the public sector. Imposing judgements only creates toxic and harmful environments. Although this is easier said than done, it is something I am actively trying to avoid.

–Nicole Bruno

B.A. Spanish Language and Literature, Binghamton University 2016
Master of Public Administration Candidate, Binghamton University 2018
Vote Everywhere Ambassador, Andrew Goodman Foundation


International Service Learning- Peru 2017

The What:

We are embarking on the fifth year that the Peru Service Learning and Spanish Immersion Program will run from Binghamton University. Sustainability in an Era of Globalization: History, Culture, and Literature of the Andes is an international service-learning course that introduces students to the history, culture, and literature of the Andean region in Latin America. Students learn about issues such as bilingual education, social equity, tourism and sustainability, and cultural identity. Moreover, students connect what they read and write about with a service component that allows them to reflect upon international service and global citizenship. The Peru Program is a collaboration between the Office of International Programs, the Department of Public Administration in CCPA, the Center for Civic Engagement, an accredited on-site language school in Cuzco (Máximo Nivel), as well as three service partner organizatio ns around Cuzco. The course was led by Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubai (Public Administration) for three years, and I am happy to return to Peru and lead the group for my second time along with graduate student co-director, Odilka Santiago (PhD Candidate Sociology).

Prior to the end of the semester (hard to believe), the group  of 14 students met for three Saturday sessions where we learned about the history of Peru through the works of writers from the colonial period such as El Inca Garcilaso De La Vega  and Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala (see image below), debated recent conflicts surrounding post-conflict Peru in the aftermath of the Shining Path Years, and discussed the ethics of service learning and short-term study abroad projects. Students presented issue briefs on a variety of themes prevalent in contemporary Peruvian society on topics ranging from Bilingual Education, Sustainable Tourism, Women’s Rights in Peru, and Asian-Peruvian Gastronomy. Students have also started submitted their ideas for final papers, some of which will involve on-the ground work in Peru.


In Cuzco students will study Spanish, and advanced Spanish speakers will have the chance to take Quechua classes (I am particularly excited about this). Quechua  is an indigenous language spoken by some 8-10 million people in the Andes. If you would like to listen to music from a popular singer who sings in Quechua- check out the music of singer/actress Magaly Solier. We actually watched Claudia Llosa’s film La teta asustada (The Milk of Sorrow), in which Solier stars ,when we discussed fictional depictions of trauma from the Shining Path years.

So What:

It is hard to believe that we are about to embark on our three week service-learning component to Cuzco, Peru! We have a fantastic group of 14 students majoring in Computer Science, Spanish, Human Development, as well as MPA graduate students who are packing their bags this week. Over our three weeks in Peru you will hear from the CCPA graduate students who will have a chance to reflect upon their experiences, think about what they bring in to the service sites, and what they learn about public service and ISL in general. We are very excited to continue to work with our three service-learning partners :

AbrePuertas (OpenDoors), was started by a SUNY alumna and is situated in the district of Coya, Peru, in the Sacred Valley outside of the city of Cuzco. The organization works to improve community literacy, empower teens through leadership and public speaking trainings, engage families who may undervalue traditional education, and bolster the value of learning and art. In 2014, Binghamton students helped to redesign a youth room through painting and clean up and catalogued library books into the organization’s library system. In 2015, faculty and students sanded, painted, and labeled shelving units for the common space at AbrePuertas.  They created a reading space for younger children. In addition, they ran a mini-AbrePuertas Olympics with the kids, which included activities such as relays, chess, and hopscotch. In 2016 we repurposed a small building to be used for a library program in the community of Huaynapata. This year we will be helping out with some remodeling projects as the main organization is in a new building.

Corazón De Dahlia

In 2014, faculty and students were integrated in the Corazón de Dahlia  after school program, helping with homework. In addition, outdoor activities were planned by Binghamton University students such as soccer and volleyball games as well as hot potatoes and other group games for all ages and levels. In 2015 and 2016, faculty and students were again integrated in the Corazón de Dahlia  after school program, helping with homework. In addition, outdoor activities were planned including a town scavenger hunt for all ages and levels. In conversation with the organization, students have already planned an array of collaborative workshops to implement while we are at Corazón De Dahlia.

Municipality of Cuzco (for work with the Comedores Populares). The Municipality of Cuzco, our third service partner organization, facilitates our work with a network of soup kitchens: Comedores Populares.  The Comedores Populares are run by local women and provides a source of food for families who would otherwise lack an adequate food supply. In 2014 faculty and students tore down a dilapidated adobe building which served as the kitchen for the Comedor Popular and rebuilt it out of ceramic bricks. In 2015, at a new Comedor,  faculty and students built wooden tables used to serve lunches. Students also painted the inside and outside of the Comedor. In 2016, we conducted a major construction project for comedor San Martín de Porres. We are excited to continue work with our service coordinator Marlyn on a comedor in alto Cuzco.

Now What?

I just returned from the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meeting in Lima two weeks ago and am eager to return to Cusco this weekend. At the LASA meeting, I attended a benefit concert for Latin American scholars. Peruvian stars such as Peru Negro, Cecilia Bracamonte, Magaly Solier, and Bareto performed a varied program that showed how unique the music of each region of Peru is. I spoke with taxi drivers about ratings for current president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and the intense storms and mud slides that had plagued Peru in the last year. Mining, resource extraction, and climate change are some of the most important issues facing Peru today. I attended talks on colonial art, indigenismo and José Carlos Mariátegui, heard from graphic artists such as Juan Acevedo Fernández de Paredes, a cartoonist who publishes the popular “El Cuy” strip, and the multi-talented artist Sheila Alvarado, who turned Daniel Alarcon’s City of Clowns into a graphic novel (You can read more about it here ). Together they discussed the art of “illustration” in Peru and difficulties for women in the industry.

The success of women and children in Peru, the US, and the world is of utmost importance. I am eager to return to Cuzco and continue to learn from and work with our amazing service partners. I am eager to introduce a group of students to Peruvian culture and to continue critical conversations about global citizenship and to reflect on our experiences. I am excited to see students develop their Spanish and Quechua speaking skills and hope they will learn to say Tupinanchiskama which in Quechua is, not truly a  “goodbye,” but holds a promise of a future meeting. As such I say to you now Tupinanchiskama.


Giovanna Montenegro, PhD

Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature & Spanish