Be sure to stop by the first floor atrium to review the posters and speak with the presenters.
11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m on Thursday, April 19
ROSTER OF POSTERS AND AUTHORS
ROSTER OF POSTERS AND AUTHORS
The Malawi Children’s Mission Partnership (MCM) is a collaboration between a local businessman and members of CCPA that helps students from a range of disciplines address the profound intergenerational cycle of poverty in Broome County and the far-flung African country of Malawi.
Program volunteers repeatedly say they come away from the experience feeling they received more important life lessons than they delivered.
Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers is a blog series sharing the thoughts and experiences of MCM student volunteers in their own words. New stories will resume with the fall semster, but we’ve included three recently-featured student experiences to enjoy in the interim!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
During my visit to Bogotá, Colombia, in September, the atmosphere was full of hope and confidence in settling the bases to reach a long-expected peace. Only a couple of weeks later, it was all about disappointment and frustration. Last August, the country had witnessed how the government of Colombia and the country´s largest and oldest guerrilla group called the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces -People’s Army (FARC-EP for its initial in Spanish), signed a peace agreement ending more than 50 years of armed conflict. A plebiscite was scheduled on Oct. 2 for the citizens to support the settlement; but unexpectedly 50.21 percent of the voters rejected it.
As I arrived to Bogotá to attend the 2016 Congress of the Colombian Association of Political Science (ACCPOL) from Sept. 23 to 25, thanks to the support from both the CCPA Latin American Partnership Fund and Universidad Javeriana, I felt nothing but enthusiasm. International colleagues were also excited and a keynote speaker even highlighted that holding such a Congress in that context was a happy coincidence. In fact, hundreds of presentations during the conference discussed effective ways to implement the agreement and overcome the armed conflict in terms of repairing not thousands but millions of victims, learning what happened with those who disappeared and the truth about those who committed crimes, promoting development in regions affected by the conflict, giving back the land to those who were displaced from it, taking children and youth out from the armed groups, framing creative initiatives for individual and collective healing, integrating former fighters to civic and political life, advancing the fight against drugs, overcoming social, economic and political exclusion which trigger violence, closing the gap between rural and urban areas, engaging community organizations in the process, promoting ways to educate on building peace from inside communities, preparing public organizations to implement peace programs with territorial lenses, adjusting local, regional and national institutions accordingly, uniting a pluri-ethnic and multicultural country, and so forth.
The Congress’ agenda also included a few panels of politicians and faculty who presented their arguments either in favor or against the peace agreement. The general sense was that a fair, although not perfect, agreement had been reached. In general, the Congress attendants appeared optimistic. Furthermore, local and national media were reporting poll results indicating that most of the respondents planned to vote supporting the agreement; several leaders from other countries worldwide sent messages or even visited the country to express their support to the negotiations, and even the Pope animated voters to back up the process. None of that was enough.
On Oct. 2 only 37.43 percent of the potential 34,899,945 voters actually made it to the polls, and out them only 49.78 percent approved the agreement. Only fifty percent plus one of the votes were required to enact the initiative, but those who opposed it gained 43,894 more votes than those who supported it. Subsequent analysis show that regions in the countryside largely affected by the armed conflict actually supported the peace agreement, while most of the votes against it came from the cities where nothing or little of the war exists. Adding to this paradox, the role of certain Christian religious groups has been highlighted as instrumental in mobilizing some voters against the agreements. These groups pointed out the gender approach in the agreement as a supposed threat to the institution of family. Other contradictors expressed their concerns regarding the agreement in terms of the “light” punishment for those who committed severe crimes or crimes against humanity, and others more criticized political concessions for guerrilla members. These arguments prevailed.
After the plebiscite results went public, uncertainty reigned. For some hours the institutional stability was in doubt. Some requested the resignation of the President and other leaders, others feared the return of war, and others just did not know what to expect. Still others decided to insist and demand a peace agreement now! Interestingly, instead of demoralizing and demobilizing peace supporters, the plebiscite results have re-energized them. Numerous demonstrations have taken place throughout the country, and some demonstrators even decided to camp at the main square of downtown Bogotá to insist on approval of a peace settlement. Moreover, a few days later President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, and now he, guerrilla leaders, and those who led voters against the agreement, are all negotiating to improve and amend it.
It is still unclear whether a new agreement will be reached, whether or not a new plebiscite will take place, and how long this new round of negotiations will take. In any case, the sense of optimism and enthusiasm I felt in Sept. has slowly appeared in the country again. But as the negotiations continue, Colombian and international scholars would be well advised to further explore and try to better understand what happened in that frenetic two months so that our analysis finds a proper balance between the optimism for overcoming violence and political realism.
-Sebastián Líppez-De Castro, MPA ’12, is on leave as a member of the faculty of Political Science and International Relations at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota and a doctoral student in the College of Community and Public Affairs.
The end of the academic year can be a time of mixed emotions for those in the public education system. Social construct would have us believe that everyone is eagerly waiting for that last bell to ring with visions of summer vacations and adventures. The reality for many, however, is the increase of stress and financial challenges as the supports offered during the academic year disappear for the summer months. Food insecurity, summer learning loss and lack of safe supervision during the summer months are major concerns facing many school districts and families at the end of each year. These challenges can be exacerbated in rural communities with fewer resources and little to no transportation options.
The Broome County Promise Zone implemented a county-wide, university-assisted community school model to “Summer Zones,” a model that connects middle school, high school and college-level students. In the rural community of Whitney Point. N.Y. — which spans more than 140 square miles with no public transportation — school administration, community partners and creative thinking, has lead to unique partnerships for a six week learning opportunity that feeds body, mind and heart of each participant. The journey began three years ago when the Whitney Point school district approached Broome County Promise Zone with a request to help start summer learning programs. Partnering with a long standing community agencies and the school district, a summer program that connected middle school children to educational opportunities — while providing families with the peace of mind knowing their children were safe and fed for six weeks out of the summer, was born.
Since its inception, the Summer Zone in this rural community has begun to look at summer learning in a very different light. Not only are educational activities and events planned and implemented, a model of mentoring is established with middle school students serving as participants while their high school peers are employed as youth mentors through the use of state-funded workforce program. An additional layer of support to the children and families are the college students who also volunteer and work at the Summer Zones, serving as role models to the participants helping to instill the children’s own pursuit of higher education. The university-assisted model also uses college visits and access to university faculty, who share their love for learning and empower the participants through career preparation. Although exciting and enriching, this model is being utilized in many areas throughout the country. The Broome County Promise Zone’s innovative model also focuses on addressing community and summer hunger.
Every Tuesday morning throughout the summer, there is a multi-colored, produce-painted school bus parked on Main Street, which belongs to a county-wide hunger outreach program. It spends two hours a week in this rural community, offering fresh produce at little to no cost. The Summer Zone participants greet the bus as it drove into town, offering them access to different fruits and veggies on a weekly basis. The participants also distribute the fresh produce through the community, giving them an opportunity to learn more about healthier lifestyle habits and build relationships with their fellow community members.
For their services, each week students were given a large box of food to take home to their families. The food was donated by the hunger outreach program as a gesture of gratitude for the student’s civic duties and commitment to their community. This bartering system was put into place to provide families with another source of food support during the summer months. This system was also strategically implemented to help eliminate the stigma associated with accepting the food boxes while at camp. In addition, it was an opportunity for students to feel empowered for their service. Throughout the camp, students expressed that the approach allowed for them to feel invested, capable and useful — rather than needy and helpless.
Family engagement is a key component of the community school model. During recruitment for camp, a community school coordinator purposefully informs families about the food bus and the USDA Summer Food Lunch service that would be offered onsite at camp. For the families of students who attended camp, it became obvious that they were more likely to utilize the food bus and come and use the USDA Summer food site because they wanted to share in child’s summer camp experience. Families would walk down and purchase produce from the bus or walk down and have lunch with their camper. For the parents who couldn’t make it onsite, they would often send some extra change in for their students to purchase some items from the food bus. Funding granted to the food bus from a local financial institution specifically allowed for hundreds of lunches to be purchased, through the USDA program, that were sent home with campers once a week. Statistics show that in New York State, only 1 out of every 4 children who receive free or reduced price meals during the school year continue to receive meals during the summer months (Food & Health Network of South Central, New York, 2015). This is why it is so crucial for this rural summer enrichment programs to partner with the local food outreach programs to combat summer hunger.
Summer programs are essential to the healthy development of young people, especially in the context of the growing problem of childhood obesity. Studies show that children’s weight increases and fluctuates are higher rates during the summer than during the school, year, due to lack of access to nutritious meal and snack options and opportunities to participate in physical activities (New York State Afterschool Network, 2015). As we begin to plan for Summer Zone this year, much of the health and wellness curriculum focuses on supporting summer hunger through community partnerships. The holistic development of the youth in this rural community is a necessity, as we help to feed their minds, through their bellies. This summer, participants will be volunteering their time again with the food bus. They will also be volunteering with a new CSA, Farm Share Program that is coming to this rural town, helping to distribute farm shares each week and cook meals at camp from their very own farm share. The cooking lessons will be offered by a local non-profit food and health program. Students will also attend a field trip at the local farm, where the produce is harvested, giving students a real farm-to-table experience.
-Luann Kida, community schools director at Broome County Promise Zone, and Colleen Cunningham Rozelle, community schools coordinator and research assistant at Broome County Promise Zone
Looking back on my time in Peru I can say that the experience was life changing; from the amazing people I met, to falling in love with a different culture. Cusco, Peru is the capital of the Cusco Region as well as the Cusco Province right at the base of the Andes mountains that hosts thousands of tourists every day. Speaking to the locals I came to understand that most are very happy about the increasing tourist activity because that is their primary source of income. When you get a chance to visit Cusco you will see that most, if not all stores and markets are geared towards tourists.
Due to our volunteer work with Abre Puertas, Corazón de Dahlia and the Comedores, we were able to get away from the bustling city life and gain an understanding of the daily life most Peruvian people live. Working with the children was fantastic because the children are not glued to any technological devices.They want to play all day. It was a refreshing experience to see that it was the simple things that made them excited. For example, they did not need any ipads or phones to be happy, instead all they needed was a soccer ball and someone to play with. This made it so much easier to work with them, and I left happy arriving to the site everyday, seeing them so excited and making sure we get off the bus fast so they can start playing with us. It was an unforgettable experience seeing a new culture and a people who are grateful for the simple things in life.
However, we did not only volunteer and take Spanish classes. We were fortune enough to be part of the annual Cusquenan festivities. It was a fantastic experience to be part of the Inti Raymi holiday. It was really interesting to see the performances at the Plaza de Armas (Downtown of Cusco). The weeks beforehand we saw a lot of groups practice their dances and acts at night. Seeing the hard work these performers put into their practices was very nice and I am sure very rewarding for them. Especially when they put on their traditional dresses and perform in front of thousands of people. Even though everyone has their own lifestyle here in Peru and most of the people live a life far from the Incan tradition it was really nice to see the performances around Plaza de Armas.
After being back in the U.S. I must admit that I truly miss the four course meal that we got from our host families every evening. Especially now since I have to cook for myself again when our host mom always switched it up so that no one meals was the same. I can say that living with a host family was a great experience to become immersed in the Peruvian culture and also enjoy a great variety of Peruvian food.
I have been back in the states for a week now and it was interesting to get used to the New York City lifestyle again. At first I wanted to say “gracias” to people here in New York City, it is funny how three weeks in Peru makes spanish almost second nature to you. When I walk by street musicians I have flashbacks of Peru remembering the groups outside practicing or other individuals playing their instruments while singing.
It was very nice to see people out and about on a Sunday when a couple of us hiked and traveled around Cusco. The locals were playing soccer on wide fields with two stones representing both goal nets. We passed many fields where people were hanging out and enjoying their day off from work. At one particular field many Peruvians were having a Barbecue. It was similar to a American Barbecue but also very different with the handmade ovens comprised of dirt and clay. Those ovens are used to cook the 3,000 different kinds of potatoes that they have in Peru (no exaggeration in Peru there are 3,000 different kinds of potatoes).
The Binghamton University Study abroad program in Peru was an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture, in addition to take authentic spanish classes. I made some hopefully lifelong friendships with some of the children. One child named Antonio, wrote a letter to me and I hope to stay in touch with him. I know it will be tough because he does not have an home address and only internet access at Abre Puertas so it will be challenging. I am positive though that it will work out. Thank you for the financial support I received from the CCPA Latin American Scholarship Fund Award and the Reeves Ellington Scholarship. Without the financial help I would have not been able to gain such a great experience, for that I am beyond thankful! I can see myself returning to an impoverished country like Peru sometime soon hopefully for a longer time.
–MPA candidate Pascal Trappe ’15
Comedores Populares are the tasty and vital “soup kitchens” of Peru. Serving over 50 community members a week including men, women, and children, the women of the comedores are working to prevent malnourishment in their communities
We were very excited and eager to begin our third service project at the comedor in San Martin de Porres in Cusco. Knowing just how important these soup kitchens are to the lives of those who are severely poverty stricken, made us confident that the work we will do is pertinent and desperately needed. This specific comedor needed its building to be remodeled due to tremendous wear and tear that was beginning to prevent the women from being able to serve daily meals. Seeing just how damaged the building was set the tone that immediate work was needed. Before beginning our work at this site, we were skeptical about whether or not our help was wanted or if we would just be intruding upon a private and secure place that these women know so well. Those thoughts immediately went out the door once we were greeted with welcoming and happy faces. After some time of deconstructing the outside of the building, it became apparent that our group, along with two local men, were the only people assisting with this project. We began to reflect on this and realized just how important physical labour can be to a group of older women who might not have the time or strength to transform their place of work. Assisting them with this transformation allowed us to feel as though we were solidifying their independence by not having to depend on their husbands or pay someone to do this job for them. We knew that the work we were going to do in restructuring the building was not only going to have a positive effect on the lives of the women, but also the people who depend on this comedore for daily meals.
Comedores Populares are non governmental organizations that are beneficial to the lives of many Peruvians that live below the poverty line. These soup kitchens serve daily meals at discounted prices that people would not otherwise be able to afford in local restaurants. We now know that the women who have built and managed the comedores are able to feed and support their families because of their work. Beyond providing affordable meals for the community, the comedores also provides services for mothers and babies, families that experience divorce, while also dealing with domestic violence and the abuse of children. One of the first things that came to mind while conversing with the women of the comedores is to start a gardening project, where they grow their own potatoes and vegetables. This would reduce the need to partner with the municipality and decrease the cost of food. Some of the broader issues that arise from the situation are the lack of access to resources like gas tanks and the lack of control over the locations. Unfortunately, it is not guaranteed that the women will always be able to use the same space for services. Often times they are relocated for various purposes because it is seen as a small organization. It is important to remember that the Comedores Populares are a source of empowerment for those that work, volunteer and solicit services. Therefore, during our time volunteering we have vowed to create a space that is functional and safe.
As public service agents in the social work and public administration fields, we are cognizant of the fact that our goal is not to change anything in the community organizations that we serve. At times, it can be easy to fall into the savior complex but we have to consistently be aware and reflect upon our actions to counter that instinct. Whenever we engage with communities that are poverty stricken, we must always be mindful that our work needs to be for the benefit of the people and not us. At this comedore, our purpose is solely to draw on the strengths of the women, while helping them develop their organization. All in all, it is inspiring to see that with minimal resources and dedicated individuals an exponential amount of work can be done to provide a safe space for families to eat and receive services.
Arlene Arisme and Brittany Santos, MSW candidates