Social Work Department explores effects of grandparenting through research, workshops

Two recent journal articles about the challenges and opportunities confronting grandparents taking care of grandchildren highlight the passion of Youjung Lee, co-director of the Institute of Multigenerational Studies (IMS) and several Binghamton University co-authors.

Youjung Lee, assistant professor of social work at the College for Community and Public Affairs, photographed near the University Union, Friday, June 15, 2012.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.7 million grandparents have primary caretaker roles for their grandchildren in this country. By definition, children who are being taken care of by their grandparents have experienced a variety of trauma and stress that necessitated the atypical arrangement. Whether the cause is abuse, death, abandonment or incapacitation of the parents, the new nuclear family poses significant opportunities and challenges to all members.

Schools see greater behavior problems among children whose parents have been replaced by grandparents, and the older caretakers are not always prepared – both physically and emotionally – to handle their new charges. There may also be shame associated with admitting that they have “failed” to raise their own children well enough to avoid such a predicament.

But there are also significant benefits to both ends of the spectrum: Children in such circumstances can show amazing resiliency, avoiding the “toxic stress” that often comes with placement outside their immediate family.

Grandparent caregivers also embrace this new “second chance” at childrearing in better ways than they may have done with their own children. Thus, healing and growth can be achieved.

In the words of one grandparent, “I couldn’t imagine not doing it. They’re my life. They’re my reason to get up every day.”

Another said, “I try to give her more love than I did my own children.”

College for Community and Public Affairs assistant professor of

Social workers have critical roles to make these arrangements successful. For example, there are institutional barriers that need to be identified, negotiated or removed. Grandparents may not be aware of social services available to them as caregivers, or they may not (without assistance) gain the proper legal status to adequately represent their grandchildren.

Another role social workers can assume is to steer grandparents toward those educational, psychosocial and health services that do cater to older surrogate parents and help those services work collaboratively.

It is also important to have social work advocacy to promote institutional policies that recognize and alleviate the stresses on grandparents. At the university level, greater emphasis is needed for multi-faceted program that sensitizes and trains graduate students in education, social work and the sciences.

In order to work more collaboratively, to better understand and be responsive to grandparent-headed households, Binghamton University’s IMS sponsored a three-week science camp, a monthly math education program and an interdisciplinary family service project in 2014.

The project was meant to help grandparents better understand their grandchildren’s science and math curriculums so that they could engage with the children in positive ways at home. It was also intended to break some of the hierarchical silos that exist for graduate students to be more effective serving grandparents and their families.

Access the full research article, originally published in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships.

Visit the Institute for Multigenerational Studies or the Department of Social Work for more information about the community center and the educational program at Binghamton University.

Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program Returns: Some of What I Have Learned in Three Years of the Program*

[the what] The Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program returned in June from its third year running. Students are back in the swing of things, having started internships and jobs. Professor Nadia Rubaii and I are back to research and planning classes for the Fall 2015 semester.

During our time in Peru for three weeks, the Program, which included this year 18 students and 2 faculty leaders, did a total of 448 hours of Spanish language classes and 56 hours of Quechua (an indigenous language spoken widely in the Andean mountains of Peru) by 2 students at our partner language school, Maximo Nivel, and over 800 hours of service work with our three service partners who you have read about by our posts from our CCPA graduate students (Sarah Glose, Helen Li, Diana Reyes, Dina Truncali, Liz Pisani-Woodruff, and Carolina Garcia): AbrePuertas, Corazon de Dahlia, and the Comedor called Virgin de Fatima.

5.The Group at Corazon de Dahlia

Students were able to see local development, often from the bottom up at all of the service sites. The service sites were all different in how they ‘tackled’ local development and issues of poverty, as one student wrote in a blog post for CCE, “All three of the organizations are doing incredible things in different ways, helping to engage the members of their communities and enhance their lives as a whole.” During their time in Peru, students witnessed and practiced many public service values, and experienced both their challenges and opportunities in the context of Peru, including—issues around equity, effectiveness, community, solidarity, and sustainability.

So, was the Peru Program 2015 a success? If success is measured by building and continuing strong partnerships in Peru and by increasing learning and reflection on important local development questions, the answer is yes, the Peru Program was a success again in its third year.

[so what?] So now it is my time to reflect, given another successful year of the program. I think one of the most fulfilling parts of instructing and leading a class and international service-learning (ISL) program like the Peru Program is working with both the students and our service partners. As I mentioned in the initial Peru Program post, the Peru Program builds ethical considerations into the coursework to advance student learning objectives and also to establish the importance of our relationships with our service partners.

Students: Students come to the Peru Program with a predisposition to want to give and positively influence communities of all kinds. Some know they are going into public service careers like our MPA graduate students and MSW graduate students. Others know they want to go into a career that makes a difference but are exploring options. Students step into the first day of the pre-departure classes of the Peru Program with a desire to give.

6.The Group at Comedor

What I think ISL programs do so well is to complement this desire to give to community. That is, programs like the Peru Program can also foster an even more greater desire to learn. I imagine students knew they would learn something through the Peru Program. Of course they would, right? It is a class, they were doing readings, had papers, engaged in class discussions and the like. However, you cannot step into a new context, in this case Peru, without asking questions, and lots of them. Asking questions fosters learning and also requires that we ask the same questions about our own contexts. I tell students before leaving for Peru, during our pre-departure classes, that they should plan to learn more about Peru, for sure, but also to be just as prepared to learn as much about the U.S.

Service Partners: Our service partners also asked questions while working with us. Like for many of our students, for many of the service partners—both the organizational leaders and those served by the organizations—seeing and working with the Binghamton group was their first experience working side by side with people from another country. They asked a lot of questions and had curiosity about what students were studying, about the students’ families, and what they thought about Cusco, Peru—especially the food!

[now what?] As a professor at CCPA, I commit myself to giving Binghamton students these types of learning experiences. In a last reflection class during our time in Peru, students became critical of some of the macro and structural issues that cause poverty. We should be critical! It can almost seem overwhelming and hard to find solutions. However, what programs like the Peru Program do is put faces to these bigger structural issues. Students can reflect about how their life in the U.S. is related to the lives of the communities and our partners in Peru. Students can continue relations with our partner organizations through social media, information campaigns, fundraising and by returning if possible to Peru. One student explained in the final reflection session that during her time in Peru she was reminded that “people are people.” Indeed, learning and reflection can remind us that all people desire and deserve well being and opportunity, in the U.S., Peru and everywhere.

Looking forward to seeing the Peru Program’s success next year as well!

Susan Appe

Assistant Professor of Public Administration

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Reflecting on Mental Health and Social Services in the Peruvian and U.S. Context*

[the what] As I reflect on and observe my trip and experiences in Cusco, Peru, I notice that there are similarities and differences that can be exchanged between Peruvian culture and American culture.  My focus during the class in the Peru Program for study is mental health, and as such it is important to discuss and observe human behavior in social environments while in Peru and based on my experiences in the U.S. Understanding the importance of mental health and its strong connections to physical health is important, particularly when considering interventions in any culture.

American culture and society can be considered rich in available resources when dealing with any type of need for individuals.  The emotional and mental health needs of Americans are similar, if not the same in some circumstances, to those I observed in Peru, but the delivery of services can be considered dramatically different. The differences do not necessarily indicate negative or positive implications, but rather a better scope to decipher what is always necessary and what is secondary for any individual, regardless of culture. In Cusco, I observed a strong community and familial bond in every setting I found myself in.  Many individuals in Peru operate on a level of general care and concern for all of those around them.  Children were generally watched over by all, not just parents or immediate caretakers, many smiles were exchanged. Even when getting to know some of the locals in Cusco, I could feel the general caring and loving attitude that is practiced just from the behavior of those around me. While my American ethnicity was always an elephant in the room, the elephant was typically warmly welcomed and treated with general respect, even if there were questions for me to answer. While this experience for me may have been largely skewed by being American, I do believe there is a stronger bond among the people of Cusco as a whole.

In contrast, when speaking with a Peru Program service partner, Nestor, who is a psychologist and co-founder of AbrePuertas, I learned that mental health is still stigmatized and under-treated in Peru. Many individuals who suffer from any type of mental disorder are typically under-treated to the point of mental symptoms becoming largely physical leading individuals to their Primary Care Doctors. It is then that they realize the root problem is mental and then they are sometimes referred to a psychologist or mental health care professional. Early intervention and available resources do not seem to be as easily obtained in Cusco where it might be available in the U.S. more readily.

[so what?] Since mental health and physical health are so intertwined, it is through this experience, I sought to further look at what is necessary for any individual to live a high quality of life for them and those close to them, regardless of culture or ethnicity. Cusco appears to have an experiential type of learning and care-taking. This experiential learning and independent nature of children stayed with me beyond the trip into my thoughts here in America. I kept wondering why we care-take and parent so differently in the U.S. and questioned which method is better, and if either or both approaches led to different human behavior and mental health statuses both in comparison and in contrast.

An example of this is El Comedor, a site where myself and the other students worked during our time in Peru. The soup kitchen provided meals to any community members who were in need of food or nourishment. Whether it was a family or workers in the area, it was a general understanding that they come, eat a large meal for a small price, and leave with that need being met. This exchange demonstrating such a beautiful and useful way of indirectly tending to physical need, which cyclically improves mental health needs as well in a community bond strategy.

[now what?] In the U.S., community health is something that is constantly being revamped and improved in order to improve the overall health of individuals. Programs like El Comedor (the soup kitchen) and Corazon de Dahlia (a children’s after-school program) demonstrate a type of bonding among people and understanding of emotional and physical needs that Cusco seems to master through their innate human behaviors. On the other hand, there are systemic concerns that prevent some individuals in Cusco from achieving optimal health care and mental health goals in order to live a higher quality of life. While there may be very limited economic or government support in Cusco in comparison to U.S. for needs like emotional care or mental health care, the communities seem to take it into their own hands through bonding and affection—demonstrating true the public service value of community. Ultimately, the U.S. can benefit from the affectionate way that Peruvians care for one another and generally look out for each other when we are faced with challenges of apathy here at home.

The formal concern and understanding of the need for mental and physical health care in the U.S. would provide very beneficial change in the lives of many Peruvians on a macro level because of the need for a more resources and larger support. The formal health care that we provide in the U.S. could be useful if implemented in Peru for individuals suffering from behavioral dilemmas of any kind. However, U.S. mental health and social service might too have lessons to learn from Peru. A give and take from both cultures could benefit both greatly on mezzo/community levels and macro/systemic levels. If all human-beings are attempting to achieve optimal quality of life well beyond that of just surviving, then we can see the importance of using each other’s beneficial techniques in working with communities and its people.

Elizabeth Pisani-Woodruff

Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Social Work (MSW) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Profe! Profe! Profe! Y Cuando Regresan?

[the what?] We have now officially worked alongside all of the service partners that we had planned to work with. It has been a very enriching, different, eye opening and emotional experience for many different reasons, the most impactful one being that, now  that we have returned to the U.S., we no longer get to see the children we were working  with! Every time we finished at a service site, I could not help but hold back my tears and get a knot in my chest until we drove away. It would not have been fair to start crying in  front of the children who were doing perfectly fine before I arrived; my tears would have just made a scene and probably caused the children to get sad. In any case, it was a very draining experience when the time came to leave and say goodbye. I was saddened by the realities that many of the families of these young children were faced with. Most of my sadness stemmed from knowing that I was leaving so many children in the same situation that I found them in, and that I was unable to change anything about the way they are living their lives. Many of the people that we interacted with came from rural areas where there are limited resources, which limit the lifestyle that many of the families can have. One specific example was seen at AbrePuertas, one of the service sites we visited, where the program was located in a rural setting, surrounded by mountains and dealing with issues of poverty. Although the service site is there to help children in the neighborhood overcome challenges associated with poverty, I could not help but think that the work that is done is made so much harder by the lack of resources, sponsors and support that this service site receives. Along with AbrePuertas, Corazon de Dahlia and El Comedor were sites that lacked many resources and this limited the services they were able to provide.

[so what?] While in Cusco, I did make an effort to ask questions to the directors of the places we served to get a better understanding of what resources are available in Peru and get an idea of why the lack of resources exists. Many of the responses shared about the lack resources were accompanied with responses about lack of support—financial and  other—from the community and from the government. I think that a big problem Peru faces in its communities is that there are many concerns aside from service providers that need government attention and resources, for example, the issues related to malnutrition. Although the service sites that we visited provide very important services, sometimes they might not be considered the most important to most Peruvians. However, the service sites were creative. For example, Corazon de Dahlia has made sure to show up at all big town and community events to make its presence known and to inform the community of the importance in supporting educational initiatives like Corazon de Dahlia in the community. I think that although we were not able to help make changes or create a large impact on these service sites, we have definitely learned what it takes—the true dedication needed—to start, run, and keep a service providing program open and functional.

Coya plaza and mountains. This is the town, Coya, where AbrePuertas is located and serves.
Coya plaza and mountains. This is the town, Coya, where AbrePuertas is located and serves.

[now what?] Although our trips to these different service sites were pretty short lived, I think that the most important part of the experience is what the group from Binghamton learned from it. We might not have been able to make an immediate impact on the students that we were working with, or the communities in which we were in, but I am sure we all learned something. During our pre-departure classes at Binghamton University, we were assigned various articles to read that spoke about how volunteers should stay in their own countries and help the millions of people that may need help there instead of going across the world to provide this help. Even though I agree to a certain extent with that philosophy, I also think that being able to travel allows us to understand and see what it is that might be wrong in our own countries and how to fix it. Also it might help give us the tools to assess the strengths and weakness that our country has related to public service and how to make service to others even stronger and more impactful.

Carolina Garcia

Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Social Work (MSW) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Adios a Service Learning in Peru*

[the what] On June 20, 2015 at midnight, I arrived home from a three week journey to Cusco, Peru on a service-learning and study abroad trip. When I woke up the next morning, I took the longest, hottest shower of my life and went down to greet my family. As I walked downstairs, I found my parents and my sisters waiting for me to regale them with crazy stories from my time in a foreign country. They prompted me with, “how was it?” to which I replied, “it was incredible,” and that was all. Apart from a horrible, vomit-filled story of me paragliding off a cliff in the Andes, and of course, the awe of seeing Machu Picchu, after about five minutes, I found myself having really nothing else to say. Everyone seemed confused and slightly concerned. “Well, did you have fun?”, my parents prompted. Fun? It felt like such an odd word to use, and I told them as much. “What? So you didn’t have fun?”, they responded. But it wasn’t that I didn’t have fun on the trip; that really wasn’t it at all. In fact, I had such a great time, and it was probably the most amazing experience of my entire life. Yet, to call the trip “fun” seems to miss the entire purpose of the trip.

[so what] I went on the trip to Peru to learn more about sustainable development in a new country, practice my Spanish, and meet new people and live in a place that was much different from the place I call home. What I got out of the trip was much more than that. I have seen things in Peru that I never thought I would ever see. Snow-capped peaks, ancient civilizations, extravagant outdoor religious celebrations, salt mines on the side of a mountain. All of these things were intriguing, exciting, and beautiful. However, I also saw a lot of other things during my time in Peru. Plastic bottles jamming up rivers. Children running around with no shoes. Old women begging for coins on the side of the street, carrying all of their belongings on their back. Extreme poverty. And that was hard for me. I don’t think of myself as living a very sheltered life in the States, but I also don’t think anything could have prepared me for seeing the poverty and despair that has struck many of the towns and villages we visited on our travels. Even as someone working in public service, the truth was hard to swallow. I wanted to have a “fun” time in Peru, but I couldn’t seem to ignore the reality that was in front of me. That was, until we visited the three service sites at which we worked.

The organizations Abrepuertas and Corazón de Dahlia and the comedor (dining hall) Virgen de Fatima all worked extremely hard to tackle local development and make life better for everyone in their communities. Seeing the optimism, good spirits, and faith of the directors, leaders, and workers at all three of these sites was not only reassuring, but also incredibly empowering. The community leaders, most of whom were women, worked tirelessly and selflessly for the betterment of their societies. Being a part of that experience was inspiring and motivating.

2.Making Watia

[now what] Tomorrow I am moving to Boston, Massachusetts to start an internship at an environmental nonprofit. Having come fresh off the trip, I feel I can bring a lot of the experiences I’ve had in Peru to the internship and my work in public service. Now, no problem seems too large to tackle. When faced with a situation that seems unjust, unfair, and utterly hopeless, I know that I can call upon the lessons learned from the strong community leaders in Peru and work my way through it. So, while I may not describe my trip to Peru as “fun,” I would definitely call it the most rewarding, eye-opening, and inspiring experience of my life. I now feel excited to work on new problems, and know that my work in public service is only just beginning.

Dina Truncali

Master of Public Administration (MPA) Graduate Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

A View From The Top: Local Government in the Andes.*

[the what] Coming to Peru I was most excited and anxious to talk to locals about the politics and government systems in place and how they felt about them. Doing research before arriving, I discovered that Peru had a long history of corrupt politicians and a large and very powerful central government that did not seem to be working for the citizens of Peru (this is true in many countries around the world!). Due to years of corruption under previous presidents such as Fujimori, who had been charged and convicted of human rights violations among other things, it seemed like Peru was on the right track, electing Ollanta Humala, who ran on a leftist platform, promising to reform government, stop mining and give power back to localities to better serve the people. I was really excited to hear how much things had changed since the times of Fujimori. However, what I have heard from most people I speak to here in Peru is that many people feel the new administration has been ¨more of the same¨ and very little has actually changed. When I asked My host Mom, Leonor, about the campaign promises that President Humala had made she said ¨that it was nothing more than propaganda, he has done nothing for Cusco¨ in particular. I was stunned, expecting that this would be a pleasant conversation about the good outcomes of decentralization, it quickly turned into a wakeup call. The political realities of the rural municipalities became abundantly clear after visiting our service sites of Abre Puertas in Coya, Corazon de Dahlia in Saylla and Comedor Virgen De Fatima in the outskirts of Cusco.

View of Cusco
View of Cusco

[so what] After hearing the opinions of the few people I spoke with I thought, wow there are so many problems and promises that have been broken to the Peruvian people, how will they ever more forward? I quickly realized that the culture here has a fierce sense of community and people truly take care of one another and their families. Even though there are various economic and social issues in Peru and more specifically Cusco, I learned through working with our service partners how resilient communities are and how they find solutions to difficult problems by working together. When volunteering at Abre Puertas in Coya, a rural community in the sacred valley of Cusco, we spoke to the Mayor and many other offices in the Municipality about the biggest obstacles they faced and how they dealt with them. They expressed that their budgets were far from enough to cover all the need in their community but they tried their best to promote the programs that were available them by speaking directly with the locals. They had one specific program to promote hygiene, environmental protection and reduced waste where the office literally had no budget, however they worked with individual families and neighborhoods to educate them on these issues and get volunteers to help out. The Mayor said they often have to compete for grants for certain projects but he seemed optimistic and proud about the work they were doing and the possibilities of the future.

AbrePuertas in Coya
AbrePuertas in Coya

[now what] All of the conversations with the Municipality and later with the staff at Corazon De Dahlia at our second service site inspired me as someone who will soon be working in public service. It has taught me that no matter the difficulty in any situation there is always a way to bring about positive change, especially when you bring the people you are trying to serve in the conversation. It is important for me to see how the public service value of collaboration in particular is key in any project and it takes many hand and minds for it to be successful. Working in Peru, which has such a deep history and robust culture, I have also learned that it is essential to be adaptable and conscious of the customs and beliefs of every place, neighborhood and community. As I continue to work on our last service project I constantly think about the impact we are making here and how long our efforts will go in terms of growing and helping these organizations, also keeping in mind the growth and experience they are giving us in return. I’m excited to continue to speak to locals and people who work or have worked in local government to learn more about the complexities of different systems and how they function, affect the people, and prevail.

Diana Reyes

Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Buenos Dias! Our first week gone—Where did the time go?*

[the what] When I first landed in Cuzco, Peru, I was immediately hit with altitude sickness. Never thinking that I will be sick from the lack of oxygen, I spent the first few days in Cuzco with a constant migraine and fear of throwing up again. Once I settled in and got used to the change, I found that Cuzco was nothing like I expected. From the mountains surrounding the city to the traditional Inca landmarks throughout the alleys and streets, Cuzco is extremely beautiful in the city’s representation of their heritage.

One of the shelves painted for supplies at Abrepuertas (taken by Sarah Glose)
One of the shelves painted for supplies at Abrepuertas (taken by Sarah Glose)

Not only did the people breathe the essence of Peruvian culture, but the way in which they have conserved many of their beliefs and values has amazed me every day during my daily walk back and from Maximo Nivel. Since the first week, I have learned so much from just observations. From the stray dogs that wonder the streets, to the venders constantly trying to attract tourists with souvenirs, to the constant beeping of taxi drivers, Peruvians thrived on the amount of constant activity during the day.

Just these past few days, our group visited AbrePuertas, our first service-learning site. There we reconstructed recycled containers into shelves for materials within the classroom, helped build a new computer station for the children there, and interacted with the children. For example, we helped children with their homework and held games of soccer and kickball. The director, Ellyn, was very excited to have us help out and meeting the children was one of the best experiences ever. Although I am very excited for our next service-learning project, I will miss the people I’ve meet at AbrePuertas and hope to carry on the excitement I have for our next adventure at our second service site of Coraźon de Dahlia.

 Bing students with AbrePuertas students (taken by Sarah Glose)
Bing students with AbrePuertas students (taken by Sarah Glose)

[so what] As the first week has passed, I find myself realizing that three weeks here in Cuzco, Peru is extremely short. While learning Spanish for two hours in the morning every day before heading off to our service partners in the afternoon from 1pm to 6pm, there is not enough time to explore Cuzco. I wish I had more time to continue to fully immerse myself into the Peruvian culture!! In the following weeks until the end of this journey, I hope to learn more about the Peruvian people. Through observations and personal interactions, I hope to understand the culture better and broaden my understanding of its unique beliefs and heritage.

[now what] For someone who will be working in public service, I find that it is important to understand the service partners’ motivations and ideals in regard their own beliefs of what should be done to help their community. As our first service-learning site was at AbrePuertas, it was important to know what Ellyn needed us to do, to know that we are there to learn and to be able to communicate that we are there as learners who wish to commitment themselves to public service. At AbrePuertas, I felt that it was important for me to play an active role. I was no only very much learning but it brought me closer to many of the public service values of CCPA such as collaboration and working in fields of social justice.

 Ellyn, AbrePuertas founder and director, receiving a Certificate of Appreciation from Binghamton University (taken by Sarah Glose)
Ellyn, AbrePuertas founder and director, receiving a Certificate of Appreciation from Binghamton University (taken by Sarah Glose)

Our next stop would be at Coraźon de Dahlia. There we will be spending more time with the children and our task there is to come up with activities. I hope that my experience from AbrePuertas will allow me to better demonstrate my service-learning skills. Despite us only being there for the next two days, June 8th and June 9th, I believe that our time there will be awesome and it will also allow use to better understand the local development and municipalities in Peru. It will not only provide a better perspective of the student organization we have on campus which helps support Coraźon de Dahlia all the way from Binghamton, NY, but allow us to understand nonprofit work in Peru.

I hope those who are reading this blog are following along with our experiences here in Cuzco! Continue to follow us on our trip hashtag: #binguperu15 on either twitter and/or instagram. This is all new and exciting for us and I can´t wait to continute this experience with my classmates and two professors. For those who await for us to get back, I still can´t believe we´re able to go through this program. Challenges will be ahead of us, but I believe that as we continue on, we will gain even further knowledge of how to overcome them and stay true to the values of public service, especially as our group continues on to the second week of our adventure.

Helen Li

Master of Science in Student Affairs Administration (MSAA) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Casi Salimos! We Are Off to Peru!

Casi Salimos! We Are Off to Peru!

[the what] On May 30th, 17 other students and I will got on a plane in New York City and flew to Peru for a three week study abroad program in Cusco, Peru. Here is a little preview of the mental preparation required to undertake such an endeavor.

Every time I mention this to family, friends, coworkers, peers, and even acquaintances, the first words out of their mouths are invariably, “You must be so excited!” When this happens, I smile and nod and say something banal about what a “great experience” it will be. What I do not say, however, is that I am terrified. I am nervous and anxious and overwhelmed and just plain scared. As the well-intentioned inquirer smiles at me, waiting for more information about the trip, my brain goes into overdrive. What will I pack? How much money should I bring? What if I don’t get along with my classmates on the trip? What if I lose my passport or my wallet or my luggage? What if I get sick? What have I gotten myself into?!

[so what?] Suddenly, fifteen hours of pre-trip instruction seems woefully inadequate to prepare me for life on another continent. It is at this point in the conversation that I usually freeze up and change the subject. I am ashamed of my fear. I am ashamed that I am not embracing the ambiguity and excitement of a study abroad experience, and I do not want to talk about it.

[now what?] However, today I am doing just that. I am standing up to my fear. I am telling it, “You won’t rule me.” For all of those people who asked me about going to Peru, here is what I should have said.

“I am spending three weeks in Cusco, Peru this summer, and I am excited and nervous. As a group, we will be working on three service projects, learning Spanish, living with host families, and exploring the country and culture. We’ll also be learning about the way that citizens interact with the government and civil society. This will, more likely than not, force us to address the unequal access citizens have to these institutions, and the institutional structures that cause that. I personally hope to look at the way that sustainable development does or does not happen in Cusco, and how this development is or is not compatible with the local culture.

I think it will be important that the people we work with learn from us just as much as we learn from them. This may not be possible all the time, but as a group I know we will work to create real relationships with the people we meet and treat them and not simply write them off because they are different from us or because we leave in a few weeks.

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the country and the program, and I think it will be a really great experience.”

To any friends or family who are reading this, I hope this makes up, at least a small amount, for how little I have said about Peru so far. To all readers, I hope you continue to follow this blog for updates about our experiences, both positive and negative. If you’re interested, you should also check out our trip hashtag: #binguperu15 on twitter and instagram.

I know that there will be challenges associated with studying abroad, and I know that I cannot possibly prepare for every situation that I will face, but I also know that my 17 classmates and two faculty advisors will be with me every step of the way.

Am I still nervous? Of course, but I am also ready. I am ready to take the leap and relate the experience to the public service values I reflect on as a graduate student in my CCPA coursework. Indeed, I am ready to learn. I am ready this experience. And I am ready for the next person who says, “you must be so excited!” When that happens, I will look that person in the eye and say, without hesitation, “Yes I am!”

Sarah Glose

Preparing Students for Peru: The what, the so what, and the now what of International Service Learning

Preparing Students for International Service Learning in Peru[1]

[the what] This will be the third year that the Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program is running at Binghamton University. The Peru Program is a collaboration between Binghamton University’s Department of Public Administration in CCPA, Office of International Programs (OIP) and Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), along with one on-site language partner and three service partner organizations in Peru. The Peru Program is an international service-learning program organized around an academic course (titled “Local Development in the Andes”) which begins at Binghamton University prior to leaving the United States. The course, which I teach, provides an opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds and interests to learn about the dynamics of sustainable development with a focus on the Andean Region in Latin America. It situates local sustainable-development practice within its interconnection between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity. The course is designed to help students develop knowledge and skills that enable them to reflect on local development and their own roles in international service. The course provides an opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds and interests to learn about the dynamics of sustainable development with a focus on the Andean Region in Latin America. It situates local sustainable-development practice within its interconnection between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity. In addition, course is designed to help students develop knowledge and skills that enable them to reflect on local development and their own roles in international service.

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The program continues during a three-week study abroad experience in Cusco, Peru led by myself and Professor Nadia Rubaii, which this years is from May 30-June 21, 2015. While in Peru, students receive formal language instruction tailored to their individual language abilities and interests at an accredited language school in Cusco, Maximo Nivel. Native Spanish speakers have the opportunity to study Quechua, providing additional opportunities for them to more fully experience the cultural exchange and communicate with indigenous communities. Language immersion extends beyond the formal classes to include housing with host families in Cusco, Peru. Students and faculty live with families during their entire stay in Cusco. This living arrangement further facilitates a rich cultural immersion experience.

We have three service partners on the ground:

AbrePuertas. 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 Cusco. 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 2013, faculty and students on the Peru Program provided in-kind donations of project materials and worked on indoor and outdoor infrastructure improvements including: sanding, cleaning, priming, and painting. Additionally, Peru Program participants sketched a mural designed by children from the community in the organization’s common area. The participants and the children worked together to paint the mural. In 2014, Binghamton students helped to resign a youth room through painting and clean up and catalogued library books into the organization’s library system.

Corazón de Dahlia. Corazón de Dahlia (Heart of Dahlia), was started by a Binghamton University alumna. The organization provides afterschool programming for children, a bi-lingual and media library, and an educational toy and game library. In 2013, faculty and students participated in its three-year anniversary celebration. Donations of educational supplies from students were shared with the children and staff in celebration of the partnership. In 2014, Binghamton University student were integrated in the Corazón de Dahlia after school program, helping with homework.

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Municipality of Cusco. The Municipality of Cusco facilitates our work with soup kitchens: Los Comedores Populares. The organization is made up of local women and provides a source of food for families who would otherwise lack an adequate food supply. The students and faculty worked with community members to dig ditches around an adobe building to allow for better water drainage; constructed netting in order to plaster the outer wall; and plastered the inside walls of adobe building to help transition the facility to a more permanent and functional status. In 2014, Binghamton University students and faculty collaborated with a different Comedor to tear down a dilapidated adobe building which served as the kitchen for the Comedor Popular and rebuild it out of ceramic bricks.

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We look forward to the 2015 projects in June which are currently being developed! The ISL program and course will conclude with assignments and reflection once returning to the U.S. in the end of June.

[so what] This year we have 18 students from all across campus, both graduate and undergraduate students. For the next two months we will hear from the 6 CCPA graduate students in program on the CCPA blog, before leaving, during their time in Peru and once they return. My post is setting up this blog series, which promises to be reflective and stimulating!

The Peru Program brings exciting opportunities to CCPA graduate students in particular. The goal of the Peru Program is to provide international exchange and service-learning opportunities which enhance the educational experiences of students at Binghamton University and apply local sustainable-development practices on the ground in Peru with our on-site partner institutions. Sustainable development is not purely an economic or environmental concern demanding technical expertise from the science or engineering professions although those elements are vital. Sustainable development also demands sustainable management practices, and a commitment to the values of sustainability in its broadest forms—financial, environmental, and cultural. In addition to its academic objectives related to local sustainable-development practice, the Peru Program engages student and faculty in international service learning. As a class, students develop and follow standards for ethical practice in international service learning.

[now what?] As I prepare the students to go to Peru I am thinking about the important public service and ISL values of sustainability (the balance between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity), mutuality (a creation of a common vision among stakeholders) and reciprocity (all stakeholders realize the benefits of service). Indeed, one of the most important components to ISL programming is building group cohesion and responsible partnerships. When we take in ethical considerations, the importance of building and maintaining relationships among ourselves and with our partners is at the forefront.

My task now, as we finish the pre-departure coursework, it to make sure individually and as a group, we have built ethical considerations into the coursework to advance student learning objectives and establish the importance of our relationships with our partners. Preparation includes targeted conversations and ensuring readiness for students. Additionally, course content that that asks critical questions specific to the pedagogy of ISL is included in the program in order that students understand the implications and advance their understanding of ethics and reciprocity.

The CCPA blog will provide our CCPA graduate students the opportunity to reflect on their experiences using a what, so what, now what? model[2]. They will reflect on what they are seeing and experiencing; what they bring to the situation; and how is it related to public service and ISL values.

[1]The thousands of conversations and written papers with my collaborators, Professor Nadia Rubaii and CCPA doctoral student/OIP Assistant Director for Study Abroad, Kerry Stamp, very much inform much of this blog post!!

[2] Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
*Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on International Service Learning. Check back for further updates and dispatches from the field throughout the summer.

Susan Appe, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs
University Downtown Center, Room 341
Binghamton University

Nathan Gismot, MSW ’12 on the Value and Versatility of Human Service

I remember a joke from my days as a master of social work (MSW) student at Binghamton University: When most people think of social workers, they think of people who take kids from their families and put them in foster care.

Most MSWs would likely recognize that joke for what it is: an intentionally ridiculous statement made for the sake of easy, if sardonic, humor among colleagues who know better. It does, however, indicate a truth: “Social work” is largely an enigma to most people outside the profession.

The MBA stands in sharp contrast. In my experience, many professional laypeople not only know what the acronym “MBA” stands for, but have at least a vague sense of what the holder of that degree may have studied in school (“business”) and what their career trajectory might be (“business leadership”).

Mention that someone else has an MSW, however, and the response will likely as not be a series of blank stares and halting questions.

“What does ‘MSW’ mean?”

“Master of Social Work.”

“Oh, okay. Uh…what’s that?”

I had an epiphany about halfway through my course of study at BU: Despite the general lack of awareness about MSWs and what they do, MSWs have the training and versatility to be of great value to any organization in any industry or sector. I decided then and there to make a point, wherever possible, of addressing that gap in understanding throughout my career.

The way I see it, MSWs are interpersonal and organizational ninjas. Kidding aside, MSWs deliver incredible—and marketable—value. We help our clients identify and achieve goals. We understand the often-challenging process of change, and we know how to manage it – from setting expectations to facilitating progress to holding clients and colleagues accountable. We are skilled in the art of organizational assessment and stewardship. We are advocates. We are solution-finders. We are emotionally intelligent, and are, therefore, able to forge authentic and honest working relationships with our clients and colleagues. We are systems thinkers, considering others’ perspectives and the interdependent nature of organizations (and sectors, communities, and societies) as we navigate difficult decisions and develop strategic plans. We are collaborators. We are champions of inclusion, equity, and social justice.

In other words, we are leaders. Moreover, we offer the sort of dynamic leadership that is so desperately needed in this time and place.

For my part, I have spent only a fraction of my career in the field MSWs are traditionally trained to go into, i.e., that which is commonly referred to as human services. But I have learned that the critical element of any business or organization is just that: human service.

And I have learned, therefore, that my MSW from Binghamton University has been the catalyst to a series of unexpected, fascinating, and deeply fulfilling career opportunities that I could never have envisioned before their occurrence. I am humbled and grateful to be building a career I enjoy and am proud of, non-traditional though it may be; and I am honored and awed to note that my MSW education from BU continues to guide me, and to inform my growth and development as a helper, as a professional, and as a person.

Nate Gismot (MSW ’12) lives in Colorado with his partner (and fellow BU MSW alumn) Kristy and their two corgis, Willow and Gus. He works for the University of Northern Colorado as the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. You can connect with Nate on LinkedIn at