On Volunteering At Home and Abroad-Problems and Recommendations

The Volunteer. The Organization. The Task

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

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

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

 

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

IMG-20170612-WA0001

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)

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.

appe 1

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.

appe 3

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.

appe 4

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