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)

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)

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