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

Dr. Lubna Chaudhry, SUNY Chancellor’s Award Winner for Excellence in Teaching

If I had to pinpoint a single educational experience that became a direct path to where I am today, it would be taking Human Development (HDEV) 400: Social Justice with Dr. Lubna Chaudhry. My first experience with Dr. Chaudhry was in spring of 2011, my first semester at Binghamton University as a junior in the department of Human Development. As a non-traditional transfer student from the local community college, I was enrolled in her senior level course in Social Justice, and worked harder than I have ever worked before. EVER. The materials were challenging on many levels, and the output requirement was like nothing I had ever encountered at the community college. There was a main, theory based text that set the foundation for the supplemental readings we did throughout the semester, and it was through those scholarly works that the theories and policies we learned about were demonstrated in the lived experiences of people. It was the first time in my academic career that I had read these types of narratives of hardship, loss, and eradication of rights of people. She allowed space for reflection, as well. One of our assignments was a developed examination of our social positionality, through which I was able to contextualize myself and my relationships within and because of axes of power structures. It was through this assignment that I began to refine the critical ability to question structures of power from the intersectional perspective of a woman, a parent, and a non-traditional college student. Though the course was large, we had dynamic discussions about the meanings we were making with the presented materials, discussing ways these might impact us as future practitioners. These were both small and large group, and developed through critical questioning and engagement of the reading materials. Her instruction went beyond theory and allowed for active application in the community. Through a group project, I worked with peers on an assignment with a local shelter for battered families. This project was important to the learning process in that it encouraged active engagement with the community to become an advocate for justice, as well as to become more critical of the systems that perpetuate injustice. The depth of learning that was accomplished that semester was transformative, and laid the foundation for the educational track that I am on now.
My second semester with Dr. Chaudhry was the last semester in my graduate program. I was actively searching for PhD programs, and had sent Dr. Chaudhry an email requesting to enroll in her doctoral level seminar in Cultural Competencies and Social Justice. She was happy to register me for the course, and I am very grateful that she did. I had spent the last year and a half in a professional program that had a very specific focus, and Dr. Chaudhry’s course afforded me the opportunity to be more critical of the theories in my professional preparation, contemplating ways they were insufficient and identifying how structures and systems operate to keep people in the margins. This was done in an environment that allowed me to work through the material with her guidance as well as feedback from my peers, along with space for reflection on the material and its applicability to my own work. Unlike the undergraduate course taken with Dr. Chaudhry, this doctoral seminar was intimate, with only seven students. This gave us ample time and space to dig into the readings and discuss their relevance and applicability in our own work. Class sessions were spent actively engaging with each of the assigned readings and relating them to events taking place in society, as well as our own research interests.
Through a semester long project, I was able to explore a new research interest in a supportive environment with appropriate feedback. Dr. Chaudhry was available to me for my seemingly never ending questions, and it was this course experience that helped me visualize my own career trajectory. My experience in Dr. Chaudhry’s course was the deciding factor as to which PhD program I would matriculate into, along with what specific focus my work would take moving forward. The cohort of students that were enrolled in Dr. Chaudhry’s doctoral seminar feel very much the same way, and many of us have continued to seek out Dr. Chaudhry as a source of support and guidance even when not actively registered in a course with her. Simply put, Dr. Chaudhry is always teaching.
I am finishing my third semester with Dr. Chaudhry. I reorganized my initial schedule when it was announced that she would be teaching the qualitative research course in our doctoral program this spring (if you are unfamiliar with Dr. Chaudhry’s research in Swat Valley, Pakistan, you can read a bit about it here; she is a great instructor to learn qualitative research methodologies from). The experience has been intense, and I am a better researcher for it. I have also asked her to work with me as part of my dissertation committee and primary advisor because I know that, through her input and teaching, the learning experience this will be is invaluable to my education and my role as a practitioner.
Dr. Chaudhry has made me a better student, and she has also made me a better teacher. I teach at SUNY Broome, the institution that I came from as an overwhelmed nontraditional college student who was afraid she had bitten off more that she could chew. I now teach courses that reflect on the intersection of race, socioeconomic status, and gender and the myriad of ways these are depicted within the media. Much like Dr. Chaudhry, I begin with presenting theory based information from the main texts, along with supplemental materials that illuminate the lived experience of people. Very similar to Dr. Chaudhry’s teaching style, I present students with the information and then assist in reflection and active engagement. In order to begin to facilitate this, I assign my students a version of a social positionality paper. It is in the moments of reflection and engagement that meaning is made, and for me, Dr. Chaudhry has been essential in this.
Dr. Lubna Chaudhry has been awarded the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. She received her letter Monday, right before our scheduled class meeting. In true Dr. Chaudhry fashion, she mentioned it, beamed a little, and immediately went to work, helping us individually and as a class move forward with our research. As she does. I am honored to call Dr. Chaudhry my advisor, my mentor, and my friend.

Stephanie Malmberg
Doctoral Student, College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University

On the Value of Stories

Last month, I attended SUNY’s first system-wide diversity conference in Albany along with over 300 other faculty, staff, and students. While the conference had many inspiring moments (the SUNY Cortland Gospel choir, Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, among others), the session that had the most impact on me, and my work, was that of Drew Kahn, Professor of Theater at SUNY Buffalo State.

Drew is the founder of The Anne Frank Project, which “uses storytelling as a vehicle for community building, conflict resolution, and identity exploration. Inspired by the wisdom of Anne Frank, AFP surfaces and shares stories stifled by oppression”. In 2006, Kahn produced a play with an actress portraying Anne Frank, and a second, Rwandan girl Anana, narrating alongside. This play was the beginning of The Anne Frank Project, which continues to inspire and educate young people throughout the world through storytelling.

Just after this initial success, Kahn was invited by Carl Wilkens to travel to Rwanda. He had never been. Wilkens was the only American to stay in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, sending his young family to safety in Burundi while he stayed to help orphaned children. Before the two men departed, Wilkens promised that Kahn’s heart would be filled and broken every single day. It was. Since then, Kahn has taken a dozen Buffalo State students to Rwanda every January. They leave as students, and return as adults. As you can imagine, the experience is life changing. Kahn believes that we have to push our students to the limit so they can navigate the complexities of their lives. Many of the students who have traveled with Kahn have gone on to produce important works that educate young people on issues of social justice and equity.

And so, events do converge. The evening I returned from the conference I went to my local library. As I approached the checkout counter, I looked down to see Paul Rusesabagina’s audio book, An Ordinary Man on the shelf. Rusesabagina was the manager of the Mille Collines, the hotel on which the movie Hotel Rwanda was based. I slowly swapped his book for the one I was looking forward to reading, knowing that I too was about to open my heart to breaking.

I listened to the book over the course of the following week. I didn’t take any calls on my commutes to work or home, I burned it on my computer so I could listen to it on headphones while I cleaned the house. The story, narrated by Dominic Hoffman, was poignant, unimaginable, inspiring, and heartbreaking: neighbors who had friendly cookouts with each other one day, went to murdering each other the next. Wives who killed their husbands in their beds. Vicious bloodshed continued for 100 days. While the violence seemed to be sparked by a singular event, it was the results of a slow, systematic radio campaign whose hatred only escalated. The Rwandan path toward genocide emulated all of those before or since: structured, systematic, and sponsored, developing over time. Genocides happen because good people choose not to act.

“The other thing you have to understand was that the message crept into our national consciousness very slowly. It did not happen all at once. We did not wake up one morning to hear it pouring out of the radio at full strength. It started with a sneering comment, the casual use of the term “cockroach,” the almost humorous suggestion that Tutsis should be airmailed back to Ethiopia. Stripping the humanity from an entire group of people takes time. It is an attitude that requires cultivation, a series of small steps, daily tending.” 

–Paul Rusesabagina, An Ordinary Man

The Anne Frank Project reminds us that we have an obligation to share our stories, even if they are uncomfortable to tell. By sharing our stories, Kahn means speaking up when we think policy might be made without taking in all of the facts, and people, into consideration: when we are yet at another meeting, or speaking with another parent at a curricular event, or even on social media. We know this. We say this. But we need to be self-assured in practicing it.

Joann Lindstrom, MPA ’07
Director of Recruitment & Internship Placement
Department of Public Administration
Binghamton University