Before I ask you to donate, I want to share one incredible moment that has influenced my drive to travel, my career goals, and perspective on people. It all started during my senior year at Hobart and William Smith when I signed up for an alternative spring break trip to work at St. Ann’s after school program in the Bronx, NYC led by the brilliant sociology professor Dr. James Spates (If you haven’t read Shame of a Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol1, I highly recommend it). Little did I know that I could have so much fun on a ‘dry’ spring break and that it wouldimpact my life so wonderfully.
For full discloser and out of respect to the importance of the moment, I need to say I did not sign up in order to be an altruistic volunteer. Instead, I signed up because I could not afford to go on a ‘typical’ spring break trip with my roommates. So instead, I thought why not spend the week New York City with a bunch of kids?
The after school program focused on providing educational activities with the kids rotating amongst the groups of students. As the only science major in our HWS group, I was placed to ‘help’ with the garden activity. However, before the kids could go out to the garden, I had to ensure that everyone had finished their homework The moment that shaped my current adult mind was with this group, during homework time.
Okay. So here it is. The group was small, only four kids, and they were working on their math homework. Times tables. I sat between two boys about 9 or 10 years old. One with a gorgeous rat-tail and one that was about as uninterested in me as he was with doing his homework. The other kids were fairly proficient in their math skills so I mostly chatted with them while trying to get the one boy to do his work.
As we talked I realized that most of them were bilingual Spanish-English (the leaders of the program are multi-lingual as well; really, read about St. Ann’s Church in Shame of a Nation). On about my third failed attempt to get the boy to do his homework, the other boy with the gorgeous style graciously told me that the first boy spoke solely Spanish. I had been talking at this kid instead of to him, projecting my own shortcomings onto him for about 15 minutes. No wonder he wouldn’t do his work, I wouldn’t have done it either.
I hadn’t studiedSpanish since high school and could barely remember how to say the numbers. I asked the boy with the rat tail if he would teach me how to say the problems in Spanish so that I could repeat it the other. It is hard for me to illustrate how kind and how great of a teacher my new friend with the rat tail was, but it was truly humbling. When I repeated the first math problem in Spanish the first boy looked at me and for the first time smiled! He then whizzed through the rest of his homework using mental math faster and more accurately than most of my college educated peers could. The kid was incredibly clever. In retrospect I realize that I had subconsciously assumed that he wasn’t doing the work because he struggled with the math. I am guessing he could tell my arrogance and waited for me to realize out that I wasn’t the smartest person in the room. After that, for the rest of the week, we were all best friends.
In twenty minutes I had a new and more complete understanding of what it meant to work with and communicate with children and people. I realized I could have a million degrees and I would still be able to learn something from a child- Never miss an opportunity to make a new friend and learn something amazing. I realized that a language barrier is only a barrier if you place it on yourself by refusing to listen.
I had always wanted to do something in health care because I loved biology but since that moment my ambitions have grown from a vague ‘going into health care’ to specifying that I want to become a Pediatric Nurse Practioner with my own practice in an area (such as the Bronx or Cochabamba-where I am going) where people need and deserve the best health care but aren’t always able to afford it. My beliefs have evolved realizing that to provide the best health care practice, a child truly deserves empathy and true communication.
That moment was truly life changing and I am telling it now because it was the point in my life that caused a ripple affect and led me into a competitive internship program with Sustainable Bolivia, a non-profit organization in Cochabamba, Bolivia). My internship will include laboratory research and education outreach at The Center Vivir Con Diabetes. This is not a vacation, but an opportunity to empower and contribute to an amazing program in this local community using their successful infrastructure and methodology. There is a great deal of learning on how to communicate across language and culture barriers that will come from living in foreign country. This is an invaluable experience for a future pediatric health care provider considering the very real language barrier that can exist unknowingly between health care professionals and children.
While in Cochabamba I will start the application process for an accelerated BSN programs. I have chosen the schools based on their pediatric curriculum and international health care opportunities. Once I have earned my BSN and nursing license I plan on joining the Peace Corps. as a nurse to further expand my understanding of health care and the human condition. Upon completion of my Peace Corps. fellowship, I will have access to the finances required for obtaining the degrees in nursing required to become a Nurse Practitioner specializing in Pediatrics.
I am so grateful for this opportunity to both learn and serve as I continue my education. But getting there and living for a year won’t be easy, as the cost of living internationally for a year is significant. Room and board, field support, airfare and insurance for 48 weeks costs roughly $12,500. $4,800 is the total cost of room and board for a year. With the support of my family and friends I have been able to save a good portion of the money by working full time with multiple jobs. I will also be selling personal items as a way to raise money. But I am still going to need help. I will be staying with a family of 5 for 2 months, and for the rest of the time I will be staying at a house owned by Sustainable Bolivia. The money Sustainable Bolivia earns from room and board is put towards promoting sustainable community work in Cochabamba without allocating resources back to the first world. This money will benefit a growing community in a developing country for as long as I am there. Please consider giving (for example):
$ 5.00 - The average amount a family spends on food daily in Bolivia
$ 12.75 - About the daily per capita income of the average citizen of Bolivia
$ 75.00 - The average cost of Grad School Application.
$ 450.00 - The cost of one month’s room and board.
Your support and encouragement, whether through financial means or otherwise, is greatly appreciated. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions, ideas, or if you know of anyone else who might be interested in supporting this project. Thank you for helping to make this extraordinary experience possible. I look forward to sharing it with you when I return.
I will be sending update emails to anyone interested and plan to hold a presentation describing my experiences when I return.
- Susan CUSHMAN
- Jane Mueller
- Jane (Sam) O'Neill
- Abby Eustance
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