Program pays students for volunteer work

by Craig Gustafson

Five University students traveled overseas this past summer to make a difference in the communities of developing countries.
The Paulo Freire International Community Service Program sent the students to various countries — Cameroon, China, Kenya, India and Guatemala — to learn about human rights and social development. The program was named after Freire, an educator and advocate for the poor.
The program, sponsored by the International Study Travel Center, the Diversity Institute and the Office for Special Learning Opportunities, began two years ago and has so far sent 10 students abroad.
“There’s never been anything like it at the University,” said Bill Baldus, director of the ISTC center. “We’re giving money to people to do volunteer activities.”
Up to five grants of $2,000 are awarded each year. The grant includes air-fare vouchers courtesy of Northwest Airlines and a stipend to support the students while overseas.
The program lasts a full year and is divided into three phases. The first phase is a 13-week diversity awareness program that runs during spring term. The summer trip is the second phase.
For the third phase, which is currently underway and will end at the conclusion of fall semester, students work for local community organizations in the University area.
Since the five students go through the first and third phases together, they’re able to share and relate their experiences.
“We came back and were with people who were in the same kind of situations,” said Nena Fox, a political science and philosophy major. Fox taught AIDS education in Kenya.
“It was amazing how much of a growth process we went through,” she said.
Fox said that while teaching in Makindu, Kenya, she learned more from her environment than she could have ever taught to her students.
“I was so naãve,” she said. “It was a big reality-check.”
Fox lived in a dirt-floored mud hut in the Kenyan countryside. She said she encountered missionaries who were fanatic about converting everyone to Christianity. She also visited a game park filled with giraffes and zebras.
Although the experience as a whole was great, Fox said she was intimidated at times. “There were three of us. Three young, white women in rural Africa,” she said.
Like Fox, anthropology and statistics senior Susan Lee was also teaching, but on another continent.
She traveled to Changchun, China, in the northeast province of Jilin to teach English to locals and was immediately surprised by what she saw.
Lee said that in Changchun, people would think nothing of pushing and shoving in lines at grocery markets, and it was common to see three people riding on one bicycle, the most popular form of transportation.
She said the cultural differences didn’t affect her as much because she is Korean-American, but the other Americans teaching were constantly stared at because the Chinese weren’t used to foreigners in the region.
“It was really stressful, but so rewarding,” Lee said.
After she came back to America, Lee said she found herself pushing people while waiting in line at Target.
Lee, Fox and the three other participants will be speaking Wednesday at Coffman Union about the Freire program and their experiences.
The deadline for applications to next summer’s program is Nov. 29.

Craig Gustafson welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233.