ONEONTA, N.Y. -- A group of 16 SUNY College at Oneonta students, faculty, and staff, led by Associate Professor of Human Ecology Karen Joest, returned recently from a three-week humanitarian expedition to Peru, where they worked to make a better life for street children at the Sunflower Orphanage in Cusco. Members of the group were so moved by the experience that they have already begun planning another service-learning expedition to support a South American orphanage next year.
Working with Generations Humanitarian, a non-governmental organization dedicated to helping street children throughout the world, the SUNY Oneonta group left for Peru on June 1 with the intent of digging a one-mile trench to bring stream water to the orphanage. Shortly before their arrival, however, the Peruvian government granted water rights for the orphanage from another source.
Undeterred, the SUNY Oneonta team began working to build apartments for social workers who serve as interns at the orphanage. They also helped workers at the orphanage to plant the corn crops for the year. Because they arrived in Peru in the midst of a gas strike, the group twice had to walk four miles to work at the orphanage.
To help the community around the orphanage, the group worked with a nurse at the orphanage to organize a health and hygiene class for parents of newborns. They helped parents learn to brush their children's teeth and taught them how to bathe their babies. Many of the local Peruvian women who live in remote areas do not believe that bathing their babies is healthy.
The SUNY Oneonta team distributed kits with basic baby-care items, which they had purchased through funds they had raised before the trip. The kits, which contained all the essentials for having a healthy baby, were passed out to the mothers who participated in the hygiene classes.
The SUNY Oneonta group also brought along clothes for the orphans and purchased basic necessities for the orphanage with the funds they had raised.
At the orphanage, the group met several of the orphans who are the basis for characters in the novel "The Sunflower" by best-selling author Richard Paul Evans.
During their time in Peru, the SUNY Oneonta team learned about the local culture and society. During time off from work, they walked the Inca Trail, visited Machu Picchu, and rode horses in the Andes.
The participants from SUNY Oneonta included College accountant Betty Tirado and 14 students with majors ranging from Child and Family Studies to Education to Music Industry. Oneonta resident Jennifer Lord, a Child and Family Studies major at the College, served on the expedition with her stepdaughter, Kendra, who is a pre-med major at SUNY Oneonta. Another local participant was Schenevus resident Stefanie Adolfsen, also a Child and Family Studies major.
Dr. Karen Joest has already begun planning for one or more future service-learning expeditions to orphanages in South America. She is considering a trip to Ecuador to begin a new orphanage or a return trip to Peru, depending on the interests of potential participants.
A specialist in Child and Family Studies, Dr. Joest joined the SUNY Oneonta faculty in 2003. During the summer of 2007, she studied in South Africa through an international Fulbright Scholarship. Her research interests include feminist family studies, working with at-risk families, and the implications of incarceration for families and children.
More information about supporting or participating in the SUNY Oneonta service-learning program with the South American orphanages or sponsoring one of the children at the orphanage is available from Dr. Joest at (607) 267-4207 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.