Recently a gathering at the Frontier restaurant in downtown Brunswick honored the students who received Global Citizens grants from the McKeen Center.
Global Citizens grants fund students’ self-designed public service projects in a foreign country. The six 2013 Global Citizen recipients spent the summer volunteering as tutors, medical assistants or, in one case, as a farmer, in Peru, Thailand, China, Sierra Leone and Kenya.
While sitting around a long table at the restaurant, several of the students described witnessing distressing disparities in health care, education and civil rights. Others spoke about the unfamiliar sensation of being a minority, signaled out for their difference. Yet most also recounted big gestures of hospitality and warmth from the communities they lived in this summer.
Following are summaries of some of what the students described.
Evan Bulman ’16, Kabala, Sierra Leone
Bulman traveled to Kabala, a city of 15,000 in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province. He worked with a nonprofit called Salone Enabling and Empowering Development International, which provides medical services and economic development to the region.
Bulman’s main job was to help start a commercial farm for SEED to bring in income for the nonprofit. On one of SEED’s farm sites, a 2.5-acre plot, the sophomore cultivated hot peppers, which are popular in Sierra Leone and sell for a relatively high price, as well as okra, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, spring onions, eggplants and carrots.
Besides working in the fields, Bulman taught computer skills to the farm manager to help him keep better track of the farm’s expenses, yields and, ultimately, profits. One of the most rewarding moments of the summer was when Bulman returned after letting the farmer practice typing on his own for 20 minutes. When he inspected the work, Bulman saw a note of four to five lines addressed to him. “He had typed the nicest letter to me to say how thankful he was,” Bulman recalled.
Marble Karuu ’14, Iten, Kenya
Karuu was 10 when she left Nairobi to move to the United States. She returned this summer to her home country to work with an organization, the Kenya Scholar-Athlete Project, which helps talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds attend U.S. colleges.
Besides preparing the students for scholarly success, KenSAP trains them to run. The town of Iten, at an elevation of 7,900 feet, is an ideal spot for endurance training. Many world-class runners are from here or have trained here. “When you think about running in Kenya, this is where it happens,” Karuu said. Karuu, who is on the Bowdoin track team, joined the students on early-morning runs before class.
While at KenSAP, Karuu had the difficult task of helping select new students for the program. “In the beginning you’re shocked by the stories,” she said. “Some have fee issues — they can’t pay the annual school fees. Others come from polygamous families or have illiterate parents. The students have all overcome so much.” Each applicant tested high on the country’s national exams, and Karuu said she wished they all could have been accepted.
Karuu’s summer has reignited her desire to return to Kenya after graduating from Bowdoin, to teach or work in education. “Being there has led me to realize how much my country needs me,” she said.
Marcus Karim ’14, Huaraz, Peru
The day after finishing his final exam last spring, Karim got on a plane to travel to the Andes to work with a small nonprofit that offers aid to remote villages around the city of Huaraz. In a team of just three people, Karim traveled through the mountains to help teach basic sanitation to children living in poverty. He also tutored them in subjects such as math and biology.
The organization, Changes for New Hope, aims to build up the students’ creativity, self-esteem and communication skills, in essence to teach them to help themselves, according to its mission statement.
Karim said he sought an experience with Changes for New Hope because he plans on becoming a physician who specializes in serving the poor in South America. In Peru, 48% of the people live under the poverty line, and Karim said “healthcare is not always easily accessed due to [economic, social or family] barriers.”
Will Horne ’14, Plaboo Village, Thailand
Escaping the hordes of backpackers in Bangkok, Horne traveled to the northeast corner of Thailand where there are few tourists and few who speak English.
Horne worked for the Farmer Community School, teaching English to children. For six hours a day, Horne taught classes of up to 40 students. Though he couldn’t communicate easily with his students, or his neighbors in his small village — and couldn’t seek refuge in Facebook — Horne said he was never lonely. “I’ve felt lonelier here [in the U.S.],” he admitted.
Though he says he didn’t learn to speak much Thai, Horne was able to absorb much about people’s way of life. In particular, his interest in Buddhism was whetted after he participated in religious ceremonies and chants. “At their core, they believe differently than we do,” he said. “They rejoice in life.”
Jeff Cuartas ’14, Beijing LGBT Center, China
After studying Chinese at Bowdoin for two years and wanting to learn firsthand about civil rights in China, Cuartas traveled to Beijing this summer to work with the LGBT Center in Beijing.The Center was founded in 2008 by a group of LGBT activities who wanted to provide a cultural and affirming space for Beijing’s Queer Community, Cuartas said.
Cuartas, who had past fundraising experience, helped the center keep better track of and foster closer ties with its donors. He also assisted with event planning and recruiting business sponsors, and saw the difficulties the nonprofit faced dealing with the government, which was not always friendly to the organization’s mission, he said.
Nonprofits are a growing sector in China, Cuartas said, and by and large many of the donors he dealt with were expatriates. But he noted an increase in the numbers of young, college-educated Chinese giving to the center. “It was fascinating to see how much people cared about LGBT issues,” he said.
Maggie Acosta ’16, Huancayo, Peru
Acosta started her summer with the organization Expand Peru, which helps families struggling with AIDS. She also volunteered at a hospital, assisting a neurologist, and helped start a tutoring center for kids.
Acosta described her alarm at seeing the wide disparities between medical services in the U.S. and Peru. “The [hospital's] textbooks are 20 years old,” she said. “Sometimes they didn’t have all the parts to machines.”
Although she initially traveled to Peru with the idea of becoming a doctor, Acosta said her experience has changed her mind. “It inspired me to direct my career toward public health,” she said.