When two Harpur undergrads travelled halfway around the world to make an impact on the lives of people they never met, little did they know they would be the ones most affected.
As part of the Harpur Fellows Program (established with a gift from Jeffrey ’84 and Eve Tucker ’85, who wanted “to enable highly motivated students to have the opportunity to begin a lifelong journey of assisting communities in need”), Biribwa Arinaitwe ’11 took five sewing machines to Lira, Uganda, to teach a marketable skill to youths who were previously abducted from homes and schools during a 23-year-old civil war. The boys were taken for soldiers, the girls to be sex slaves or “wives” for the rebels. Arinaitwe expected to teach sewing to five people who would help teach others, but 140 showed up the first week alone.
“That threw off my plans altogether — over 100 people for five machines and one teacher and one translator, occasionally,” she says. Adjusting quickly, Arinaitwe selected leaders and within four weeks they were making handbags, which she is developing a market for in the United States. “There’s about $1 worth of materials in a bag, but to sell it for $30 would definitely change someone’s life.”
Besides the training, Arinaitwe, who is working toward becoming a doctor, taught HIV/AIDS prevention and participated in casting the legs of a baby
with clubbed feet, “a truly phenomenal, life-changing experience,” she says. “Now I’m thinking orthopedics. Seeing someone who couldn’t walk before, walk — that is amazing.”
The Harpur Fellows Program also helped Christine Hubbard ’12 focus her future. Working to become an oral surgeon, she spent the first half of her summer shadowing doctors in New Jersey as they performed life- changing surgeries such as cleft palate reconstructions. For the second half, she headed to northern Russia to work in an orphanage, where she hoped to teach the importance of oral hygiene. But the problems she found were much greater than anticipated: high poverty, rotten food and oral hygiene not even a consideration. (The staff there didn’t see any reason to brush baby teeth.)
“This experience strengthened what I was trying to do,” Hubbard says. “It gave me that much more drive. I’m going to dental school. I’m definitely doing oral surgery. And I’m definitely going back [to Russia]. I feel like a different person. I feel like all of my priorities have completely changed. I literally went home, looked at everything I had, and dumped it. I gave three quarters of my clothes to a shelter by my house. It made me realize that things I thought were important are just so insignificant.”