Being Transformed by Transforming Lives
Harpur Fellows Program
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."
A Broader Understanding
Dominican Republic Community Health Program
Even though he studied poverty for his major and minor (nursing and sociology) and grew up in the Dominican Republic until he was 12, Edwin Torres '10 never fully realized the level of impoverishment that exists in his home country. Until he experienced it.
"You can read about poverty, see it from the car you're driving or on TV," he says. "But it takes on a whole different meaning once you meet the people who are in those situations and you meet their families. There's no book that can inform you like that, no video, no documentary. It's the primary source, right there in your face."
Through Binghamton University's Dominican Republic Community Health Program, which is partly funded with a grant from the Lois B. DeFleur International Innovation Fund, Torres and eight other students attended language classes and online food and waterborne disease classes to prepare for three weeks of training in the poorest parts of the Dominican Republic. There they went into the community to make house calls, into schools to teach basic healthcare and into hospitals to learn Dominican nursing practices, which are drastically different.
"This program totally wakes students up to things they've never been exposed to," says assistant clinical professor Laura Terriquez-Kasey, who has managed the program since it began in 2003.
By exposing nursing students to tropical diseases they've never seen, para- sites they've never had to deal with and a healthcare system that relies on help from the World Health Organization and others, the program gives students a broader understanding of global healthcare issues, a perspective hard to come by as almost all U.S. nursing programs understandably concentrate on American standards and American issues.
"Nursing is very diverse there and they use what they have," Terriquez-Kasey says. "Sometimes water jugs are used for traction weights, and they have limited medications. They have come a long way in the Dominican Republic, and are trying to improve the quality of care. Soon we hope to develop an exchange program for faculty and students to assist them in learning from our system and us from theirs."
Experiencing a living environment so different from their own forces students to apply classroom knowledge in diverse and challenging conditions, which gives them a greater appreciation of their own methods and systems.
"With this program, all the classes that I took came into play," Torres says. "Everything that I read, the papers that I wrote, the videos I watched, it all came together. I saw how poverty affects health within different social classes. I saw it all together. What I learned there, I'll carry around the rest of my life."