Harpur Fellows make a difference in Peru and Jamaica

Applications for 2020 projects are due Feb. 28

Elisa Starling and Natassia Josephs spent the summer of 2019 working on Harpur Fellows projects in Peru and Jamaica, respectively. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.
Elisa Starling and Natassia Josephs spent the summer of 2019 working on Harpur Fellows projects in Peru and Jamaica, respectively.
Elisa Starling and Natassia Josephs spent the summer of 2019 working on Harpur Fellows projects in Peru and Jamaica, respectively. Photography: Jonathan Cohen.

Going into its 10th year, the Harpur Fellows Program continues to provide Harpur College undergraduates with the opportunity to engage in service projects around the world.

The program provides $4,000 to students to give back to a community of their choosing. The program is run through the Harpur Edge office, which helps Harpur College students prepare for their futures by connecting them with resources, including alumni, and supporting student initiatives. All application materials for the 2020 program must be submitted by Friday, Feb. 28.

Wendy Neuberger, the associate director of Harpur Edge, described the program as providing funding that encourages students to embark on a learning opportunity to engage in their civic obligation of giving back to the world.

“Invariably, [the fellows] come back very excited about not only the project and what has been done but what they have been able to accomplish,” Neuberger said. “I think that a key learning experience for them is how to navigate when things don’t go how you think they are going to go and what to do when that happens. They have fabulous stories to share.”

Elisa Starling, a senior majoring in actuarial science, was a 2019 Harpur Fellow whose project focused on providing shoes to children residing in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. More specifically, Starling supplied The Shoes That Grow, a shoe that expands up to five sizes for children who cannot afford to buy new footwear annually. Starling said she discovered The Shoes That Grow on Twitter and was inspired to donate and help.

“I never fell in love with an invention like that,” Starling said. “The day after I saw it, I got an email about the fellowship, and I was like, ‘Oh, is this a sign? Maybe I can make this into something.’”

Starling provided the shoes to children at San Bernado Elementary School. She originally planned on working with them after school to teach them how to use the shoe. However, parents from the community did not want their children participating in an afterschool program due to fear of human trafficking. The school then gave Starling two school-day hours every day for four days to complete her program.

During those hours, Starling taught the children how to use the shoe and helped them customize their shoes with charms, glitter and paint. The customization idea originated from the Harpur Edge office. Starling said she loved the idea of combining her project with fashion because it gave the children an outlet to express themselves.

“It was nice having [Wendy Neuberger] give me that advice and supporting me in that aspect,” Starling said. “I’m thankful for the [Harpur Fellows] committee in general for helping me make the project more involved with the kids by incorporating something that I love.”

Natassia Josephs, a 2019 Harpur Fellow double-majoring in economics and human development, focused on promoting computer literacy skills for adults in her hometown of Parks Road, Jamaica. Some of the skills Josephs’ project emphasized were basic internet browsing, use of Microsoft Word and how to write an email. Her goal was to enable the adults in her community.

“I believe that people should be able to do things on their own,” Josephs said. “The fact is that not everyone will be able to do that. Even my mom had difficulties navigating the computer. I wanted to focus on adults because a lot of programs focus on children. That’s fine, but I think adults get neglected in the process. I want them to feel empowered, to feel like they didn’t have to ask their children to help them.”

Josephs brought laptops to her community and executed the program at a local church. She hopes to keep building the program, as she believes it needs to continue.

The senior said that she got more out of her experience with Harpur Fellows than she expected.

“Growing up there and coming back [through Harpur Fellows], it felt good to give back to my community,” Josephs said. “It’s a very close-knit community where everybody knows everybody. It was nice going back home and doing this. They appreciated it and were very enthusiastic about coming in every day.”

With graduation on the horizon, Josephs said making an impact is important to her. She credited her Harpur Fellows experience with providing her an opportunity to be a force of positive change.

“We do great things at Binghamton,” Josephs said. “We make an impact. We change the world. We apply all that we’ve learned to make a difference.”

Racquel Davis ’19, who double-majored in political science and Africana studies, also worked to make a difference in Jamaica. Her 2019 Harpur Fellows project assisted a community affected by droughts.

“Students should not be forced to not attend school because of environmental issues,” Davis said. “If you create a resource center in which students can learn, that would be the most effective way to instill change.”

Before being named a Harpur Fellow, Davis was an intern at Green Team International, an environmental conservation organization. There she learned about the ecological issues menacing the community near Jack’s River Primary School in St. Mary, Jamaica. Green Team had established a summer program to teach students about the environment.

From Jamaica herself, Davis wanted to expand Green Team’s aid with the resources of the Harpur Fellows program.

Her project focused on working with teachers, local farmers and 20 fourth- to sixth-graders. Together, they implemented three parts to the school: an Environmental Resource Center in a vacant classroom, an Agricultural Science Club and a nutritional garden.

“The purpose of the center is to teach the students about global warming, climate change and environmental conservation,” Davis said. “It takes place in a small room. We donated projectors, books and speakers.”

Within the Environmental Resource Center, the school established the Agricultural Science Club. In the after-school program, teachers and local farmers teach the students about the nutritional value of plants and the scientific aspect of crops.

“It will allow the students to conduct their research,” Davis said. “That is the primary use of the computer, for students to have access to the internet so that they can do research.”

The students who participate in the club will also get the opportunity to work in the nutritional garden, which will grow fruits and vegetables for the school cafeteria.

“[It’ll teach the students] the importance of nutrients and growing your food,” Davis said. “They will also understand the financial importance of what they are doing because a lot of these kids are from poverty-stricken environments. If you can participate for 30 minutes, twice a week, to help at the nutritional garden, parents won’t have to worry about the money to give you for lunch.”

At the end of her project, two of the most involved students received lunch vouchers for the upcoming academic year. All 20 of the participants received school supplies.

Neuberger described Starling, Josephs and Davis as “self-motivated” and hopes to see more applicants in the future.

“[Their] stories are very similar,” Neuberger said. “What is really wonderful about this program is that the project ideas can be anything. It doesn’t need to be related to your major, or what you aspire to be. It can be about anything that you are passionate about. That’s what makes it such an interesting program. You can get really creative and make a difference.”

For more information about the Harpur Fellows application process, visit the Harpur Edge website.

Posted in: In the World, Harpur