International Volunteers Series: Humanitarian Photographer in Bangalore, India

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:15 a.m. DST, 09 July 2014

Matthew Pirrall, Humanitarian Photographer, Bangalore, India

BANGALORE, India -- I had the pleasure of working alongside, humanitarian photographer Matthew Pirrall, in India for a few weeks. While I was stationed in Davangere at a child labor rehabilitation center through Bangalore Rural Education and Development Society (BREADS), Matt’s job involved traveling around southern India to various BREADS locations to work as a humanitarian filmmaker and photographer.

When he wasn’t at the Davangere site the boys and girls would constantly ask, “Where is Matt brother”? and “When is Matt brother coming back”? When he returned to the site, the kids would rush to the jeep to help Matt unpack his things, and never wanted to leave his side, instead smothering him in hugs, showing off their dance moves, or asking him for help with English. Clearly the children in India loved Matt. Read on to hear how much Matt loves working in India.

Matt recently won the International Award for the See|Me Group's 2014 Exposure Competition. To see his work, check out his YouTube BREADS Bangalore Channel.

What is a day in the life-like?‬‬

‪I'm working as a photographer and videographer for the Bangalore Rural Education and Development Society, BREADS for short. They work mainly with youth; developing programs on child rights for school children, rescuing child laborers and street children, and building shelter homes and rehabilitation centers for them.

I travel around to their various centers and take videos and photography for them to use on their website and in the various publications they put out to raise awareness. I'm also helping them with grassroots marketing, and consulting on fundraising and awareness campaigns.

What prepared you for this job?‬‬

I went to DeSales University in Center Valley, PA where I studied TV/Film and Marketing. I actually went on two summer service trips in college, both of which were to Kolkata, India, so my journey in India actually began at DeSales.

I developed the idea to do something along the same lines post-grad, but I wanted to be able to use my skills as a filmmaker and photographer to help out the organization I would be volunteering with. Luckily when I found the Salesian Lay Missioner program they were very open to finding me a placement where I would be able to do that, and it also happened to be in India.

What drew you to the country you decided to work in?‬‬

India has a way of calling you back. India became the obvious choice since I had been here before and how well everything worked out with finding placement. Plus, the diversity of this country and its people also make it a goldmine for a photographer.

What exactly is a humanitarian photographer?‬‬

Basically, any professional photographer who uses their skills primarily for humanitarian purposes. It can be to raise awareness of a need on their own, or photograph campaigns for non-profits.

Has there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to take the direction you did towards humanitarian photography?

‪‬I want to say that this year has been it. I considered myself more of a filmmaker coming out of college, and I had very little experience in photography. I still am a filmmaker. I love the freedom that film gives you to tell a story.

I love helping the pieces of a story fall into place, and the humanitarian world is full of stories, incredible stories, and the amazing thing is that they're all real stories of real people. You just need to find all the pieces. Photography adds a new challenge because you have to find and tell a story using a single frame. It's in challenging myself in this way that I've developed a love for photography as well.

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Published: 9 July 2014 (Page 2 of 3)

Have you ever run into dodgy situations while on assignment?

I think the most unsafe I've felt is when I went to a brick-field to film and photograph the children working there. The families that live and work there were very welcoming, but the owners know that NGOs come to rescue these kids. They are afraid of the media and the prospect of losing the kids who are paid less (if anything) and work faster than the adults because of their small hands.

While I was shooting the social workers I was with stared getting a lot of questions from the owners, and then the owners started yelling at the workers to hide their children. I think the social workers were afraid the owners might get violent so we left quickly, but not before I managed to get some pretty powerful shots.

How do you approach shooting in sensitive situations?

There isn't really a way for me to blend in or really know what's going on as I don't speak the language, so I just have to trust that the guides I'm with know what they're doing and know when things might get out of control. I try to approach everyone I meet while shooting with a smile and express a friendliness that usually goes a long way toward getting people's guard down. For the most part people here are very open with me, and I don't find myself struggling to get a shot very often.

What is the most rewarding part about living there?

Definitely the people. When I visit a child labor rehab center everyone is always so welcoming and generous with me. The children always want their photo and usually the adults do to, and my camera has been a great way for me to break down the language barrier and really get to know the people wherever I go. It's always tough to move on to the next center because the people at each one, especially the kids, embrace you like a family member.

Can you tell me someone in India who has impacted you?

‪‬There are a lot of people that have impacted me while I've been here: the kids, their teachers, and the social workers with whom I work. But I think the people that have the greatest impact are the people around my age who grew up in BREADS centers.

Kids who were abandoned my their parents, or ran away from abusive situations at ages as young as four or five years old. They had traumatic life experiences at such young ages that are difficult for me to even comprehend, but they have grown into successful and well-balanced adults with BREADS support. It really drives home for me the power of education and how much difference a loving environment can make in a person's life.

Do you find that women are treated differently than men in India?

‪‬Yes it's very ingrained in the culture. I often find myself noting situations where I'm with a female colleague or friend who is ordering something searching for something in a store, but the worker will address me instead. Even if the worker is a woman. There are other situations too, where I've noted women's opinions are less valued.

It starts from a young age and girls are brought up to believe they can only fill certain roles. They don't have good role models in the media either. In most of the movies I've seen, it's the female lead's job to cry and be a burden on the man, and to fall in love with him in the end no matter how terrible he is to her.

There are exceptions of course. I've met more strong, empowered Indian women than I thought I would from all the bad things that you hear. But there definitely needs to be more education about women's rights at a younger age if things are going to change. It's another area where I think BREADS is doing a good job.

What are the most critical problems faced by people in your area?

‪I think lack of education is a huge issue. I've seen entire communities trapped in this cycle of poverty due to this fact alone. I've also seen the difference that education makes when it's introduced in these communities. Health improves, the situation of the women improves, and people's freedom increases. ‪ 1 Next Page » 2 3

Published: 9 July 2014 (Page 3 of 3)

What do you think is the key to ending slavery worldwide?

‪‬‬The acclaimed humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine recently said something in an interview that resonated with many of the problems I've seen here, “People fall into slavery, not because they’re willing, and not because they are stupid. It’s because they’ve been lied to.”

It's a lack of education that leads people into slavery, plain and simple. I believe education is the single most important tool to combat the lies that lead to modern day slavery. Only when children and their parents can be taught that there is another way, when people around the world can be shown that these horrors exist, and when individuals can be motivated to take a stand to do something about it; only then can organizations like BREADS have the power to stand against the lies with a message of truth.

That's what I hope to do with my photography and videos here. Raise the awareness that this organization needs to combat these lies.

Who has had the biggest impact on you as a photographer videographer? Where do you find inspiration for your photos and videos?

My parents have had a huge impact on me as a person. I feel truly blessed to have such amazing parents when so many of the children who I work with don't have any. In terms of professional impact there are a number of photographers from whom I draw inspiration. I have improved a lot this year just by pushing myself to emulate their work.

I also draw inspiration from the people whom I am photographing. I love catching people during their day to day activities, just talking and interacting with them, before asking for their portrait. I find a lot of inspiration in the moments when people let their guard down and stop seeing my camera.

Do you ever feel like you really belong in India?‬‬‬

The way that I've been embraced by my community here has been truly heartwarming. I really feel like my co-workers at BREADS and the community I'm living in has become a second family that really cares about my well being and I can't imagine myself having spent this year anywhere else. I've grown so much and met so me amazing people who I am sure will be lifelong friends.

What are your hopes for the people you’ve interacted with?‬‬‬

My hope is that the photos and videos that I've taken will be able to help more of these children and communities get the education that they deserve.

What are your plans once you’ve finished at your site? What do you plan to have accomplished in five, 10, 20, and 50 years personally and professionally?‬‬‬

I plan to pursue photography and film making with a special focus on humanitarian work. Down the road I'd love to have my own production company to continue to tell stories that will make an impact on people's lives.

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Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

International Volunteers Series: Infirmary Worker in Montero, Bolivia

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 23:30 p.m. DST, 03 July 2014

Antoinette Moncrieff

MONTERO, Bolivia -- Antoinette Moncrieff, a spitfire of a girl from Michigan, works in an orphanage, or Hogar, in Bolivia with another American volunteer, Natalie Baker. Antoinette was drawn to work in Bolivia because of the opportunity to work in an orphanage and the tropical location.

As the oldest of four children and a second mom to the youngest siblings, kids have surrounded her all her life. She has been a nanny, baby-sitter, teacher’s aide, and has worked at a daycare and summer camp with homeless children.

What is your job in Bolivia?‬‬

‪My first eight months here, I worked in Santa Maria with the 0 – 5 year olds. I did homework with the kindergarteners, occasionally did activities with them, changed their diapers, bathed them, fed them, played with them, and disciplined them.

Now I help Hermana Paulita in the infirmary. I´m in charge of meds for both buildings, three times a day. I also file, take children to appointments, and take children to the doctor. Additionally, I sometimes take care of cuts and scrapes, burns, etc. and keep a note of who has what so that when Hermana Paulita comes in for the day she can have a look at them.

What is a day in the life like?

Honestly, that´s hard to say! Every day here is so different! Even in the nine months I've been here, my job responsibilities have switched around according to the need of the moment.

Typically, the average day here goes something like this:

  • 5:00 am – The girls get up, get dressed, and do chores. (By default, I am awake too. It´s hard not to wake up when your bedroom is adjacent to a dorm of teenagers).☺
  • 6:00 am – I am officially out of bed and go get the breakfast meds ready.
  • 6:30 am – Breakfast bell, pray Hail Mary with the girls before entering, pass out food to our tables (we each have a table, mine is mainly full of middle school age girls) and I hand out meds to the girls.
  • 7:15 am – The girls who go to school at Maria Auxiliadora, which is across town, leave on our microbus with Don Pancho, our handyman and driver. I am usually still chasing down girls who weren´t at breakfast to hand them out meds. The other girls who go to the public school next door leave on foot.
  • 8:00 am – I hand out meds to Santa Maria, our 0 – 5 year olds, while they eat their breakfast. The school age girls do their homework in preparation for the afternoon session.
  • 8:30 am– It really depends on the day. Sometimes I do paperwork; filing girls´ medical records, keeping track of their meds, etc. Sometimes I need to take care of boo-boos, take girls to appointments, or make unplanned trips to the doctor with sick children.
  • 12:15 pm – I hand out lunch-time meds to Santa Maria.
  • 13:00 pm – Lunch bell. Sometimes Madre Rosario, our director, gives the girls a talk while they wait in line. I dish out food for my table and then hand out lunch meds to the girls in the dining room.
  • 14:00 pm – Afternoon session has started. The girls who go to school in the mornings do their homework in preparation for the next day. Santa Maria is either napping or at kindergarten depending on their ages. My routine is then much like the morning.
  • 18:00 pm – Dinnertime meds with Santa Maria.
  • 18:30 pm – Dinner bell. I dish out food to my table and pass out the dinner-time meds.
  • 19:00 – Officially I don´t have anything going on.

But this is relative. Often Natalie and I will have a cup of tea in the volunteer kitchen. Sometimes I get sucked in to taking care of someone´s boo-boos, which usually means that I end up taking care of ten people because if the girls get wind of the fact that I´m taking care of one person, they´ll all want me to take care of them. Sometimes I read or hang out in the library with Natalie and the homework girls.

  • 22:00 pm – A rough bedtime estimate.

How are you able to handle all of your responsibilities while keeping a healthy work/life balance?‬‬

Honestly, it´s difficult. Because there is no physical separation of work and home, and there are children around constantly, it is hard to keep a proper balance. The nature of your responsibilities also makes this difficult as well. I've found that it´s very important to take a bit of time out for yourself, indeed a necessity… Reading, journaling, art, taking a walk, taking naps, etc. have all helped me. When you´re feeling especially burnt out, taking a few days off is important too.

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Published: 03 July 2014 (Page 2 of 4)

Has there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to take the direction you did?

A typical day for me starts with morning mass at 6:45. Many of the students attend this mass as well. After mass I take attendance for the Daughters of Mary which is a Catholic group for young women dedicated to living more like Mary and growing in our faith as Christians. After that we have a quick breakfast and morning assembly. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I go with a VSDB sister to a village school that we are in charge of running and organizing.

We conduct assembly there, teach various subjects, get uniforms and other necessary things in order to get the new school on its feet. Those afternoons I teach art and religion at our base school. Tuesday and Thursday I start my day in the secondary school then teach the 5 aspirants we have English and Group Dynamics. The rest of the afternoon after lunch is spent in either art or religion and just being present in the school to assist with conflicts or difficulties that arise. Most afternoons I help a few students practice reading with small books we have here. ‪‬ I've wanted to do mission work since I was knee-high to a duck. I've always been interested in foreign countries and cultures, as well as poverty, human rights and social justice issues.

In college I sat through class and when I wasn't doodling or wishing I was doing something else with my life, I began to be aware of a desire deep inside to go to a foreign country and love the little children who had no one to love them.

It came to a head one fall day when I was supposed to be grocery shopping before work. Instead, I found myself walking through the woods in the park yelling at God.

“What do you want me to do?” I demanded of him.

In my mind´s eye I saw him laughing at me. He popped the question right back to me:

“What do you want to do?”

What were your thoughts about Bolivia before you arrived and how have they changed or stayed the same?‬‬‬

‪‬I think, coming from a first-world country that places a great deal of importance on child safety and development, as well as continuing education, I took it for granted that those I worked with would be of the same mindset. I found that this is not necessarily the case.

What are your hobbies and community involvement at your site?‬‬‬

Once a week, Natalie and I get to eat lunch with the nuns who run our orphanage at their convent. We also take part in the different celebrations at the Hogar. Bolivia has so many celebrations. Often we join the other staff members in putting on a dance.

We've also put on Dia de La Bruja (Halloween), Christmas, Easter, and Mother´s Day celebrations. The staff take turns putting on one major celebration every year; this year our turn was Mother´s Day.

Natalie and I enjoy making cups of tea, hanging out in the Plaza, and watching movies too. Personally, I enjoy reading, writing, journaling, drawing, painting, photography, dancing, and petting my cat. ☺

What are the hardest parts about living there?

I think one of the hardest parts about the Hogar is that there´s just kids around all the time. The noise is constant. You really can´t walk anywhere without running into someone. Even when you try to go somewhere for a little space, like the volunteer kitchen (which ends up feeling like a giant fishbowl) they often find you and spy on you, bang on the windows, etc. Someone´s always yelling, talking or laughing really loud, crying, etc. Even taking showers, going to the bathroom, etc. don´t always have the luxury of privacy. I have had numerous conversations through the shower door. ☺

Food has been interesting. The government only gives eight bolivianos a day (less then $1.50 U.S.) to the Hogar for each child for ALL of her needs. (By the way, this is the same amount that the prisons get.) Food is often very limited and almost always unappetizing. When there´s food we eat and when there´s not we don´t. While there´s always something to eat, there´s usually not enough and what there isn't very nutritious.

We eat a lot of donated things. It´s not unusual for us to eat a small baggie of outdated cookies leftover from the school snack for breakfast or dinner. Once we went through a whole week where the main meal, lunch, was only a bowl of soup. Feeling hungry is often just something you suck up and deal with.‬‬‬

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Published: 03 July 2014 (Page 3 of 4)

‪‪Do you ever feel unsafe?‬‬‬

‪‬Sometimes. Going anywhere at night is often kind of scary and it gets dark really early here because we´re closer to the equator. Our neighborhood is kind of bad and an especial target for robbers because the market´s right there and people always have money on them. Two months in Natalie and I were robbed at gunpoint and her purse was stolen. That was scary but we learned from it and came out okay in the end. Most of the time we´re pretty safe though. The key is to go out during the day. ‬‬‬‬

What is the most rewarding part about living there?‬‬‬

‪Knowing that you´re making a difference in the lives of the kids. Seeing the small changes in them, as they grow, heal and learn is priceless. I've had the opportunity to build positive relationships with many of the children over the nine and a half months I´ve been here. Every once in a while it blows my mind that I can positively interact with a kid I never thought I would. ‪ ‬‪ ‬‬‬‬ ‪‬What is your best memory so far?

‪‬‬I have so many good ones that it´s hard to choose one! Getting electrocuted by the showers, the day Melani learned to walk, Sandra and Natalie getting stuck up in a tree, Yudid and Emily dancing around in gigantic costume feet, getting my hair tangled up in the wheel of a cart during an impromptu race with a bunch of middle school girls, finding my boyfriend sopping wet during a water balloon war with a bunch of teenage girls and then bringing him to the personnel meeting where he left a gigantic puddle on the floor… There´s so many! ☺

What is the most heartwarming experience you’ve had and the most heartbreaking?

‪I've  had a lot of heartwarming experiences and a lot of heartbreaking ones. Hearing Leidy tell me she wanted to die, the kids not having enough food, having Etcel spill into my lap crying telling me her dad told her she has to stay here always, holding screaming Nataly during her transition into Santa Maria, the day Deimar's adoptive family returned him and seeing how changed he was as a result… those are some of the heartbreaking ones.

Getting peppered in hugs and kisses by Santa Maria, watching Paz turn from a smelly scabies-infested street animal into a loving pregnant kitty, watching Silvana go from a depressed and sick little girl to a smiling joyful girl who can use a pencil and count to ten consecutively, getting a picture from Emily on a really rough day, getting called “Mama,” how excited Francisca was about reading “Bread and Jam for Frances”, Belen's cute secret hand waves as she walks down the hallway. Those are definitely the heartwarming ones and they make it all worth it.

Can you tell me about one child that you feel you’ve impacted or about one child who has impacted you?

I think Silvana was the guiding thread through my first several months of being here at the Hogar. When I first came here she was eight years old but living with the 0 -5 year olds in Santa Maria. She was very sad, withdrawn, depressed and sick. In my first few days of working in Santa Maria, I got Silvana to smile. Gradually she came out of her shell.

In January she started kindergarten. She had difficulty doing simple pencil tracing exercises and the concept of colors was completely lost on her. I talked to our psychologist and social worker and learned that Silvana grew up in the country wandering the streets with her schizophrenic mother.

When she first came to the Hogar, Silvana could not use the bathroom by herself. She just sat and did not interact with anyone. In the year-to-year and a half since then, Silvana has come such a long way. The psychologist felt that Silvana was capable of learning but because of poor nutrition she would come about it in her own timetable and not when we expected her to. He thought being in Santa Maria was the best medicine for her because the children would talk to her; she would learn from her peers.

I kept working with Silvana. Slowly but surely she got the hang of using a pencil. She was able to do all of her homework, even making letters of the alphabet. She even named a color once without my asking her to. She needed constant affirmation but was very pleased with herself as she made progress. I remember the day she counted her numbers and actually started with one instead of two. I was so excited!

She is such a different little girl then she was nine and a half months ago. She laughs and talks with the other kids, smiles and climbs all over the playground. I am so happy she's come so far.

What lessons will you take with you?

‪‬‬I've learned how strong I really am. I´ve learned a number of different nursing skills and life skills that I definitely didn't know when I came down here. I also learned that I can go months on end without seeing my boyfriend and have our relationship come out stronger for it.

Do you find that women are treated differently than men at your site?

Yes and no. We don´t have the same gender inequalities and difficulties that many other third-world countries do, but men and women have very different roles in Bolivia. There are a lot more clear distinctions between what men and women do then there are back home. If a little boy wants to play with a doll, they are very adamant that “that's women's stuff” and scold him. Traditionally anything to do with tools, appliances, building, etc. falls under the male's role. I don't really agree with it.

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Published: 03 July 2014 (Page 4 of 4)

What are the most critical problems faced by people in your area?

‪‬‬Poverty and a lack of education. Poverty and ignorance breed each other. Knowledge of child development is often nonexistent. Knowledge that we often take for granted in the United States is not common knowledge here. People have hugely unrealistic developmental expectations of children and thinking outside the box or innovatively or in a problem-solving way is not really done here.

In my particular neighborhood, families are very broken. Many parents are not married. It is not unusual for a father or mother to go off to another country and leave the rest of the family. People tend to have the attitude that orphanages can raise their children; sort of like free daycare until the child is old enough to be useful to the family. Once one of our English volunteers was approached by a single mother who looked to be fairly well-off. She wanted to know if the Hogar could take her children.

Do you ever feel like you really belong in Bolivia at the Hogar?

‪‬‬Yes and no. I think the very nature of the Hogar makes it feel difficult to feel fully part of what´s going on. But I feel like I belong in the sense that I am where I am supposed to be, and I've become part of life here and part of the girls´ lives as well, even for the short time I´m here.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve observed or been a part of?

Being a part of the outdoor Stations of the Cross that happen in the streets of Montero during Lent has definitely been one of the most interesting things I´ve been part of.

As for surprising… Life at the Hogar is often a surprise. You never know when you´ll be entertaining a group of American visitors, finding a live bat in the library, going to the dairy farm with Santa Maria, having a party, or watching the tortoise trying to get out of the corner next to the computer like I´m doing right now. ☺

What are your hopes for the people you’ve interacted with?

I hope each one of my children goes on to lead a long, happy, and productive life. I hope they make a better life for themselves then the life they were born into, make positive choices and that they find love and healing. I wish I was around to see the kind of people they grow up to be.

What are your plans once you’ve finished at your site?

I'm going to return to Ypsilanti, Michigan. I've got a job waiting for me at home, working with 5-10 year olds as an after-school program leader. I´m also hoping to train as a volunteer Doula working with mothers who have just given birth.

What do you plan to have accomplished in five, 10, 20, and 50-years personally and professionally?

I don't have a time limit for anything. Life takes many strange twists and turns and it's silly to put a time frame on things. I can tell you what I would like to have happen, though. I would like to become a midwife and herbalist.

I would like to get married and have a ton of kids, do foster care and adopt. I would like to be an urban farmer and continue drawing, taking photos, writing, dancing, painting, and non-conventional learning. I'm hoping to spend my life invested in the lives of my family members, friends, and the community around me. And I hope to continue doing mission work in the future.

Anything else you would like to add?

If you've ever thought about doing overseas mission or volunteer work… seriously. DO IT!  It's so worth it in the end. You will be so much better for it, and you will have made a positive impact on someone else's life.

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Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

International Volunteers Series: Caregiver in Cochabamba, Bolivia

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 08:07 a.m. DST, 24 June 2014

Imagen 419BOLIVIA, Cochabamba -- This week I spoke with Charlene Becicka, a caregiver at an orphanage in a rural pueblo outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Cochabamba is known as the “City of Eternal Sunshine” because of the beautiful weather year round. This orphanage offers a home to 50 girls from 3-17 years old.

Becicka attended Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa and studied English Literature, Secondary Education, and Theatre. “While my education has certainly aided in my work as a volunteer and missionary, it has been my faith that has really sustained me in my work,” she says.

What drew you to the site you decided to work in?

I was drawn to the site Hogar Maria Auxiliadora because of the role of the volunteers listed in its site description. The other sites listed teacher, tutor, nurse...the role for volunteers at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora: mother and friend. I’ve always loved children, so being in the role of mother and friend seemed like the perfect fit for me.

What is a day in the life like?

The role of the missionaries at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora is quite varied. We are responsible for caring for the girls in every aspect of their development. Daily our responsibilities include waking the girls, feeding them breakfast, ensuring they do their chores, helping with homework, accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, and just spending time with them. In a larger sense, though, our job is to be a caring friend and role model.

How are you able to handle all of your responsibilities while keeping a healthy work/life balance?

I take a half-hour to hour-long break every day in which time I usually read or write letters. Taking a little time every day to do something I enjoy is very refreshing.

What are the hardest parts about living there?

For me, the most difficult aspect of my work is the language barrier. I came to Bolivia without ever studying Spanish, so my first few months were a real struggle trying to build relationship and maintain authority with the children while learning the language. 9 months later, the language barrier has decreased, but can still be a challenge at times. However, being immersed in a different culture and learning a new language have also been some of the most rewarding aspects of my experience.

What is the most rewarding part about living there?

Seeing the girls make progress toward individual goals is incredibly rewarding. In my time volunteering here I’ve seen girls learn to read, learn to better manage emotions, and make progress toward other personal objectives. It’s wonderful to be a small part of helping the girls develop skills and habits that will aid them for the rest of their lives.

What are some of the most heartwarming experience you’ve had?

The most heartwarming moments are when the girls show their love and appreciation for the work I do with them. Surprise hugs and kisses, words of gratitude, and special notes and pictures from the girls are always touching.

And the most heartbreaking?

It’s heartbreaking to hear the girls wish for a healthy family. While some of the girls I work with are orphans, many have been abandoned, abused, or simply come from families that can’t afford to take care of them. Hearing girls ask why their parents don’t come visit them or why they have to live in Hogar is difficult.

What lessons will you take with you?

Living and working with a diverse group of children has certainly taught me to be patient.

What are the most critical problems faced by people in your area?

One of the most critical problems faced by people in rural Bolivia is illiteracy. Encountering people in Bolivia who can neither read nor write motivates me to help the girls I work with develop this fundamental skill.

What are your hopes for the people you’ve interacted with?

My hopes for the girls of Hogar Maria Auxiliadora are the same as the hopes I have for all the people I encounter: that they will use their unique gifts and talents to grow into the best people they can be and always face the world with a smile.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I have been given to serve the girls and young women of Hogar Maria Auxiliadora in Cochabamba, Bolivia. However, service does not require quitting your job or moving to a foreign country. One of the lessons I'll take away from my mission experience is that propagating peace and justice can start with being present to the people around you, wherever you find yourself.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

International Volunteers Series: Healthcare Workers in Maridi, South Sudan

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 08:07 a.m. DST, 19 June 2014

"Goma sykestue 64" Photo by: Endre VestvikMARIDI, South Sudan -- For this edition of the international volunteer interview series, I spoke with Theresa Kiblinger and Ariel Zarate, American volunteers living in “the bush,” of Maridi, South Sudan.

Despite South Sudan’s prevalence in international news these day, and obstacles like two hours treks through six-foot-tall grass to get to a mobile clinic, and bouts of malaria, it is clear from talking to these two extraordinary women, that there is nowhere else they’d rather be.

What were your thoughts about South Sudan before you arrived and how‬ have they changed or stayed the same?‬‬

‪TK: I knew basic facts like it is the newest country in the world but I didn’t know much more about the historical background of this‬ newly founded nation. I was just excited to be heading to Africa, and‬ I figured I would learn while I am here. And I’ve done just that. My‬ eyes have really been opened to the struggles that these people have‬ endured through decades of war, and how they are working to overcome‬ their past to create hope for the future.‬‬‬

What prepared‬ you for this job?‬ Has there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to‬ take the direction you did?‬‬

AZ: I went to Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois and I graduated with a Bachelors in Social Work in the fall of 2013. I have been drawn to international social work since high school when I decided that social work was the field I want to go into. I attended Lewis University primarily for the international service opportunities they offered. The primary extracurricular activities I participated in during my college career were social justice or social service oriented.

After participating in my first overseas mission trip to Bolivia in 2010, I was hooked. Traveling, serving and learning about new cultures brought peace and joy to my life. I continued with my mission work throughout my four years, going to the Philippines twice and participating in multiple domestic service projects.

As graduation approached and the time to answer the question of what are you going to be when you grow up came closer I was faced with a decision. Do I go to grad school or do I serve for a year. It was a huge decision to make and one of the deciding factors was some advice a friend gave me. He said to do whatever I would regret most not doing in 5 years. If you will look back on it and wish you had done it, then you have to do it. And that is what I did. I knew in my heart that coming to Africa was what I was meant to. No matter where I travelled I was always drawn here.‪ ‬‬‬

‪TK: I went to Rockhurst University, a Jesuit school in Kansas City,‬‬ Missouri, where I got my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. I think my whole schooling has helped prepare me for this‬ mission work. My clinical rotations in nursing school definitely‬ prepared me for the skills that I have been using at the clinic. I‬‬ also have volunteered in Africa previously, so the transition to South‬ Sudan was made much easier by my other experiences in Africa.‬‬ I’m very passionate about public health and health education. I also‬ am extremely interested in maternal and child health (MCH).

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Published: 19 June 2014 (Page 2 of 3)

We have‬ been working to start a MCH unit at our clinic, so it has been great‬ to help with the building blocks of this program.‬‬ When I’m finished with my year in South Sudan, I’m planning on volunteering at another site in Africa, the place is‬‬ still to be determined. I want to get more experience, and then‬‬ hopefully I will go back to school to get my Masters in Public Health‬ and possibly Tropical Medicine or Maternal and Child Health. I see‬ myself doing global health at least for the next few years of my life and then we will see where that leads me!‬‬‬

What is a day in the life like?‬‬

TK: Each day in South Sudan is jam-packed with activities and‬‬ responsibilities. I work as a staff nurse at the Don Bosco Health‬‬ Center every morning until the afternoon. We see a variety of cases‬ and average around 40 patients each day. I’m in charge of taking‬ vital signs, giving injections, dressing wounds, and dispensing‬ medications. In the afternoons I teach English Composition to classes‬ 7, 8, and the Salesian aspirants. After school I coach the girls‬ football team. Every evening we have rosary with the kids followed by‬ evening prayer, dinner, and finally bedtime. I wake up the next day‬ and repeat it all.‬‬

AZ: A typical day for me starts with morning mass at 6:45. Many of the students attend this mass as well. After mass I take attendance for the Daughters of Mary which is a Catholic group for young women dedicated to living more like Mary and growing in our faith as Christians. After that we have a quick breakfast and morning assembly. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I go with a VSDB sister to a village school that we are in charge of running and organizing.

We conduct assembly there, teach various subjects, get uniforms and other necessary things in order to get the new school on its feet. Those afternoons I teach art and religion at our base school. Tuesday and Thursday I start my day in the secondary school then teach the 5 aspirants we have English and Group Dynamics. The rest of the afternoon after lunch is spent in either art or religion and just being present in the school to assist with conflicts or difficulties that arise. Most afternoons I help a few students practice reading with small books we have here.

How are you able to handle all of your responsibilities while keeping‬ a healthy work/life balance?‬‬‬

‪‬TK: I have really stressed “self-care” since I got to South Sudan. We‬‬ are staying in a very remote village with minimal chances to get out‬ and do things to separate mission life and our personal lives.‬‬ However, I always try to take time each day to do things that I need‬ to do to reflect and process this experience. Usually this comes in‬ the form of running in the early mornings. It is such a peaceful time‬ to be by myself and forget about everything else.‬‬‬

AZ: After a long day, it’s usually a huge glass of water, marking, class prep, oratory or some self-care Jillian Michaels with Theresa. Our days are super packed and even when we are not in class the kids are always around so our days have a routine but are always different.

How have you adjusted to simple living?‬‬‬

‪‬TK: It actually has been really nice and refreshing to embrace the simple‬ living aspect. Time and material possessions are not the basis of‬ life. It is the relationships that you have with one another that are‬ important. It has been completely different from my life in the‬ States, but definitely a good kind of different.‬‬‬ ‬‬‬

Do you ever feel unsafe?‬‬‬

TK: ‬‬I have never felt unsafe even with the recent political instability.‬‬ Maridi is such a peaceful place and the tribe that lives in this area‬ are extremely peaceful people. It also has helped that I’ve been here‬ for a while now, and people in the community know who I am and my role‬ here.‬‬‬

‪Do you find that women are treated differently than men at your site?‬‬‬ ‬‬‬ TK: Definitely. It is extremely evident in the way people talk and act‬‬ towards women that they are not viewed as equals to men. The boys in‬ school don’t understand why the girls need to have a football team.‬ They say that the girls need to go home right after school to cook and‬ clean. Even as a teacher, I feel like the kids don’t fully respect me‬ or listen to me as they do towards a male teacher.‬‬‬‪

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Published: 19 June 2014 (Page 3 of 3)

What are the most critical problems faced by people in your area?‬‬‬

‪‬TK: These people have so many obstacles that they have faced in the past‬ and are still trying to overcome. They have lived through decades of‬ war. Many of the kids have lost one or even both parents and this‬ county, specifically the village where I am working, has the highest‬ rate of HIV in the entire country. These people are trying to‬ overcome all these obstacles to have a hopeful future, but their past‬ struggles are still extremely evident in everyday life.‬‬‬‪ ‬‬‬

What is the most rewarding part about living there?‬‬‬

‪‬TK: The relationships that grow deeper each and every day. The kids that‬ I work with are the most incredible group of kids that I have met. I don’t think I’ve loved a group of kids as fully and deeply as these‬ little mischievous, crazy kids. They make this experience completely‬ worth it.‬‬ My best memories are every moment I am with the kids. There is‬‬ nothing better than holding a baby in my arms as I pray the rosary as‬ the sun sets, or when a little girl grabs my hand and we skip down the‬ dirt road singing songs. Its the little moments each day that warm my‬ heart and remind me of the reason I’m even here in the first place--to‬ love these kids.‬‬ ‪ ‬‬‬‬

Can you tell me about one child who has impacted you?‬‬‬

‪TK: There is one 10-year old boy named Santo who has epilepsy and also has‬ special needs. But this little boy constantly teaches me how to love‬ unconditionally. Every day I hear him screaming my name across the‬ compound and then he takes off and greets me with the biggest hug. He‬ asks how I am, then he goes through all the members of the community‬ asking how they are and where they are. This happens at least 3 times‬ each day. Even days when I don’t have patience to go through this‬ same conversation over and over, he never stops loving me or going out‬ of his way to give me a giant hug. It has been a huge lesson in‬ loving each person as they are, and I have the best example of how to‬ imitate this unconditional love through the life of Santo.‬‬‬ ‪ ‬‪ ‬‬‬‬ ‪‬Have you ever had a “this is my home” feeling? ‬‬

‪‬‬TK: I have that feeling almost every day. Honestly, I have felt at home‬ since I first stepped out of the car and arrived in Maridi 10 months‬ ago. I was greeted by the sweetest, brown-eyed 'kiddos' and I‬ immediately fell in love. I knew that I was home. I get that feeling‬ when the little kids call me their mother, when I wipe tears away from‬ a child’s face at the clinic, when I snag babies to hold and‬ love...It’s little moments each day that really make me feel like this‬ is my home.‬‬‬

What are your hopes for the people you’ve interacted with?‬‬

‪TK: I hope that they can see past the past and strive for the future.‬‬ They are some of the brightest kids I’ve met, and they have so much‬ potential. I hope they don’t get stuck in the cycle of life here- get‬ married after 8th grade and have kids right away. While that isn’t‬ bad, they just have so much more to offer this country. These are the‬ kids that will really make this country progress in the future.‬‬‬

What lessons will you take with you?‬‬‬

TK: This mission experience has made me learn so much about myself and‬ made me grow in ways I don’t think I’ll fully understand until I get‬ back home. I’ve learned so much about living in the present and‬ loving people in the moment even when it’s difficult. The people here‬ have shown me how to see the world in a different way, with a‬ different focus.‬‬ ‪ ‬‬AZ: Coming here was the best decision I have ever made. Not only have I grown immensely in my faith but I have grown immensely as a person. The lessons I have learned and the ways I have changed for the better will stay with me forever. ‬‬

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Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

International Volunteers Series: Teaching English in Yanji, China

teacher-assistant-for-chinese-esl-learners-photo-by-rex-pe.jpg

Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 2:55 p.m. DST, 1 June 2014

Oliva Elswick

CHINA, Yanji -- For The first in a series of interviews I’m conducting with young volunteers around the globe, I spoke with Sarah Dickhut, an English teacher in Yanji, China. Dickhut graduated from Loras College in 2013 with degrees in Biological Research and Philosophy, and will attend law school at University of Iowa this coming fall, where she hopes to combine law and philosophy to advocate for and raise awareness about major issues in international human rights.

Dickhut teaches at Yanji International Technical Cooperation High School, a boarding school for about 200 students of Chinese and Korean descent. Situated among farmland and pastures, this school is a quaint relief from the bustling downtown just minutes down the road. With a population of half a million people, Yanji is considered a small town by Chinese standards. Situated on the border of North Korea and Russia, Yanji is a busy transportation and trade link between North Korea and China, and Yanji’s population is largely ethnic Korean.

What prepared you for the job of being an English teacher in China?

I’m currently working as a high school teacher in a technical school, which is a subject area which differs from my degrees, so I haven’t had a lot of job-specific preparation. However, I think service in general has helped a great deal in providing me with a “willing heart,” and frequent consultation with other ESL teachers has been very useful.

Has there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to take the direction you did in teaching English in China?

I don’t often have “defining moments” where the clouds break and a light from the heavens shines down to illuminate my path in life. My decision to volunteer rose from a gradual recognition of how much I have been given and a desire to give something back. #blessed

What were your thoughts about China before you arrived and how have they changed or stayed the same?

A few people vocally expressed (an unfounded) concern for my safety, which initially cast a little bit of a shadow over my excitement. So after that, I really tried to avoid preconceptions or assumptions about the country.

What is one common misconception people might have about China?

The most common misconception I’ve encountered about China is that it’s extremely dangerous. In reality, as long as you avoid trouble with the government, the threat from other citizens (mugging, murder, kidnapping) is extraordinarily low. The biggest concern is really pickpocketing.

What kind of reception have you been given in Yanji?

The teachers at our school have been very cordial; the most common way I’ve experienced hospitality is through a meal. It’s not uncommon for the English department, or for the whole school to go to dinner together.

How do students usually react to you when you first meet them?

Most students have never seen a foreigner before, so when I first meet a class it usually goes like this: I walk in the door, the students audibly gasp, I say hello, and there’s a few minutes of shyness before I get them talking in English.

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Published: 1 June 2014 (Page 2 of 3)

What is a typical workweek like for you?

I teach conversational English to three different grades of high school students, and based on the Chinese class schedule I have about two classes a day. The government provides a conversational English textbook, but as long as I cover the main topics and grammar patterns I have a lot of freedom to develop creative lessons. Some of the ones I’ve particularly enjoyed teaching include lessons on the psychology of personality, American slang, and a murder mystery game.

How does this compare to the workweek of other teachers in your school?

Because the Chinese educational system is completely controlled by the government, they control the curriculum, number of classes, and number of teachers. The government’s control over teaching jobs causes them to hire as many teachers as possible within one school. Consequently, each teacher has considerably fewer classes per day than the average American teacher—no more than four 40-minute lessons a day. This means that I’m doing approximately half of the work of the average Chinese teacher.

How is your school alike or different from other schools you’re familiar with?

Since our school is a technical school, the prevalent attitude among the teachers is that classes are not so much preparation for future education as they are to help students develop into better people. So there’s a lot more flexibility in grading and the rigor of classwork. Additionally, the school allows students quite a bit of free time; they have an hour and a half for lunch, and at least one free period every day. As I mentioned, the same relaxed attitude seems to apply to the teachers. There is less demand to prepare lesson plans in advance and most teachers have time for a nap every day.

Can you explain the educational system in the part of China you live?

Structurally, our school is designed and painted exactly the same as the other high schools in the area. This system of “equality” is carried out to such an extent that even the color of paint within the schools is exactly the same. Our school does differ, however, in that it is an international endeavor between China and Korea. Basically our school is funded by both Chinese and Korean parties, and there are both Chinese and Korean administrators. The purpose is to help expand job placement for students post-graduation—we send students throughout China and South Korea.

How is Yanji different from other places you’ve visited in China?

I’ve had the privilege of visiting some larger cities, like Shanghai. These populous international cities house a multitude of cultures, so it’s easier to feel at home.

What are the hardest parts about living in Yanji?

Although Yanji is a city of 500,00, by Chinese standards it’s the modern-day equivalent of a rural village. The result is that by living in this city we are cut off from virtually all aspects of western culture.

What is the most rewarding part about living in Yanji?

Total immersion in a new culture, and the lack of English in the city propels me to use Chinese and Korean more frequently.

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Published: 1 June 2014 (Page 3 of 3)

What is your best memory so far?

It’s actually difficult to choose a single best experience…but I think one that stands out in my mind is visiting the local ice festival. It’s similar to the ice festival in Harbin, where builders take immense quantities of ice and snow to build large structures like castles and slides. At night the giant snow-slides are lit up with colored lights. It’s a really beautiful sight.

Have you found that women are viewed differently than men in Yanji?

In my experience the Chinese state that intellectually women and men are equal, however they hold gender stereotypes for careers, physical ability, and child preference. In terms of careers, I have been told on several occasions that some professions (like engineers) are more suitable for men, and that teaching is the least honorable profession for men as it indicates a fastidiousness of character. Additionally, it’s assumed that in sports, all females are at a disadvantage, so activities are carefully structured to give female players an advantage. Finally, Chinese families still have a strong preference for male children, as the male will care for his parents later in life. When a female is married, she is expected to show preference for her in-laws over that of her own parents (i.e. on family holidays a couple is expected to spend the time with the male’s parents).

What have you discovered about China’s 1 child policy?

While the one-child policy is still enforced, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, ethic minorities (like the Chinese-Koreans in my area) are allowed to have additional children. As a result, because of the high percentage of ethic minorities in my region, I have less experience with the imbalance of genders seen in many other Chinese regions.

How much of a hand do you think the government has in the lives of ordinary citizens?

I guess I can answer that through the example of the typical teacher in my area. A teacher works for the government, and as such is guaranteed a job by the government. Usually upon graduation, the government will place teachers at specific schools, and may move them if deemed necessary. As the educational system is federally run, there is immense pressure for every teacher to be a member of the Communist party—in fact, it’s unofficially necessary for promotion and awards. However, if a teacher is not a member of the Party, they are still exposed to Communist ideals through their co-workers, and “training videos” which are thinly veiled propaganda discouraging religion and political activism. The average teacher likely has a phone and computer, however the government has access to all cellular data, and censors online information including websites such as facebook, twitter, tumblr, google, and virtually all blogs. Donations for natural disasters are derived from the paycheck and are compulsory. Salary and benefits are subject to change without discussion or ability to lobby. It seems the government does everything but assign a police officer to every citizen.

How does being so close to North Korea impact your city?

The proximity to North Korea means there are many North Korean refugees in the city. Additionally, there is a military base which is used for training and to arm the border. The city is also a hub for the transportation of goods into North Korea. All commerce is supposed to be controlled directly by the North Korean government, but as this infrastructure has been weakened significantly by economic hardships, North Koreans have built an extensive black market. Common exports from our city include food, clothing, and unfortunately, methamphetamine.

You spent time in Seoul, South Korea. How similar is Yanji to Korea?

Since there is a large Korean minority living in Yanji, there are tangible influences of both South and North Korean culture in my city. The most obvious is the language; Korean is an official language of the province and many people in Yanji speak Korean (albeit a different dialect). Additionally, there are a few South Korean chain restaurants throughout the city. In terms of pop culture, most residents of Yanji are well-versed in Korean dramas, and Korean pop music, or k-pop.

How does it feel to be an American living in China?

Eventually you just get used to being “strange.”

What is the most interesting thing you’ve observed or been a part of?

Something that I still haven’t adjusted to is other peoples’ reactions to my ethnicity. There are very few people of Caucasian ethnicity in Yanji, so my features can be surprising. People stare openly, sometimes stopping what they’re doing to get a better look at my face. Occasionally people will call out a series of non-related words in English to see if I’ll respond, or if I’m walking they might follow me a short distance to get a better look.

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Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @OCELswick