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Miami University
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Miami students pay it forward this summer


By Anna Oris, university communications and marketing intern

With the start of the new school year, everyone is asking, “What did you do this summer?” Some students had internships, while others spent their days working on
their tans by the pool.

Miami's Kelly Muenchen breaks ground for a pre-school in Uganda
Miami's Kelly Muenchen breaks ground for a pre-school in Uganda
Other students, however, took a different route by choosing to pay it forward abroad.

According to Erin Miller, program manager for global education at Lifelong Learning at Miami, about 80 Miami students participated in some form of service project abroad this summer.

Many of the service projects were led by student organizations, while other experiences counted for class credit. Students led by political science professor Melvin Cohen traveled to the Gambia for three and a half weeks to learn more about health care and health policy, while gaining four credit hours. The majority of the students were nursing, speech pathology or dietetic majors. The first week, students learned about the health care system in the Gambia, then the students were placed in different clinics and even opened up their own clinic for a day.

“They give shots to babies, take blood pressure and give nutrition advice,” said Cohen. By giving and practicing their medical services, students created connections with the people in the Gambian communities, all while learning about themselves through the process. “They learn that there are more than material things if you want to have a joyful, meaningful life – having more does not make you happy.”

Miami’s chapter of the organization Medlife led another medically focused service trip abroad to Lima, Peru. Junior exercise science major Taylor Hendricks traveled to Lima as a part of Medlife, with 40 others from varying universities to set up mobile clinics, among other service projects. These mobile clinics served as a way to give dental work, medicine and gynecology check-ups to the local people of Lima. “We taught children of Peru how to brush their teeth,” said Hendricks. “Many of them have never brushed their teeth before so we taught them how, applied a fluoride treatment, and sent them home with a toothbrush to keep. It was an amazing experience and we learned so much.”

Miami students with youngsters in Nicaragua
Miami students with youngsters in Nicaragua
photo: Andrew Anzano
Giving back to children in need was also a common theme for the volunteers abroad, including 15 students who traveled to Nicaragua. The students were able to complete their language requirement and give service through the three-week intensive Spanish Immersion Program, led by Spanish instructor Nohelia Rojas-Miesse. Students attended class in the morning and tutored children ages 5-10 in the afternoon through various service programs, providing support to keep kids off of the streets after school.

Senior political science major Andrew Anzano, one of the students who traveled to Nicaragua, felt the fulfillment of giving back to the children in need. “Every time we arrived the kids would come running out with the biggest smile on their faces,” said Anzano.

Similar to the students who traveled to the Gambia, spending time with Nicaraguan children helped the students on the trip to reflect on their own culture and lives. “Majority of their toys were broken, and all the balls were flat, but this didn’t stop them from having fun. It showed me how grateful I should be for having everything I do,” Anzano said.

Members of Miami’s chapter of Oxfam traveled to Uganda this summer to present the Otwee community of Northern Uganda with funds raised last school year. The area was damaged from the war that ended in 2006 and is slowly rebuilding.
The funds helped the rural community build its first preschool. This facility, built with the guidance of Oxfam members, now accommodates more than 500 nursery-aged children in the district.
The preschool paid for and built by Miami students volunteering with Oxfam
The preschool paid for and built by Miami students volunteering with Oxfam
photo: Kelly Muenchen

“We think that educating children at an early age is key for the development of this district,” said Kelly Muenchen, co-president of Miami’s chapter of Oxfam. Muenchen and co-president Neelum Amin purchased all of the materials for the build locally, transported them to the plot of land and then hired local construction workers to build the school. “It was a wonderful experience and it showed me how far small donations from Miami students can go. With $2,500 we built a school, but we also gave the people hope and the knowledge that someone cares for them,” Muenchen said.

Among other overseas service projects this summer, 10 students traveled to Tanzania for four weeks as a part of the African School Advancement Program (ASAP). Students taught English to grades 3-7 five days a week. The students also brought notebooks, pens, chalk and erasers – all high-need items – to hand out to the students.

Twenty students in Miami’s Global Business Brigades traveled to Piriti Embera, Panama, to consult and work toward sustainability with families and small businesses within the community.


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