President, students build ties abroad

By Andrew Stettler
February 26, 2009

Megan Pellegrino

It was snowing when the white Cabrini van carrying President Dr. Marie George and a group of students and staff, pulled up to the mansion. The group has spent the past week in much warmer weather in Guatemala to experience Cabrini’s partnerships and extreme poverty first hand.

The group seemed beyond exhaustion, sporting unwashed faces and even less clean clothes. But they won’t have much time to sleep this week because the group has brought back hundreds of photos, hours of video and audio recordings to edit.

Dr. Jerry Zurek was the first to exit the van, heading toward the trunk to help unload luggage. When asked, “How was the trip?”

He smiled tiredly and said “incredible.”

“Every one of us on the trip witnessed something that we could relate to, something that we in the States take for granted, some need or want that is easily gratified here, but which is all but impossible for those living in poverty,” George said.

The trip was made for several reasons. One was for those attending to experience Cabrini’s partnerships on a global scale. Another was to observe extreme poverty in a developing nation.

Another reason was to put a face to the new curriculum, Justice Matters, through photos and video documentation.

The group, consisting of professors, students, a member of Cabrini’s marketing department, a representative from Cabrini’s Wolfington Center and the college president, was able to witness the effects of the Guatemalan Civil War, which ended in 1996. ” I understood that the country had experienced massacres,” Kara Schneider, senior English and communication major, said. “I didn’t think that I would meet survivors.”

Jillian Smith, senior English and communication major, told the story of her experience in meeting a doctor named Hector. Hector grew up in Guatemala and eventually traveled to the U.S. to attend medical school. When the time came for him to return to Guatemala he was told by his parents that he could not come back due to the civil war.

His parents, brothers, sisters, they would all eventually fall victim to the civil war. “Every time you leave someone,” Smith said, “you have to say goodbye like it’s the last time you will ever see them.” Guatemalan culture, much like Jewish culture, does not use embalming methods on their dead. So Hector was never able to make it back in time to witness the burials of his family.

In the town of Barcenas, Schneider and Megan Pellegrino, senior English and Communication majors, were able to experience health programs in Guatemala. The two have been researching the subject as part of Cabrini’s convergence class where Schneider, Pellegrino and others will be creating a Website containing all forms of media that educate users on issues concerning ways to end poverty around the world.

The only health clinic in the La Reinita section of Guatemala City is at the top of an extremely steep hill and is served once a week by a doctor from the Cabrini sisters’ dispensary.

“People live with [health problems] for years that people in America would never live with,” Pellegrino said. She tells the story of one Guatemalan lady that lived for 23 years in need of back surgery. “Here in America if we needed that surgery, we could get the surgery and we wouldn’t have to wait 23 years or just walk it off.”

Another aspect of the trip was a day spent at San Lucas coffee plantation. The group observed the process of how the coffee beans are produced. During the harvest season, workers will pick up to 200 pounds of coffee per seven hour day.

Seven of the group members took about three hours to fill one small basket.

The visit by the Cabrini group has inspired the college to become a consumer of San Lucas’s ground coffee. Through Sodexo, Cabrini’s food distributor, Cabrini will begin selling San Lucas coffee next fall because of its fair treatment of the coffee growers and producers.

“We have this exciting synergy with Sodexo, our dining services, that has gotten informed and onboard through the activism of students,” Director of International Partnerships Mary Laver said.

Laver keeps a map in her office that shows the presence of Cabrini sisters all around the world. The map shows Cabrini sisters working in developed countries like Australia and Spain and in impoverished nations like Ethiopia, Swaziland, Brazil, and Nicaragua.

As Cabrini’s president, George is already brainstorming ways to encourage students to visit developing countries as part of the ECG curriculum. Students in the future may be able to take a trip to meet Cabrini sisters in Guatemala or Brazil instead of taking another three-credit course.

“This didn’t grow only out of a faculty committee. This new curriculum grew out of the example of some of the visionary faculty and students who have been walking the walk,” Laver said. “We know that the new curriculum is meant to tell students of any major.. that there is and there must be, a way that each of us integrates our passion for those who might be left behind, into the way we practice our professional work in the future.”

The trip to Guatemala is just one example of what the future of Cabrini College’s curriculum may include. Upon returning to the states, George summed up the many lessons learned in saying, “We saw what needs to be changed; now it is up to us to begin the work that will change the world.”

Andrew Stettler

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