It took a few years of exploration to get here but I think it’s safe to say that I found my home here at Penn State in the College of Health and Human Development—specifically as a Human Development and Family Studies major. With my focus on Early Childhood Development I hope to use my degree to better understand the behavior of children and to create positive environments for future learning. I initially went to culinary school straight out of high school, so my dream is to combine my knowledge of childhood development with my cooking background to create a culinary class for kids. I’m originally from State College (townie pride!) and in my free time you can generally find me hiking, reading, or cooking while listening to some Sinatra.
This summer I embarked on a trip of a lifetime: a 6-week backpacking/volunteer trip to Peru! I just returned this week and I can honestly say that it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
I traveled with Operation Groundswell, an organization that focuses on sustainable volunteering. Their website says it best: “Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization that offers travel and community service experiences around the world. We aim to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.”
My trip was called Peru Mind and Body, and keeping along with the theme, our projects revolved around health and wellness. Our first project was located in the Sacred Valley near Cusco on a small sustainable farm owned by the Ccapa family.
The Ccapa family is trying to get back to their roots and practice sustainable farming that is closer to ancient Incan tradition. Along with fruits and vegetables, the Ccapa family harvests and distills traditional herbs that are used in oils for healing purposes. Throughout our week on the farm we made adobe bricks using a handmade mold, built a foundation for a storefront, and weeded herb gardens.
The Ccapa’s made sure we felt like part of the family, and the hospitality they showed us (including delicacies such as fried squash fritters and cuy or guinea pig) was truly touching and made a lasting impact on the group for the rest of the trip.
Our second project took place in a tiny village near the Four Lakes region called Chosecani. The town had never received visitors before, and we were welcomed to the community with a parade and formal ceremony! We spent the week with several families in home stays while working on renovating the town’s maternity health care center. The building was in abysmal shape when we got there (for example barrels of tar were being stored inside) and to know that children were still using the center made our work feel even more urgent and rewarding.
We sanded, painted, stained, and cleaned 8 hours a day until the center looked like a completely different place. Although there was still a lot more the group would have liked to accomplish, we made the center safe for others to use, and pleasant to look at to boot!