When Sarah Ameigh flew to Honduras in August she carried two suitcases and a carry-on bag. The carry-on held her clothes and personal items, while the suitcases were crammed with fabric. Intended for the women of Tegucigalpa, the capital city, the fabric was destined for use in sewing and crafting small items such as table runners, scarves and tote bags the women sell in order to support their families.
In Honduras, poverty is nearly as rampant as the crime caused by roving gangs – primarily fueled by the drug cartels. With many men caught up in illegal gang activity, or busy working harsh jobs, few children see their fathers; often, siblings don’t even have the same mother and father, Ameigh described. As such, education and empowerment to learn skills that can sustain a family become critical. Indeed, each of the 13 other travelers also flying with Ameigh filled their own suitcases with other supplies, medicine or craft materials needed to benefit the schoolchildren and families they came to serve with the “Border Buddies” mission organization.
The myriad of socio-economic issues facing the families and children in Honduras was a fascinating study for Ameigh, who is completing a bachelor’s degree in social work through Keuka College, studying each week at Corning Community College through the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP).
“Social work is all about human service. One of the main goals is to be out there and help promote change and social change,” she said, explaining that the primary purpose of the service trip was to add four new classrooms and a kitchen to a school building used for 250 children ages four through 12. The trip was sponsored through Ameigh’s home church, Victory Highway Wesleyan Church in Painted Post, and was the 30th visit in nine years that members of the church have made to that city and its mission outposts, she said.
According to Ameigh, all 250 schoolchildren had been “plastered in” to just six classrooms and most had no place to eat at school, one of the few places that can help counter the poverty at home. Even so, there are few books, but because the children have no better comparison, they are simply happy to be there, she said.
Like many other locales within the city, the school grounds were gated because of the threat of gang violence. According to Ameigh, the threat was so strong that mission team members were not allowed to go near the gates as they worked on the building repairs in order to ensure their safety. The team members heard that gang initiations often require killing another gang member or a personal family member and learned that only one in three children is safe from the threat of assault.
Building school rooms for the kids provides a safe place to learn, so they can get off the streets and have a good job,” said Ameigh, who missed one week of her ASAP classes to participate in the trip, but had the full support of her professors, Susan Grover Vanpelt and Doyle Pruitt.
While Ameigh completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2002, after a brief stint in the banking industry, she switched jobs and started working for the Steuben County ARC. Ten years later, the passion for her work prompted her to enroll in the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP) for a bachelor’s degree in social work. Ultimately, she hopes to complete an MSW degree and become a licensed clinical social worker with a focus in counseling, she said.
On the first full day of service, the mission team set to work transforming the shell into new schoolrooms. While Ameigh helped sand walls, then prime, paint and sand some more, others including her older sister Bethany worked on the roof of the building. As the week, and work, continued, the team – which ranged from two 15-year-old boys to adults in their 50s – made visits to other local schools in the afternoons. While a few women would instruct native women in the sewing and craft techniques, others such as Ameigh would keep the children busy playing games such as soccer, or learning their own arts and crafts.
In contrast to Sarah’s two suitcases stuffed with fabric, Bethany Ameigh carried plastic “melting beads” in her two suitcases, Sarah said. Gathered with string, the beads are melted with an iron into fun shapes, Sarah Ameigh said. The two sisters learned that balloon animals were also quite a draw and that Honduran children have a funny habit of coating their bodies with the colored dust from sidewalk chalk decorating the ground.
Citing her course in human behavior, Ameigh said much of life success is impacted by the environment a child grows up in. The missionary couple hosting the team from New York’s southern tier emphasized especially to men in the group “to be sure to spend time with the kids because fathers aren’t really part of their lives,” said Ameigh.
“Unless something intervenes, they’ll end up in the same situation as their family [members],” she said.
Recalling how the missionary couple described the rescue of one young man, previously living a life of crime and violence, Ameigh said the trip helped show her the value of the career she’s pursuing.
“He’d leave after school Friday, party the whole weekend and come back on Monday. But he’s now part of the youth group, has to show up two nights a week, hold to a certain grade standard, and [sell food] around the barrio to make money,” she described. “The missionaries are saving one life of a child on the streets and now these kids are working and going into a trade there,” she said, comparing the trade system of Honduras to the colleges of America.
“The mission of social work is to help empower people to make change in their own lives – we’re not doing it for them,” Sarah said, citing the women and their training in sewing and crafts as one example.
Despite the shock of the extreme degree of poverty and crime, the children were endearing, Sarah said, recalling one little girl named Jamie who brought Sarah’s sister Bethany a sugar wafer one morning – a small treat that must have cost the little girl nearly all she had – but was so distraught she did not have another for Sarah that she ran, crying, all the way to the store, in order to buy a second treat to share.
“I hated to take it, but they said you should so that these children can learn the empowerment of giving, too,” Sarah Ameigh said. “It was weird coming back because of what we saw. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and you come back and you’re in culture shock. You look at your house and say, I don’t need this. I don’t need that. It changes you.”
Editor’s Note: Where can a Keuka degree take you? This is the third in a series of snapshot profiles on members of Keuka’s Class of 2013.
Emily Ekstrom ’13 graduated cum laude with a B.S. in education and has accepted a post as a special education teacher serving grades 3-5 at Holiday Park School in Phoenix, Ariz.
During her four years at Keuka, the Ashville, N.Y. resident participated in the Equestrian and Education clubs, worked as a lifeguard and also as a facilitator for the Teamworks! Adventure course, served on Student Senate and was vice-president of Sigma Lambda Sigma, Keuka’s college-wide honor society.
“Although I have never done a Field Period at the school, my previous Field Periods have helped,” she said, referring to Keuka’s required 140-hour annual internship. “As much as I hated the paper work, I loved my Field Periods and all the experiences I gained from them.”
Ekstrom’s prior Field Period internships included a third-grade inclusion classroom in Bowling Green, Va., a 4-H summer camp in Long Island, N.Y., a month in two different special education classrooms at Chautauqua Central School, and a fourth-grade classroom in Falconer, N.Y.
Ekstrom added that another bonus was the support from close personal ties at Keuka, such as those she found in the division of education, via a mentor affiliated with the Teamworks! Adventure course and the College chaplain.
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members who have joined the Keuka community.
Perhaps it’s fair to say that Angela Narasimhan is intent on expanding the borders of possibility, whether those borders be in political science, motherhood and family life, or long-held traditions about college education.
Indeed, Keuka’s newest assistant professor of political science went beyond borders to pursue her collegiate studies, moving from Washington, D.C., to Romania, where she spent a year in language school before earning her B.A. in political science from Babes-Bolyai (pronounced “Bobbish- Boyea”) University in Transylvania, Romania. That was followed by a master’s degree in political science from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. And while her Ph.D. – also in political science – is from Syracuse University, Narasimhan maintains a particularly global view on American politics.
“I wanted to study post-communist transition, but I was very interested in American politics from an international perspective. My dissertation was on globalization and the Supreme Court, and how different American institutions are dealing with globalization,” she said, adding that her studies have also touched on American politics, public law and public policy.
“We have many individual rights. We have the strongest, most enduring constitution, and we’re very inclusive, very democratic. These are all important, unique things that many Americans take for granted,” she said. “At the same time, we also lag behind other countries in certain things, and there’s a lot of fear of globalization undermining American values. However, the world is increasingly interdependent. We have to deal with other countries on a more direct basis, and we’re expected to have a global set of abilities to compete.”
Prior to coming to Keuka, Narasimhan taught political science at Idaho State University and the Unversity of North Dakota. She and her husband, Kamesh, who hails from India, moved to be near her parents, who had retired to Central New York.
“I’ve been to more rural places than Keuka and Keuka is more diverse than some places,” she said. “Keuka has this international program reputation, so I was excited to come to a place where students do travel and get out in the world, but it’s not just traveling abroad. Once you work in a real-world environment, you start to understand the practical skills you can take away. I like that. I like to teach to the real world; that fits with my personality. Experiential learning is a contact back and forth between practical and theoretical and that’s how my academic pursuit has always been.”
The lights will soon dim in a campus building near you.
That’s what students working on the Keuka College CSI (Campus Sustainability Initiative) project are hoping. As members of Keuka’s Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) team, those working on the environmentally friendly project created a “green” project recommending motion-sensor lighting technology be used more places on campus, such as in classrooms vacated near the end of the day, dorm hallways and other locales.
SIFE CSI Project Manager Katelin Maxson submitted a proposal in early September to the national SIFE organization, hoping to be chosen one of 15 elite teams across the Northeast to qualify for a grant award through SIFE’s sponsor, o.b® a brand of Johnson and Johnson. In keeping with the sponsor’s marketing theme, “women for less waste,” adding motion-sensor lighting to select classrooms and hallways would reduce energy usage and waste, according to SIFE team president Nick Simpson. The team learned Dec. 1 they had won a re-grant award.
“I’m on campus late most nights,” said Maxson,, a senior accounting major from Whitney Point. “I go by Hegeman [Hall] and see almost every classroom lit up with computer screens and lights on at 9 p.m., but no one’s been in those classrooms for several hours.”
Simpson called the $1,500 award “seed money” for the next phase of competition, when the SIFE team can present data showing what kind of impact the green initiatives had on the campus. Maxson explained that the CSI team will receive an initial $1,250 to launch the project, with the remaining $250 to come when the tracking data – actual net savings shown on utility bills – is submitted to the national SIFE organization, likely in April. Prizes earned at the next level of competition could garner the team an additional $1,000 – $2,500.