Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Students document volunteer service in Peru

The phrase “think globally, act locally” didn’t quite cut it for four first-year students.

Bobby Wenner, Andrea Fitch, Sam Gerk and David Kloeckner started volunteering during their first quarter at DU as part of the “Serve to Lead, Lead to Serve” component of the Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP), which requires its first-year students to spend at least 40 hours serving local organizations.

The four students interned with Project C.U.R.E., a Denver-based nonprofit that ships donated medical supplies and equipment to developing nations. After serving with the organization for a year, Wenner, Fitch, Gerk, and Kloeckner — who are majoring in international studies, business and marketing, biology, and international studies and Spanish respectively — decided to act, rather than just think, globally.

To realize this ambition, the students conceptualized a film about Project C.U.R.E.’s Clinics program for the organization’s Web site. The program sends teams of medical professionals abroad to provide free medical care to communities in developing countries.

Project C.U.R.E staffers gave the green light to the idea and the students obtained funding for the trip from DU’s Student Scholar Travel Fund. In June, they traveled to Lima and Pucusana, Peru, accompanied by a 10-person team of volunteer doctors and nurses.

“The team participants were thrilled to have the students on this trip,” says Jean Feist, director of C.U.R.E. Clinics. “The students were young, upbeat, excited at the opportunity and willing to help the team wherever they could.”
On the first day of the trip, the medical team held a health fair in Lima’s Pamplona Alta slum, which is home to 300,000 of Peru’s poorest people. The experience brought the realities of poverty into sharp focus for the students.

“You can read and see as much as you want about poverty in books and movies but it’s hard to really know what it means until you’re able to experience it first hand,” Wenner says.

When they weren’t filming their experience or interviewing the medical team, the students guided people through the health fair, taught kids how to wash their hands and eat right, accompanied doctors on house calls and spoke at community events. Kloeckner also served as a translator for the medical team.

“It was amazing seeing how big our impact actually was,” Fitch says. “A little really can go a long way.”

A hospital tour also showed the students how their many hours packing medical supplies at Project C.U.R.E’s Denver headquarters directly improved conditions for Peruvians.

“It seemed like without the containers from Project C.U.R.E.,” which can include small items like scissors and scalpels to larger necessities like ventilators and X-ray units, “they wouldn’t even be able to call that place a hospital,” Kloeckner says.

The video, which students plan to complete by the beginning of fall quarter, will demonstrate what they learned from their service: that the global aims of local nonprofits can be achieved through service work at home and abroad.

“With the video, we hope to convey exactly how Project C.U.R.E. is changing lives abroad,” Wenner says, “and how volunteering and donating in the U.S. can have an incredibly strong, albeit indirect, impact on people’s lives in developing countries.”

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