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Spotlight on Walden // Jun 23, 2016

Effecting Positive Social Change in Panama

Volunteers led play groups with children at a group home.

In March, more than a dozen Walden faculty and students led by Dr. Lulu Williamson, Walden’s director of cross-college initiatives, traveled to Panama for a service learning trip, where they volunteered at a women’s prison, a group home for children, an orphanage, and a physical therapy foundation.

The group was diverse, including undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students whose ages range from 21 to 64. Here, two attendees share how the trip has changed how they view volunteerism—and, more generally, their lives:

Yolanda Noriega ’12
Doctor of Education student and MS in Education graduate who lives in Arizona

“You can never be prepared for what you experience in life, especially on a service trip. I was overjoyed when I met the children at the group home, especially when they hugged me. Although their basic needs are met, they lack after school-activities and help with English homework.

“The families from the Carmen Conte Foundation touched my heart most of all. Despite their extreme poverty, they are very noble and gentle-hearted! I quickly learned about Seckel syndrome from my colleagues. It prompted our team to find and deliver baby jumpers and diapers. The baby jumpers will help children with Seckel syndrome apply more weight on their feet, which may help prevent their feet from twisting inward.

“I left wondering how we can continue to help these children. I plan to gather donations of used orthopedic shoes, clothing, and money to help purchase a 4x4 vehicle to donate to the Carmen Conte Foundation to help transport children with Seckel syndrome to therapy. I would not have ventured into this had it not been for the service trip.

“The service trip changed me! I am more receptive to people who ask for donations, who volunteer, and who help the world. Everything happens one good gesture at a time. It may be a smile or a good gesture. If you do something meaningful, it keeps moving to the next person. We each set examples and model positive social change for others to follow. Positive social change is contagious.”

Morgan Foster ’11
Doctor of Public Health student and Master of Public Health graduate who lives in North Dakota

“My experience in Panama was wonderful. Not only did I experience a different culture, I was able to connect with fellow classmates. I went on this trip with a completely open mind and eagerness to learn and help others in any way I could.

“The most surprising part of the trip was that there are people who live with very little means (no electricity or food) and who have to walk hours just to get transportation to get their disabled child into town for therapy.

“I work with people who have disabilities and also have a disability of my own, so I fully understand how important positive social change can be. At times, people are not always accepted or treated fairly because they may be different or less fortunate. In my current position, I advocate for my clients so that they can experience positive social opportunities and be treated normally. I aim to educate people about disabilities to show them that having a disability does not make someone different, but unique. My experience has taught me a lot and I hope through a continuing effort to educate, I can indeed contribute to positive social change.

“This trip inspired me to volunteer more. I think anyone can effect social change. A simple gesture or saying hello can go a long way. In my experience in Panama, just holding one of the children’s hands was enough for the child—and myself—to be calm and content. It is a wonderful feeling knowing you have made a difference in a person’s day.”

Learn more about Walden’s study abroad opportunities.