Blog Post #1 – Matthew K Long – Binghamton University Trip to Malawi

When it came time for me to choose a location in which to study I wanted to find a program that would take me off-the-beaten-track. Walking into the Binghamton Study Abroad Fair back in February I was immediately struck by the sign for Malawi. The chance to study and explore one of the more remote corners of Africa was an opportunity I could not pass up.  With that the desire though I must be prepared to face, comprehend and process all that Malawi has to offer.

I’m anticipating that one of the hardest aspects of this entire trip will be confronting the harsh realities of HIV/AIDS. As an individual who identifies as a gay male who was born essentially after the AIDS crisis in America I’ve avoided seeing the true damage that this disease can exact. We live in a world where an individual like Magic Johnson can survive for decades with medication. This is not the case for the people we will encounter on this trip. For them, AIDS is as it was here: a Death Sentence. I’m not entirely sure how confronting this reality will impact me.

Another source of uncertain apprehension comes from confronting the realities of poverty at this magnitude. I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the life I’ve been able to live. The sheer fact that my family is able to afford to help send me to Africa for a study abroad program establishes that my family is more financially secure than most of the world. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa and the widespread nature of it is something with which I will struggle immensely. It’s a sobering thought to realize that while we’ll be at our hotel enjoying the comforts of home the individuals we will encounter will be struggling to survive each day.

Ultimately I’m excited to face the challenges of the next two weeks. I look forward to broadening my horizons and learning more about a culture and way of life different from the one in Binghamton.

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Blog Post #1 – Erin E. Law – Binghamton U. Trip to Malawi

(Erin is Community Schools Volunteer Coordinator with the Center for Civic Engagement and  pursuing a dual degree: MSW and MPA)

I’m having a difficult time putting into words how I am feeling. For the last few days I have been walking around my house throwing items into a suitcase and hoping that I don’t forget anything. My feelings are: one part nervous, one part anxious, and one part excited.

In January, when I first heard about this program, I thought, Over my dead body is anyone stopping me from going on this trip. In March, after receiving my letter of acceptance, I thought Oh crap, this is real! Two weeks ago, I began to feel calm and ready to take this adventure. As you can tell, I’m back to the oh crap feeling, but I know that I would regret not taking this opportunity for the rest of my life.

While I am so excited to play with the children, work with the young women in the rural villages and go on a safari (whhaaaaat?!) I am also interested to see if/how much I change from these two weeks. After completing my first year at Binghamton in the Social Work and Public Administration programs, I truly feel like a different (read: better) person than I was less than a year ago. I won’t lie, I expecting to go to Malawi and have my world changed. That’s partly because so many people have told me that that’s what is going to happen and partly because this is something that I have always wanted to do, yet it is completely out of my comfort zone.

I’m excited, I’m nervous, I don’t know exactly what to expect and I have a feeling that I don’t know exactly how attached I am about to become to a small country in Africa. Malawi, let’s do this! (And if it’s not too much trouble, can I please see some elephants at the Wildlife Reserve?!)

Blog Post #1 – Maria Matute – Trip to Malawi

(Maria is a Binghamton University Sociology major)

As someone who has never the left the U.S, I am very humbled by this opportunity. I have many mixed feelings; I am anxious, excited, scared but optimistic. I know this experience will teach me many valuable lessons. This trip took so much work to plan and for that I am thankful to everyone involved to make this happen. I am extremely enthusiastic about working with the women and children. I’ve worked with kids for a very long time and I know it is a very rewarding experience when you see children accomplish their goals. I have never been away from the country so it will definitely take some getting used to at first. I chose Malawi because of the service learning aspect and because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. I hope to create an impact on them, as I know they will on me.

I want to learn and gain a wider perspective on the world. With the knowledge I hope to obtain, I would like to create awareness about the obstacles that many families face in the Binghamton commBinghamton U. Trip to Malawiunity. At a prestigious public university that offers many privileges, we need to acknowledge that the world doesn’t just revolve around us. It’s important to keep an open mind and accept the fact the many other people face a harsh reality caused by years of exploitation and ignorance. The issue in Malawi that impacted me the most was about the education system for children. After doing research for my issue brief paper, I was overwhelmed to find out how corrupt the education system is in Malawi. This system hasn’t provided children with the opportunities to overcome the poverty they live in. Instead the teaching system has been very inconsistent in regards to teacher quality and this has discouraged many young children from attending. This is just one major issue that Malawi faces; there are still issues of government corruption, health care and environmental concerns that have caused famine for many years. Despite all their difficulties many families find a way to survive and that is very inspiring.
This has made me put into perspective the different benefits that we, as students, take for granted. I know that this trip will be a reality check for me and I know it will impact me in a positive way. Since I still haven’t gone through the trip yet, I am looking forward to learning in what ways we can assist the Malawians. I want to educate myself about their lifestyle and appreciate everything them have to offer us. I am taking into consideration that traveling to Malawi is more about me taking initiative and using my resources and prior knowledge to help others; as well has providing emotional support that many from MCM (Malawi Children’s Mission) may never have received before. I am honored to be traveling to Malawi and to be part of this group that aspires for an equal opportunity and more educated world.

Blog Post #1 – Bridgette Hathaway Trip to Malawi

(Bridgette is a Binghamton University MSW student)

ABCD to Promote Social-Emotional Wellbeing for Youth in Malawi

I feel excited and anxious. Concerning the actual trip—Malawi, Africa: here I come! I anticipate a life-changing experience; seeing a part of the world on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. As I pack, my excitement gains momentum and yet the feelings are bittersweet.

I realize the course title encompasses social-emotional wellbeing for youth and the anxiety I’m experiencing is directly linked to the social-emotional wellbeing of my daughter. She is seven, and while we made the decision together for me to travel to Malawi, I’m already beginning to miss her, wondering if this decision was appropriate. She stays at her father’s Monday and Tuesday nights so I don’t see her right now as I prepare for the trip. I am already missing her. This is undoubtedly one of the largest hurdles I’ll face in this experience.

Malawi journals for HathawaysA total of 15 days; I’m absolutely positive we will both survive. I contemplate that the children in Malawi are orphans and no longer have at least one of their parents, if not both. Suddenly, I understand what a great privilege I have; both of us alive, loving each other. I know that the odds are in our favor that, following the trip, we will reunite in joy and share our stories of when we were apart. I intend to keep a journal on the trip and purchased matching journals and pens to keep us connected.

Some of the broader issues that arise for me right now are the feelings I will face when saying goodbye to my daughter on Thursday, as well as saying goodbye to the citizens of Malawi that I meet, two weeks from now. Human interactions are rich with social-emotional bonding, and separating these bonds creates a chasm of anxiety. Losing a parent, or both, must completely trivialize the concept of education and career. Deciding “what to be when you grow up” when you’ve already lost significant people in your life potentially creates feelings of inconsequentiality.

As someone working in public service, I should consider my approach. Sweeping in with gusto and bravado to “help” may translate as callous and lacking empathy. Empowering children to take hold of their future is essential; however, recognizing how much they have survived and how emotionally mature they may feel, is vital. Consequently, working with Malawi’s youth may require a unique approach. A gentle approach, a respectful approach, an approach customized to consider the perspective of the child who has experienced far more than initially anticipated.

And so, coming full circle, I must apply this same approach to my daughter when I separate myself from her for this trip. I must kneel, make eye contact, and tune-in to the experience from her point of view. I must be sincere and direct, explain to her my purpose and thoughts, and receive her social-emotional input equally. I must reassure her, and myself, that together, even apart, we can do anything we set our minds to. Likewise, I must maintain the bonds I make with the people of Malawi, through letters and media. Through our connections we will empower each other to create a better world within which we live.

Blog Post # 1 – Jennifer Wapinski-Mooradian Trip to Malawi

(Jennifer is a Binghamton University MSW student)

Anticipation

MalawiI first saw this opportunity for international social work in Malawi back in January and I was immediately intrigued. As a kid, I had had a desire to visit Africa and now, as an adult, reading for the first time about this new Malawi program being offered this summer, I felt that desire stir again.

Traveling, like learning, is an optimistic act: that life away from home is both safe and worth witnessing. I believe that the two weeks we spend with Malawians will have value beyond what we are able to accomplish working together. And yet, the closer our departure date for the Malawi Service Learning trip has gotten, the more strongly I have felt drawn to start projects around my house. Beyond buying small tubes of toothpaste and sunscreen, I have not yet begun packing.

Just yesterday, hours before I finally purchased the bus ticket that will take me from Binghamton to Grand Central Station, I went into my barn to get our mower and I paused to take a moment to visually organize the jumble of barn stuff before I resisted examining it. After mowing, I pruned a large bush and two of my children carted its fallen boughs away to the compost. I gave them frosty popsicles after they were finished. It was the first relaxed, sunny afternoon we had shared in a very long time, since the spring semester had finished.

As much as I am eager for this experience on the African continent, I am dreading being away from my family for these first warm spring days. My urge to organize and prune is not about hyper-responsible homeownership; it’s really about being grounded in what I love here at home, yearning to take care of it, but knowing that I’ve committed to going far away. Also, my urge may have some roots in denial due to my irrational fear of flying.

Blog Post #1 – Clark Soulia. Trip to Malawi – Summer 2016

(Clark is a MSW student at Binghamton University)

Well…here is the first blog post (of four) documenting my upcoming trip to Malawi with three other MSW graduate students, three undergraduate students from various areas of study, and two professors. If you would have asked me five years ago when I was getting back into college, after almost twenty years away from academia, where I could see myself, I would have never said, “in graduate school finalizing a trip to Malawi Africa.”

As I get ready to embark on this trip across the globe, I find myself in a place mentally, emotionally, and eventually physically, that I have never been before. All of this will be new to me right down to the bus trip to New York City. I have never been to NYC; I have flown only once for 90 minutes, twenty years ago, and I have never been out of the United States. So, needless to say, I have been both excited and frightened for this trip; many times floating back and forth between the two within seconds of one another.

Clark SouliaCurrently, I am sitting here on my couch looking over my living room at two small suitcases, a pile of clothes, lots of small knick-knacks, a few deflated soccer balls, and a large cup of black coffee. The clock says 11:30, it is the deadline for this blog entry, and I am asking myself how I got here and what was I thinking when I made the decision to go on this trip.

Since my first year of Grad School has finished I have been on the road visiting friends and family before I leave and I have finally made it back to my apartment…alone once again, left with myself and my thoughts about this trip which, for a virgin traveler like myself, can spell bad news. I have been told that too much unsupervised playtime upstairs is not a good thing and I have certainly been stuck in my own mind a lot lately. I almost talked myself out of this trip on at least 50 occasions since being accepted into the program. Most of it based out of fear of the unknown and getting so far out of my comfort zone that I just want to crumble. I have lost sleep over this trip, isolated myself from others while thinking about this trip, only to finally come to a place of acceptance and gratitude for this adventure that awaits me and my fellow travelers. I have a feeling that this trip will help me grow in areas of my life that I never knew existed or have become dim over the years for various reasons.

I have a feeling that I will rely heavily on many of the lessons I learned while studying wilderness education/leadership during my undergraduate years. In many ways I confronted many of the same types of fears just in different forms. The common denominator between this Malawi trip and, say, a 16-day backpacking trip through the Siamese Ponds Wilderness or solo canoe trips through the Bog River Flow, is that fears were overcome and comfort zones challenged and expanded, resulting in growth that cannot be acquired by sitting in a classroom. This type of growth only comes from being out in the world…live without a net. Until my next blog post, be well.

Dr. Marion Nestle on Soda Politics

NestleBy: Chuck Schwerin

Dr. Marion Nestle, renowned nutritionist and author  of the recently-released Soda Politics (Oxford University Press) was scheduled to address an IMS audience at 5:00 p.m. on April 28th, followed by a book-signing at home of the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) at the University Downtown Center.  The University bookstore was prepared with four of her latest works and upwards of 75 people from the University and community were expected. Marion Nestle is a big deal in the world of nutrition. The Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, she had just returned from a successful trip to Australia, where her views on revelations about the soda industry’s financial support of academic studies on soda and obesity had made a splash in the Aussie press.

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Click here to read her interview in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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At 2:00 Marion called me to say there was a problem; a close friend might have just had a heart attack and she was waiting to accompany him to the hospital. Despite all, she said, she was still hoping to make it to Binghamton, but could I come get her in Ithaca if the health scare proved a false alarm.

Her ability to compartmentalize astounded me and I assured her the lecture was a lower priority. I was already anticipating all the logistics that would have to be unraveled if the event were to be cancelled.  I called Dean Bronstein and updated her on Marion’s plight; she expressed alarm for the condition of Marion’s friend and also asked me to work out a decision with her about the lecture.

I called Marion back and said, “Let’s keep our options open. I’ll come to Ithaca. If you feel he is stable and can leave for a couple of hours I will shuttle you down and back.” I wondered whether an epic was in the offing.

At 4:30, while her friend waited for the medical community to sort out what had happened, we arrived at the Downtown Campus and Marion, all business, set about making sure the computer/projector setup was to her liking for her well-oiled talk.

Her lecture, sponsored by the Organized Research Center, the Institute for Multigenerational Studies (IMS), began with a nod to the political reactions to a proposed soda tax in Philadelphia. Only Berkeley, California has managed to pass such a tax in an America city; Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to do so in New York City crashed under the weight of intense soda lobbying efforts. Now, Mayor Kenney was trying a new tack: revenue from the three cents-per-ounce tax (three times what Berkeley managed to impose) would  be directed to fund universal pre-K education in the city. Hillary Clinton, Marion announced, was squarely behind the measure while her Democratic counterpart, Bernie Sanders, was against it, stating it was a regressive tax.

On the dual screens in Room 220 the audience saw shocking graphics of how much sugar (10 teaspoons) is contained in a single 12-ounce can of Coke, and we learned from Marion that 1/3 to 1/2 of all sugar in our diets comes from soda, and that the amount consumed in this country is equivalent to one 12-ounce can per person per day.

The interest the Australian press took in Marion emanated from her critique of the plethora of ostensibly objective research papers that have actually been underwritten by the soda industry and, in particular, those studies that purport to show that obesity is due to lack of physical activity, not the food and drink we ingest.

Marion pointed to hundreds of studies that, in the past, put to rest the notion that soda intake is closely correlated with obesity and the onset of Type-II diabetes and she excoriated those recent (industry-sponsored) papers that reported otherwise. She said that the arithmetic just doesn’t add up; one would have to exercise to death to burn off the calories soda introduces in order to fend off weight gain. The backlash from criticism leveled at the soda industry’s support of such studies by Marion and others has been swift. Coke just decided to suspend funding of all academic research.

The audience, fully engaged, asked many questions, including whether fruit juice is any better than soda in terms of sugar intake. Marion differentiated the two on the basis of the nutritional value that fruit juice contains and the fact that juice is not typically ingested as a substitute for water, as is soda.

While recent trends in sports drinks and other designer water products appears to suggest that Americans are choosing not to drink soda at the same rate as perhaps they had historically, the industry is adjusting by diversifying their product mix to include such alternatives and by advertising soda more heavily in other parts of the world. In Africa alone, Marion stated, Coke spends $17 billion annually promoting its eponymous drink.

After the stimulating lecture and a little while accommodating book buyers Marion joined me for the ride back to Ithaca.  When we arrived, her friend had dinner waiting for us on the table, still sporting a bandage from the I.V. that had disrupted his afternoon’s gardening. Epic dodged and lecture enjoyed.