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The Fellowship Experience: 2012 Fellows

The transformation of a Chinese school

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The bell rang, but the students at Ci Ying Secondary School in China had no interest in leaving class. They were too enthralled by the Pixar movie “Up,” being shown with the digital projector and portable screen just installed by Cathy Hao.

“The kids were so excited,” said Hao, a senior biochemistry and integrated neuroscience major from Vestal. “You cannot imagine. Most of the kids don’t have TVs, so for them to see an animated movie on Blu-ray disc was amazing.”

The movie was just one part of a three-week visit in June that benefited students and teachers at Ci Ying, a school of 1,600 sixth- through ninth-graders in the rural village of the same name.

Hao, 21, who was born in China and moved to the United States at age 8, spent fall 2011 studying in Shanghai. She took a class called “Shanghai in Perspective,” and one section of the course dealt with differences between urban and rural education in China. She also taught English on weekends to children of migrant workers in Shanghai who were unable to attend the city’s public schools because their parents were from elsewhere. Hao had already visited schools in Shanghai that had luxuries such as robotics rooms and libraries with e-readers and electronic dictionaries.

“I got to see first-hand the inequality that exists in terms of education across the nation,” Hao said. “The class and my volunteer experience really motivated me to try to help the children in rural parts of China.”

A friend, fellow Binghamton University student James Men, had visited Ci Ying Secondary School in 2011 and talked with school officials about what equipment was needed. Hao and the School of Management student soon developed the Harpur Fellow project.

Hao’s proposal included bringing new audio-visual equipment to the school, instructing teachers on how to use technology, and reorganizing and rebuilding a school library.

After spending the spring semester at Manchester University in England, Hao met Men in Beijing and made the long journey to Ci Ying, where they were joined by a third Binghamton University student, Heidi Zhang. The trio bought and installed a laptop, projector and screen, while helping the teachers understand technical setup and software.

“We purchased DVDs ranging from history documentaries to physics and biology experiments,” Hao said. “Whatever lessons the teachers were doing that week, they could use the DVDs (to supplement) the material. We wanted to bridge the education from the textbook to the real thing.”

Hao then tackled the school library, with boxes of donated books sitting on a damp floor.

“James and I felt that a library is essential to children’s education,” she said. “They can’t afford to buy books outside of their basic textbooks. Few have computers at home and fewer have the Internet.”

Hao had used funds from the fellowship to purchase industrial, metal bookshelves for the library.

“It was stacks of metal and a bag of screws, nuts and bolts,” she said. “So (James and I) assembled them by hand! It was such a daunting task. But we finished it in two to three days.”

For Hao, who plans to become a doctor, the Harpur Fellows program represents the growth and vitality of internationalization at Binghamton University.

“It’s important for students to become more aware of the world and to feel a sense a responsibility to our global community,” Hao said. It’s important to help other nations as we grow ourselves.”

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A lesson in caring in Binghamton

Students researching outdoors

In September 2011, the Binghamton University community came together to assist the victims of a devastating flood. The Events Center became a Red Cross shelter and students spent several weeks helping to clean up the region.

But Derek Gumb saw the damage that local schools such as Owego Elementary sustained and realized that assistance needed to be a long-term project.

“When the floods happened, it hit home for me,” he said. “It was a call to action. My mom is a teacher and I’ve seen her struggle to use her own money to pay for school supplies. Binghamton is definitely an area in need. There is a need for school supplies — even desks, chairs and carts.”

Gumb, a 21-year-old philosophy, politics and law (PPL) major, had spent two summers and a winter break serving as an intern for Class Wish, a nonprofit organization based in Manhattan. Class Wish provides an online donation platform (www.ClassWish.org) that connects teachers needing school supplies with community members who can help. Teachers post their wanted supplies online, while donors can search for and give money toward those items.

“I connected the dots,” Gumb said. “I interned at Class Wish and this was part of Class Wish — making an easy donation system to help teachers. I found out about the Harpur Fellows program and all of the pieces fell together. It came about naturally.”

Gumb prepared for his interview with the Harpur Fellows committee by reaching out to former fellows, learning about their projects and seeking advice for his own.

“They were all so helpful,” said Gumb, who added that their main advice was to let his passion for the project show during the interview process.

After getting teachers and administrators from Owego Elementary and Johnson City Elementary on board and able to post supply needs online, Gumb turned to community groups. He stayed in the Binghamton area for a month after classes ended, speaking to business owners, parent-teacher organizations, local fairs and Rotary clubs. He raised $3,000 that will go toward a variety of supplies for the schools. Gumb continued to work on fundraising over the summer from his Bayside home.

“The nature of the (fellowship) is independent and entrepreneurial,” said Gumb, who will serve as Student Association executive vice president during his senior year. “It’s for people who are passionate about a project and have the drive to get it done by themselves. That’s who I am.”

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'Poverty is not eternal' in Tajikistan

Students researching outdoors

Munira Pulodi knows all about the importance of hope. She was born and raised in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic that has been plagued by civil war and economic hardship since becoming independent in 1991.

“Tajikistan is the poorest country in Central Asia,” Pulodi said. “I grew up witnessing all of the poverty and things I’ve never seen in the U.S. — a real level of helplessness. Many families are starving. Kids have no choice: They go to the market (to work) and carry heavy bags of flour and greens.”

Pulodi, 19, and her mother left Tajikistan three years ago to come to the United States. She spent her freshman year at community colleges before starting at Binghamton University in fall 2011.

“It felt very welcoming,” the junior biology and Russian major said of Binghamton. “I liked the relationships between the faculty members, staff and students. I thought I could get involved and achieve a lot here.”

Pulodi served as an ambassador for the Center for Civic Engagement and as a mentor to Johnson City students. She also helped to develop the International Connections organization.

When Pulodi heard about the Harpur Fellows program, she realized it was a great opportunity to aid children in her homeland.

“I wanted to do something efficient and realistic,” she said. “I wanted to show them that there is a chance of getting out. Poverty is not eternal.”

Pulodi partnered with a nongovernmental organization called Youth House that selects 35-40 Tajikistani children to take part in summer programs and classes. In the summer of 2012, Pulodi worked with and mentored teens for two hours a day, five days per week. She introduced the teens to different cultures and used American games, songs and books to help them gain a basic knowledge of English and improve communication skills.

Working with younger children is nothing new for Pulodi.

“Growing up in my country, I was always surrounded by children,” she said. “I would gather them from my neighborhood and teach them about the alphabet and how to write their names.” The project also gave the children a chance to see a role model who is now earning an education at a premier American university.

“I want them to look at me and say, ‘I can go, too,’” Pulodi said. “Before I came to the U.S., I had to go through challenges and overcome so much. I haven’t achieved that much yet, but I’m proud to be at Binghamton University and doing this project. Who knows? Maybe some of them will study here someday.”

When her project was completed, Pulodi spent the rest of the summer taking part in a prestigious biotechnology internship in Enden, Germany, with the International Association for Exchange Students with Technical Experience. But she intends to continue her collaboration with Youth House on an annual basis.

“This is just the beginning,” she said. “This is something that is close to my heart. It makes me happy that I can use my knowledge and skills to help others."

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Art therapy in Belarus

Students researching outdoors

When Natalia Chapovalova mentored children at the Boys and Girls Club in Binghamton, she would often draw portraits and encourage the students to draw self-portraits.

“I’ve always been aware of the power of art to help people and add something valuable to their lives,” she says.

Chapovalova turned to art when she decided to pursue a Harpur fellowship to help children in Belarus who have suffered from the aftereffects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. The 21-yearold created an art-therapy program for young children from the contaminated zone in Belarus’ Gomel region. The UKbased organization Children of Chernobyl takes the youths each year to a camp in the small village of Ptitch, Belarus, where they are able to get away from their daily lives in orphanages and institutions.

“These children have mental and physical handicaps that are mostly tied to the habitation in that region,” says Chapovalova, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, moved to the United States at age 5, and now lives in Westchester County. “People with disabilities are stigmatized in Russian culture. In America, we have more acceptance and more programs for them. But in Belarus, there are fewer outlets for the children.”

Chapovalova spent the month of August working with about 100 children — ages 7-14 — in groups of 30 at a time.

“I’m going to have them create a chapter book of their lives,” she said before leaving Binghamton University for the trip. “Every day, they’ll get huge pieces of paper to make a new chapter: What are your favorite things? Who are you? They’ll draw and paint in free expression. It’s about releasing emotions — talking about everything from who you are and where you come from, to hopes for the future and what they might be afraid of.”

Chapovalova also worked with the staff members and caregivers from the various orphanages and institutions on how to continue the arttherapy program in the future.

“You can have a program like this once and it will help the children,” she says. “But if you never have it again, it will become obsolete. I want to provide the caregivers with ideas to take to their own institutions. Even the contaminated region that the children are escaping for the summer can become a haven for them.”

The art-therapy program is just one step in Chapovalova’s long-term plan to help Chernobyl victims.

“It’s my ultimate goal to work in that region of the world and study the health effects of the Chernobyl disaster,” she says.

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A winning program in Guatemala

Students researching outdoors

“Chuck.” “Chuck.” “Chuck,” the students yelled out to the young volunteer from the United States.

Raimi A. Ade-Salu ’12 received a hero’s welcome in April when he returned to the Corazón para los Niños school in Salcaja, Guatemala, to help build a sports program.

“I walked by the school and students stopped their classes and started screaming to me,” he said.

The students continued to call out Ade-Salu’s nickname, “Chuck,” which comes from his chuckling on the basketball court.

“They were fascinated by that name,” Ade-Salu said with a smile.

Ade-Salu, 21, became fascinated with the rural school and its students when he visited Guatemala with a friend in the summer of 2011. He was looking for a school where he could study Spanish and volunteer and learned of the institution, which provides afternoon education for children who work in the mornings. Ade-Salu, who played basketball in high school and served as manager of Binghamton University’s men’s basketball team, taught the sport and made connections with pupils in the school’s first through sixth grades.

The school and its students were still on Ade-Salu’s mind when the Harpur Fellow application period drew near.

“I thought: ‘What can I do for them?’” he said. “I felt like if I could help people and make a change, then why not do it? That pushed me to apply for the fellowship.”

Ade-Salu first considered a project that would have provided laptop computers to the school. But he developed his proposal after thinking back to a conversation he had with a volunteer coordinator at the school about the power of sports and the life lessons they offer.

“I realized that the people I was trying to help knew best,” Ade-Salu said. “I needed to help them help themselves. The (fellowship) funds basically implemented a budget for a sports program that had been run by donations.”

The project helped purchase equipment and uniforms, along with materials that were used to build basketball hoops, soccer goals and volleyball nets. The funds also provided a stipend for the school’s volunteer physical education teacher.

Ade-Salu, who is from Brooklyn and transferred to Binghamton University from SUNY Canton after his freshman year, returned to Guatemala over spring break of 2012, less than two months before graduation.

“I came with nothing but money and my clothes,” he said. “Everything was bought and made there.”

The project became part of the community, as equipment was bought from local stores and experts specializing in wood and metal. Ade-Salu was even able to provide a Bearcat touch, as he traced and painted the University logo on various pieces of equipment. The school has money left over to purchase more equipment.

“It’s a continuing project,” Ade-Salu said. “I just oversaw the beginning of it.”

Ade-Salu, who received the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence in 2012, will soon teach special education in Hawaii as part of Teach for America. The fellowship is a foundation for being able to assist those in need, he said.

“Being a Harpur Fellow enables me to be a person who can create programs for youths and help students better themselves,” he said. “This honor gives me hope for the future."

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Last Updated: 12/9/13