Enrichment Award Reports
Volunteer Research Experience Surveying Humpback Whales in Coastal Ecuador, by Shailja Gangrade
This past July, I spent three weeks in the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador exploring marine life and later focusing on surveying humpback whale populations during their breeding season in the southern Pacific. I began my travels on three of the Galapagos Islands: Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal. There, I delved into the coastal communities and their conservation practices. During my brief visit, I gained a new consciousness of sorts. The Galapagos is the only place I have ever travelled to where the human species does not seem to be in control of the land and the sea: the animals and plants do. Yes, the dozens of tour operations and countless westernized restaurants create this surface layer of modernization and development, but the islands and surrounding coastal waters serve as the Galapagos national park and marine reserve, a preserved habitat for all the wildlife.
I spent my days snorkeling in various parts of the island, understanding how the marine species interact and thrive. After exploring the Galapagos, I headed to mainland Ecuador and its coast to join a biological researcher and professor named Dr. Judith Denkinger and her team with a project called CETACEA Ecuador. The field station we stayed in was located in Caimito, a village about an hour south of Atacames. In the middle of the Choco Forest, the field station sits atop a tree-covered hill and overlooks the rolling tropical landscape. The house relies on a few electric lines, water tanks for showers, and dry toilets. Its rustic style reminded me to really appreciate all the materialistic items I own at home. Every day we would have fresh bananas, papaya, and cherimoya (also known as soursop) picked from the plants around us. Some of the freshest and tastiest fruit I’ve ever had!
Although some days we could see whales breach from standing on the beach, we would go out anywhere from 3 to 12 miles off the coast to capture the whales in two ways: photo identification and hydrophone acoustic data. Whenever we saw some activity, we noted how many whales we saw, the GPS coordinates, and the type of behavior the activity may have indicated. We would boat over to the whales, snap our pictures, while also plunging our hydrophone down into the water and listening to their conversations. It was amazing to see whales breaching right next to you while also listening to their sophisticated sounds.
Acoustic signaling between whales is complex. Whales use muscular contractions to move air over internal body parts that vibrate and make sound. Check out this TED talk about why whales sing (https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-do-whales-sing-stephanie-sardelis). Whale songs are variable and can be repeated for hours. Males are the only ones that sing these repeated patterns and our study was looking at how these songs relate to behavior. It is believed that males use these songs to deter other males from mating with a certain female. Phrases of songs can be shared between different populations, in a phenomenon called cultural transmission. The acoustic signals, because of their unique nature, can illuminate certain features of social behavior and therefore genetic tendencies of the whales.
I learned many lessons during my research experience and travels. Most explicitly, I learned about humpback whale population dynamics and how researchers look into understanding these large marine mammals. Their breeding patterns and social interactions are really important to understand the health of the general ecosystem as well. Most importantly though, I learned most about what conducting research looks like in a developing country. The coast of Ecuador is highly undeveloped and consists of fishing villages that rely on daily catches as well as local harvests to support their small economies. Academic research in Ecuador is not widely funded like here in the U.S., and they rely on much fewer materials and resources to conduct their studies. I also learned how much the people of Ecuador live off the land and the sea. Not much on the coast is highly commercialized at all—it is raw and beautiful, and this translates into how they view wildlife and their conservation practices.
However, coastal management can be difficult. Because of the lack of development, a lack of enforcement exists. The coastal waters are part of the Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve and therefore there are catch limits as well as restrictions to what stocks can be fished. For example, juvenile populations must be thrown back into the water and should not contribute to exploitable stock; however, when we saw the fishermen’s catch of the day come in, we would often see juvenile lobsters entangled in their nets. Lack of education about conservation practices also contributes to this potential exploitation. Community education is difficult though. As Dr. Denkinger noted, there is a slight cultural barrier between the researchers coming from Quito and the villagers who rely on the catches for income. The potential to educate the village communities is there and is something the CETACEA project is trying to encompass as part of its mission.
This trip has really solidified my passion to study coastal marine populations. I now know that I definitely want to work toward conserving coastal marine resources (organisms, water, food) and understanding coastal management practices better so that research can continue to be conducted on amazing species such as humpback whales.
¡Aprendi mucho en Ecuador y espero volver algun dia a la costa hermosa mirar las ballenas jorobadas!
Engineers Without Borders in Malawi, by Jordan Shuff
This August, I had the opportunity to travel to Malawi, a country in South-East Africa, with a team of four students from Engineers Without Borders. During this trip, we worked with 2 communities—Mphero and Chilimani—to help engineer solutions to their water needs. Last year, we drilled two successful borehole wells in Mphero, a village that had never seen water inside its boundaries. We returned to Mphero to monitor this project, and were excited to find our system was still functioning and the Water Committee we formed was up to date on all their maintenance training. We also began a new partnership with Chilimani, a community forced to walk very long distances for water, so we conducted a number of assessment activities to determine how best to solve their water needs. As project manager for the team, I had spent a lot of time prepping for this trip, but nothing could have prepared me for when we landed on the ground. Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” and we received the warmest of welcomes when we arrived in the village- complete with singing, dancing, and chanting!
We started off greeting the chiefs and leaders of the communities who took us on a tour of the communities, stopping so we could analyze the existing water sources. The next day, we had a team of geophysicists arrive from Zambia, who we helped conduct electromagnetic and vertical electric soundings to identify potential “hotspots” for ground water. Using these techniques, we identified four potential drilling spots for our implementation next year. We also conducted household survey to allow us to better understand the culture and needs of the community. This was one of my favorite parts because we got to sit down with many community members and get to know and they welcomed us into their households. Additionally, we performed water quality testing at Chancellor College, a nearby university in Zomba. Not only was it awesome to learn some chemistry, we got to connect with students and professor who live in a completely different culture and learn from them.
While we completed a lot of work during the trip, we still had some time for fun! After many invitations, we agreed to go to the finals for the inter-village soccer league. Little did we know, that we were VIP’s for the game! They had us take a penalty kick and greet all the players to initiate the game. During half time, we got up to dance since there was music playing, and we were quickly surrounded by 1,000 pair of curious eyes. It was an incredible experience! We also go to spend one day in Liwonde National Park, where we saw hippos, zebras, and elephants- oh my!!
After spending the majority of our trip in the villages, we headed to the city of Blantyre for the last two days. Here, we met with numerous drillers, contractors, and suppliers to identify who we want to partner with to supply water to Chilimani. Over the course of two weeks, we went from being strangers in a community, to having lifelong friends there and being prepared to return and implement a solution to the community’s water problem.
UD Chorale Tour and Beyond, by Thomas Schreck
In the summer of 2017, the UD Chorale, directed by UD professor Paul D. Head, embarked on an international tour consisting of various projects that took us to four countries. Following the trip, I participated in the annual Delaware Choral Academy in Aix-en-Provence, France. Over the course of the trip, I had the opportunity to collaborate and connect with numerous musicians from all over the world in various capacities. One of the most fulfilling aspects of the tour for me was the chance to see how music connects people.
Each day of the tour presented new opportunities and challenges. Although we had been intensely preparing all year, the sheer amount of music that we had to perform in the various concerts was immense. While in Jerusalem, the choir rehearsed Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, an intense and demanding choral-orchestral work, with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. After a few long days of rehearsal, we performed the work throughout Israel in beautiful concert halls filled with receptive audiences. After our final concert with the JSO, the Chorale continued to tour and give concerts throughout Israel. The country was incredibly beautiful and filled with a rich history. Having the opportunity to learn about the history of the region firsthand was eye-opening.
On the way to the choir’s next engagement in Malta, we had the opportunity to stop in Greece for just over a day. Although the time spent in Athens was short, the experience was invaluable. While in Athens, we exchanged and performed with the choir from The American College of Greece. The students were eager to meet us and immediately started to get to know us. We had the chance to compare and discuss our experiences as university students and sing songs from each of our cultures. After the initial exchange, we performed a concert together at the college’s open-air amphitheater. Despite our short stay in Athens, we learned a great deal about students much like ourselves and made lifelong connections with other musicians from across the globe.
After departing from Athens, the choir arrived in Malta for a week of collaborations and rehearsals as we prepared for our competition in Germany. We worked with a choir from Malta and we had the opportunity to perform two concerts in a beautiful church located in Victoria, Malta. Preparations for the competition were intense, and everyone came together to hold each other accountable and collectively strive to be the best that we could be.
When we arrived in Frankfurt and competed in the Mainhausen International Choral Festival, it was clear that all of our hard work and dedication had paid off. Despite not winning the competition, the electricity that we spread throughout the room was palpable. The performances were wrought with passion and emotion. I have been performing in choirs for years, but I have never felt a connection to a group of people like I did on that day. We also made friends with musicians from all over the world during the competition, bonding over our shared love of music.
The final leg of the tour was the Choral Symposium in France. We had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in French culture while studying and performing choral music from various time periods and genres. The concerts were powerful, and I had the opportunity to work with inspiring singers and faculty under the direction of Dr. Paul Head.
Summer Internship at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, by Eric Rouviere
I received the Honor Enrichment Award to help fund my summer internship in Paris, France. I was “un stagiaire” at the Pasteur Institute, a science institute that is famous for its contributions to pathology and medicine such as the development of vaccines and the isolation of the HIV virus. While many labs at Pasteur study infectious diseases, I worked in a bacterial morphology lab studying how bacteria maintain their rod shape through growth and division.My project was heavily based in microscopy and microbiology. To characterize the molecular system that governs bacterial cell shape, I used the techniques I acquired in BISC 411 and the lab that I work at here at UD. In the photo below I am seen admiring my efforts in molecular biology by imaging E. coli cells I genetically modified.
Located in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, eating lunch on the rooftop of my research building gave great views of Paris’s left bank with the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides and Le Panthéon in the distance. In line with French culinary excellence (and substantial French subsidies), the cafeteria at Pasteur was outstanding. For three euros one can buy a meal with a salad, a main course, a dessert, and cheese and bread, something I will miss dearly as I return to having to cook for myself.
For housing, I lived at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, which is a campus for foreign students to live while studying in Paris. With 130 nationalities represented it was a great place to meet new and interesting people from all walks of life. Each nation has a house that lodges students from that country and each dorm is built in the style of the country of origin making the Cité U a well-known site for architecture. During the weekends I spent my time exploring the city and getting to know each arrondissement as well as traveling to nearby countries. After my 11 weeks abroad I know Paris “like my pocket” as the French say and my French has improved greatly. This, in combination with the excellent science experience, made this summer a superb summer on all fronts.
Volunteering at an Orphanage in Thailand, by Rachel McCabe
When I received the news that I was able to travel to Thailand for a service trip to volunteer at an orphanage, I was ecstatic. I went into the experience hoping to be able to help these children or leave an impression on them in some way. However, by the end of my two week stay, I feel that they were the ones that changed me. Chiang Mai, Thailand, was above and beyond what I expected.
Although the breath taking sites, elaborate temples, rich culture, and delicious food were enough to make my trip amazing, volunteering at the orphanage in the town of Doi Suket was the highlight of every day.
My first day, I was slightly nervous to meet everyone. However, from the moment I arrived, I could feel the love and warm welcoming from each of the 39 children in the home. Within a few minutes, I was learning their favorite card games, playing uno, playing soccer, helping with homework and folding paper into intricate designs. In what seemed like no time at all, they screamed to me “Dinner!” and two of the girls grabbed either hand of mine, a person they just met a few hours prior, to lead me into their dining room. Saying goodbye, or “Sawasdee Ka,” was hard to do even on my first day. Some of the children at the home were orphaned and some had families in small villages far away and were sent to live there so they could get a better education. As a volunteer I was able to provide a lot of love, attention, and compassion that the two couples running the children’s home could not single handedly provide equally to every child, and in exchange they showed me love, kindness, and a new perspective on life. Living in America it is easy to forget just how fortunate we are, and our society encourages us to strive to have more and more. These children did not have much, but they were so grateful for what they did have. I saw that they were genuinely thankful when you would bring a new deck of cards or a pack of paper. I could only say a handful of Thai words, and they could only say a handful of English words, but somehow this did not matter in the slightest. Over the course of two weeks, I gained many heart warming friendships, made memories that will last me a lifetime, and learned to feel fortunate for what I have every day of my life.
Chorale Summer Tour- Around the World in 52 days, by Alyssa Lubrano
On May 20th 2017, I boarded a plane to Israel to begin a nearly two month journey abroad with the UD Chorale. We worked all semester to prepare repertoire for our trip, starting with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana to be performed at concert halls across Israel with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. This was an exciting experience, as we had the opportunity to work with professional musicians and rehearse with a guest conductor to put on three incredible concerts! We also performed several concerts in beautiful venues across Israel that featured only the UD chorale doing our own repertoire from throughout the semester. It was incredible to see the audience react to our performances. I’ve never experienced such consistently excited and gracious audiences in my life!
We then traveled to Malta to perform with the famous Maltese composer and conductor, Joseph Vella. We premiered two of his works, collaborating with his own professional choir and orchestra. Traveling to Malta was something I never thought I would do, and thanks to this trip I was able to experience the beautiful island of Gozo, the incredible Maltese food, and of course perform in a stunning church. After these performances, we traveled to Germany to compete in the International Mainhausen Choral Competition. We competed in two categories— classical and jazz. I can definitely say that this was one of the most musically enriching experiences of my life. We worked tirelessly to come as close to perfect on both of our sets as possible, reaching a highly refined level of musicality that was thrilling to perform. Most members of the UD Chorale had never sung jazz, and I personally never knew how difficult jazz is to sing. Mastering a new style of music that was outside of our comfort zones was an experience that I will never forget. Dr. Paul Head, the director of Chorale, believed in us and would not lower his expectations, which made us determined to rise to the challenge. We received second place awards in both categories, and I am so proud to have been a part of the experience!
The last segment of our trip took place in Aix-en-Provence, France. This was a bit different from the rest of the tour, as it was the France Symposium that occurs annually, and is open to singers from any school or state. This was exciting because after moving around so frequently, we finally were able to settle into a beautiful apartment in France, where myself and 5 other members of the UD Chorale stayed. We rehearsed every day and met UD Chorale alumni, singers from schools across the country, and former students of Dr. Head from back when he taught high school. It was incredible to make connections with all of these new people, who all became close friends so quickly. We performed in intimate churches across the south of France and went on several excursions throughout the two weeks, visiting attractions such as Cassis, the Pont du Garde, and lavender fields in the Séneque Abbey. Performing in France was a beautiful way to end this tour (although I never wanted it to actually end)! I am so grateful to Dr. Head and the Honors Department for this life changing experience. It is truly one that I will never forget!
Internship With 100th Monkey Studio in Portland, Oregon, by Lauren Gaston
Thanks to the Honors Enrichment Award I had the opportunity to intern at the 100th Monkey Studio in Portland, Oregon for the summer. My internship explored both art therapy and art education as potential career options, as well as developed my curatorial and fine arts skills. Over the course of the summer, I gained experience with a variety of art therapy and studio groups. From day one of my internship, I worked in sessions with Full Life, an organization that helps adults of all ages with chronic illnesses, and physical or developmental disabilities. Initially, Beth Ann, my supervisor and one of the founders of the studio, took charge of the sessions. Beth Ann is a registered Art Therapist and shared many of her techniques with me and the other interns, allowing us to successfully connect with the participants and make their experience in the studio fulfilling. Throughout the three months, Beth Ann gradually involved herself less and less so that the interns were eventually leading the sessions by themselves. I typically worked with this group twice a week which allowed me to get to know the participants and gain an understanding of how the open studio sessions affect their lives. Although it was difficult to notice while in the internship, the responsibility of leading sessions increased my confidence and ease of interacting with participants from all sessions.
Through the internship, I was exposed to a variety of clients in sessions such as Teen Art Journaling, Supported Open Studio, Mindful Creative Expression, Adult Journal Group, Exploring Transitions; Adult Insight Oriented Workshops, and Family Open Studio. The variety of these sessions introduced me to a wide range of clients that art therapists can interact with and
support. During biweekly meetings with the interns, Beth Ann shared her experiences with individual and family art therapy. Since I am not a registered art therapist, I was unable to perform any art therapy services but the shared experiences gave incredible insight into what it’s like to be an art therapist and what private art therapy sessions are like. I had the unique opportunity over the summer to participate in a studio show titled “Gender Summit”. Participants in the show were required to come to the studio to work on their pieces. During these sessions, participants shared their experiences with gender differences and talked about their gender expression. In the beginning of August, I helped prepare and set the Gender Summit show up, giving me valuable experience that most art students don’t have access to until their final year of college or after.
Outside of the internship, I took advantage of Portland’s vibrant arts community. I lived at Portland State University during my internship and had the opportunity to explore the arts of Portland every day. In my free time, I took a wheel throwing class at Georgies Ceramics & Clay studio. Currently, I am using the skills I learned in the wheel throwing class to inform my work in an independent study I am taking this semester. The class reignited my love for ceramics and opened a third possible career I wish to pursue, ceramics art and education. Although my time in Portland was at times challenging, I cannot imagine a better opportunity to explore what having a career in art therapy and/or art education is like. I wouldn’t have been able to intern at the 100th Monkey Studio if not for the Honors Enrichment Award and I am grateful to the Honors Program donors for their generosity and support.
Summer Internship with KaTO Architecture, by Linda Gallagher
This past summer, I had the opportunity to work alongside professionals of KaTO architecture, a nonprofit, humanitarian architect firm based out of Richmond, VA. As a member of a diverse design team, my structural engineering skills were both challenged and enriched in redesigning a school for a village in La Romana, Dominican Republic. KaTO was founded by Kyle Murphy, an ambitious and altruistic designer whose purpose in founding this organization is to use architecture as a catalyst to further education in third world nations. KaTO works with individual communities across Central and South America to provide educational opportunities in villages where such facilities are lacking. I had the opportunity to work with fellow interns and community members on redesigning FUCPE, an existing yet impoverished elementary school located in the Dominican Republic, to design an inspirational and safe elementary school and community center.
The first week of this summer was spent traveling to the Dominican Republic with the design team and meeting community members of La Romana. Here, we discussed the most important aspect of the project: the community’s vision. We talked about social, medical and political issues in the region and discussed how we could go about addressing such problems through the power of architecture. Community members discussed several problems in the area, including a lack of access to medical facilities, a poor existing school building, and an absence of pride in their village. We spent mornings talking through these issues, and afternoons brainstorming in our temporary studio. We met with local architects, artists and political figures. We discovered that the community needed more than just an amped up elementary school. So often in underprivileged environments, schooling does not extend beyond 5th grade, however administrators of FUCPE hoped to change this. As a team, we landed on the idea to not only redesign the existing elementary school, but incorporate a middle / high school, community center and clinic, all in one.
Soon after, we returned to our home base in Richmond, Virginia and started developing our design. Weeks were spent constructing physical and digital models, and piecing together parts of each interns’ designs in order to come up with a final product. Following this process came my favorite part: the structural engineering side. I worked with two fellow interns under a Walter P. Moore certified engineer in creating a structurally sound building. It was incredibly interesting being faced with unfamiliar challenges related to local environmental patterns, material availability and level of skilled labor, all of which became major concerns. My main focus throughout the course of the summer lay in the structure’s column, beam and footing design, areas of engineering that I was previously unfamiliar with. Working on a team of such motivated and inspirational designers and engineers made this summer one for the books. I look forward to revisiting La Romana, seeing the new and improved FUCPE, and most importantly, reconnecting with a group of people that I will never forget.
Friends for Asia Medical Internship in Chiang Mai, Thailand, By Amy Elfond
After an eventful Saturday and Sunday of exploring a city I will call home for the next twenty days, I woke up with excitement at 7:30am on a Monday morning, ready to start my surgical rotation for the week. We all gather into the crowded red taxi truck to get dropped off at the different hospitals we are assigned to for the week. The job consisted of observing and shadowing doctors, studying real cases, and interacting with patients. The first week took place in McCormick Hospital. During the time period of 8:30am to 4pm, my time was spent mostly in the Operating Room watching incredible procedures, or in the break room laughing and snacking with the nurses, physician assistants, and surgeons. Here is a list of surgeries we were able to observe.
- C- section (4 of them!)
- Debris removal from a thumb after a motorcycle accident
- Spinal tumor removal/spinal decompression at C6-C7
- Craniotomy a.k.a. BRAIN SURGERY
- Gallbladder removal
- Endoscopy searing for stomach ulcer and taking a biopsy of the stomach lining to test for H-pylori bacteria in the gut
- Shockwave Lithotripsy; kidney stone destruction through the ureter of a male patient
- Hemorrhoidectomy… this one was not fun
- Explore laparoscopy due to chronic pain in the abdomen
During the surgical procedures, the interns and I were able to stand behind the surgeon, free to ask questions. The language barrier was eminent, however, the staff wanted us to learn as much as possible and tried hard to communicate through body language and drawing pictures.
There were many differences I observed from the OR at Christiana Hospital to the one in Chiang Mai. First, they didn’t wear closed toed shoes! The shoes worn in the operating room were open toed cushioned sandals. Another difference that was obvious was the emphasis on community. Everyday, the hospital staff breaks all together for lunch and there are no surgeries scheduled from about noon to 1:30pm. Lunch consists of papaya salad, noodles, or rice and curry. Everyone eats together, family style, and catches up with one another. This sense of community is something I observed in the upcoming week as well.
The second week, I was assigned to Maharaj Hospital to volunteer in the Rehabilitation Unit. This rotation consisted of shadowing physical therapists and occupational therapists by assisting in stretching, transporting, feeding, and cooperating with the patients. It was an inpatient setting, meaning the patients lived at the hospital for a specific period of time. Their injuries were all neurological; mostly stroke related or from a motor vehicle accident resulting in partial paralysis or total loss of function in parts of the body. Some had the ability to slowly regain function, but others were in the clinic with their families being educated on how they were going to live the rest of their lives with a disability.
This experience in the rehabilitation unit gave me a new perspective on disability as well as end of life care. It also strengthened my views on the importance of family and a support group in ones life. The therapists were extremely motivating, positive and encouraging. It was easy to tell how much they cared for their patients. My favorite part of volunteering in this unit was Friday afternoon music therapy. The patients sang, played instruments, and even danced along to Thai and American songs. It was beautiful to see the positive energy flowing through the room. I even got a chance to show off my beginner guitar skills as well. Saying goodbye to the patients and therapists was difficult for they made Anna, a fellow intern, and I feel apart of their community.
Aside from working in the hospital, afternoons consisted of visiting gorgeous Buddhist temples, taking yoga classes, and indulging in endless amounts of Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice. On the weekends the interns and I were able to travel. We visited a village called Pai in the mountains of northern Thailand and had the opportunity to rent motorbikes for the day… I never felt more alive. We visited an ethical elephant camp as well and gave the elephants mud baths and jumped off waterfalls.
I want to say a BIG thank you to the Honors College for providing me with this opportunity. I had an unforgettable experience that solidified my decision in wanting to become a physician and gained a more global perspective on healthcare.
Biomechanics Research Conference by Dan Courtney
In the beginning of August, I went on a four-day trip out west to the University of Colorado Boulder for the American Society of Biomechanics research conference. It was an incredible experience to able to fully explore the modern-day biomechanics field and receive valuable feedback regarding my own research.
Throughout the trip, we went to lectures on various topics. The topics I found most interesting to discuss were those on running, orthoses/exoskeletons, and prostheses. Running is of interest to me because I enjoy the activity and am always looking for ways to improve my gait mechanics and minimize metabolic energy spent. My favorite lecture in the field was regarding how humans could theoretically break the two-hour marathon mark. I also enjoyed learning about engineered external devices, particularly for stroke subjects, because I have assisted many students in my lab with data collections on computer modeled lower-limb support prototypes. Lastly, I was very surprised to realize that many others across the world were also working with subjects with transtibial amputations. It was very interesting to see that some biomechanics prioritized low metabolic rate while others felt that symmetry or other parameters were more important to prevent falls.
The particular topic that I presented on was Assessing the Validity of the G-Walk BTS® on Individuals with Unilateral Transtibial Amputations. I collected this data over the previous summer, and since then I have drafted a paper for journal submission and presented my findings twice before in a podium presentation at Center of Biomedical Engineering Research and a poster format at the conclusion of INBRE. However, both of those events were at the University of Delaware, and I was eager to see what feedback experts from around the world had for me. I was surprised at how interested others were in my topic, as I had many graduate students, professors, and industry individuals coming to ask me about my work. Most of them were happy with what I had done, given that it could potentially give quantitative values for physical therapists in the field to prescribe the correct prosthetic if the device is validated. Quantitative values of such specificity have never been able to be generated before in a quick and relatively inexpensive manner, which gave me encouragement to continue my work.
Additionally, this conference gave me a great opportunity to better explore my interests and network with likeminded peers. Being an exercise science major, I am extremely interested in mobility and metabolic work, topics that were discussed in great detail across many different topics. Furthermore, I was able to meet a medical student from the University of Washington and discuss the connections between medicine and biomechanics. This peeked my enthusiasm because I plan on attending medical school next year and would love to continue to conduct research to supplement my classroom learning.
Aside from the conference itself, it was incredible to take in the rocky mountain views during our walk to and from the conference each day. The University of Colorado had a beautiful campus and the food in the area was exceptional. I cannot thank the University of Delaware Honors Program enough for this unique experience that I would not have been able to attend without them. I look forward to sharing what I learned during the conference in my research and classes for my final year of undergraduate.
International Meeting for Autism Research, by Mike Hoffman & Susanna Trost
My trip to San Francisco for the International Meeting For Autism Research (IMFAR) was an awesome, interesting and very informative experience to say the least. I attended this conference to present my research and senior thesis on “Differences in fNIRS-Based Cortical Activation During Interpersonal Synchrony Tasks Between Children with and without Autism”, and also to learn about all of the other research being done around the world on Autism.
To start the trip our flight was delayed for about three hours and we had to transfer to a different plane. This was a problem because originally I was supposed to have three hours at the hotel before I would present my research poster. By the time I arrived at the Marriot Marquis I had to run to check in and get changed in order to present my poster. I was worried enough as it was presenting for the first time in front of professionals who would actually know what I was talking about, but adding the stress of getting there on time made it even more memorable (nothing ever goes as planned). Lesson #1 I learned on the trip for future reference: don’t travel by plane on the same day you’re supposed to present. Not all was bad though since we got to talk to other passengers who were attending the conference, some who held high positions in organization around the country.
The presentation itself went well. Our research is one of the first using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) on individuals with Autism so there were a lot of researchers coming up to me asking questions about fNIRS as they were about to start studies using it. Ours was one of the only posters thus year but I bet next year that number will exponentially increase. The next day I presented with other people from my lab that went to the conference and looked around at other posters. It baffled me how much research on autism was being conducted around the world and how much it varied. I learned so much talking to others about their posters and met a lot of people from all over the world from Israel, Germany, China, England, and from other schools. ~Mike Hoffman
This past weekend was one I will remember for a very long time. For months, my lab had prepared to travel to the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in San Francisco to share the research we have been working on over the past year. Despite some unexpected delays, we made it to San Francisco on Thursday with enough time for my lab mate Mike Hoffman to present for the last thirty minutes of his session. He successfully shared his poster, and we were able to meet notable researchers in the field. It was an exhausting first day, but I was excited to present my research the following day and continue to take advantage of everything the conference had to offer.
The posters from my lab group were the only ones with research involving functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), and conference attendees were very excited to learn about our work. Many people even asked for suggestions on how they can implement fNIRS in their own labs. It was amazing to share my research and the progress I have made after many months of hard work. I especially enjoyed being able to interact with some of the top researchers, and it was an incredible to discuss my work with authors who I actually cited in my thesis. Although I was nervous to present in front of so many people, I am now more confident in my presentation skills as I move on to graduate school.
To make the most of our time in San Francisco, we woke up early on Friday to explore the city before the conference. We walked across the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge, and took a ferry back to San Francisco, enjoying views of the bridge and Alcatraz along the way. The walk was tiring (we walked all 1.7 miles!), but definitely worth it. After an exciting morning, I headed back to the conference to present my poster. ~Susanna Trost
The trip wasn’t all business though. In our short time there we woke up really early in order to walk the Golden Gate Bridge, which was an amazing view that I will never forget.
After that we took a ferry past Alcatraz and ended up on pier 39. Pier 39 was packed with people with shops and places to eat, but the best part was all the sea lions that were just chilling on docks by the pier. They would push each other off and were never quiet.
Following the conclusion of the conference on our last day we went to the San Francisco Giants baseball game in which the game took 5 ½ hours going into the 17th inning, but we left after the 9th because we had an early flight the next day.
Overall I had a great experience my first time on the west coast and made plenty of connection. I learned so much more about Autism and the future direction the field is heading. ~Mike Hoffman
“Same Story”, Different Countries, by Rachel Austin
“Same Story” Different Countries is a multidisciplinary project that incorporates literary and historical research, music, poetry and dance. With a focus on issues of oppression, resilience, resistance and liberation, the production reveals themes that resonate with individuals and groups in the United States, South Africa and beyond. The production has a goal of raising awareness of the history of racism, while prompting the audiences to focus on the healing needed to move forward into a unified future. I attended the “Same Story” Different Countries (SSDC) trip as a dancer. From this journey, I gained a new world perspective and a new appreciation for art as a means of facilitating discussion.
I began the journey with little experience traveling outside the United States. Through this experience, I gained a desire to immerse myself in different cultures and to see the world. In South Africa, I met some of the friendliest and most welcoming people I have ever encountered. On the first Sunday, we performed our production at the Holy Cross Anglican Church in Soweto, ZA. Immediately upon entering the church, congregation members welcomed us with warm smiles and hugs. We were immersed into the church service and following our performance, we were invited to sing and dance with the incredible church choir. I was amazed by their gratitude and willingness to talk about their own racial struggles, connecting them to our production. After the service, a teacher during the time of the Soweto Uprising shared her story, along with our choreographer’s father, who fled the country and became a professor in the United States.
Following this incredible experience, each time we performed I learned something new about South African culture. The students at the schools that we performed at were so excited to meet us and often started conversations in regards to racial tensions they experienced. At many of the schools, students volunteered songs, spoken poetry, music, or dance expressing racial conflict. I was amazed at the openness of the students and their appreciation for our work. Along with learning valuable lessons from the performances, I was able to learn a lot from interacting with assorted South Africans, including our drivers, people on the street, fellow dancers at the companies we visited, etc.. I was amazed at the quantity of languages known by each person, preserving the culture of the many different communities.
Along with learning so much about the culture and societal struggles, I really enjoyed learning about the medical care. At the Apartheid Museum, I learned that during the period of apartheid, black Africans feared hospitals and clinics and often compared them to prisons. White doctors treated most Africans and were often overworked and unable to attend to all the patients. Although the medical system had improved following the abolishment of apartheid, medical care remains an issue in South Africa. We were able to visit ADAPT (Agisanang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training), a nonprofit organization combatting gender based violence in South Africa. They offered crisis counseling, criminal justice system assistance, youth and school programs, community trainings, and some medical care including primary care, emergency treatment, and selective surgeries. The medical care portion was small and roughly 20 people stood in line in receive treatment when we visited. The director said that they lacked enough physicians and medical supplies in order to serve the population. As a student currently applying to medical school, I was struck by a desire to help.
In the future, I hope to continue to travel and experience new cultures. In particular, I hope to return to South Africa to provide medical care to patients in need. This trip has helped me to become more aware of the large disparity between social classes and continued racial tension occurring around the world, pushing me to go out into my community and advocate for the need to help each other and fully embrace diversity and difference in all capacities of our lives. I look forward to continuing to discover new ways to help, returning to the United States with a new desire to serve others. As stated in the Apartheid Museum, “Humanity was born in Africa. All people, ultimately, are African”. Following this journey, I am truly proud to have a piece of this beautiful continent in me.
Investigating Environmental Protection in Beijing, China, by Ben Chadwick
For two weeks in the Winter of 2016, I traveled to Beijing, China, to investigate the environmental pollution and how it is being dealt with. Beijing has been suffering greatly from air pollution and soil pollution as well. I was able to directly observe how this has effected the city, how people are dealing with it, and discuss the topic with top experts and scientists in the area. In the beginning of my trip, I met with the director of the Research Center of Corporate Social Responsibility – China Academy of Social Sciences (CSR-CASS). This group of people working for CSR-CASS helps develop the theory of China CSR, promote social responsibility, and also has a role in assessing companies in China. The Research Center’s assessment of companies can be found in the books they publish. The Blue Book and White Book of CSR report and record the progress and characteristics of social responsibility in China. During these days, I also visited Beihai and Jingshan parks. Because of the air pollution, many people including myself wore masks which have filters. The weather was also very hazy. Some locals were upset by this haze, because when viewing the Forbidden City from the top of Jingshan Park, one can usually see the entire city. However, because of the air pollution not much could be seen.
Also in my trip, I had the opportunity to visit many different science laboratories. Some were university laboratories, and some were government and some private. Because energy sources like coal is worsening environmental problems in Beijing, new energy sources are developed. For example, at the Chine Academy of Science’s Institute of Microbiology, many research groups are engineering bacteria to create biofuels. I was able to visit some of these laboratories which do this, and learn about their projects. The ideas revolving around environmental sustainability have influenced students in high school as well. Here are some pictures from a fashion show at LuHe high school in Beijing. The students only used recycled products to create their outfits and dresses. The student with the long black dress made hers from trash bags. Others used theirs from old curtains or toilet paper even.
Most people can only notice the air pollution as a problem in Beijing. It is talked about on the news there, the weather is often foggy, and people are wearing masks. However, most people do not know all the problems caused by pollution. There is also a big issue which I was able to discuss with Dr. Wang Xiao Guang, the Beijing Rongzhi Corporate Social Responsibility Institute Director, which is the soil pollution. As director of the Rongzhi corporate social responsibility institute, Dr. Wang works with many private companies to help them create a plan to get a better environmental impact score from China’s CSR. Important technologies which companies will need to utilize in the future to help the environment include soil cleaning technology. Much of the land in Beijing is polluted and this a major health hazard, and it also affects commercial real estate greatly. I also met with Professor Sun Jirong at the Beijing Business Incubation Park. At this incubation park, the professor and his staff works with graduate students from various Beijing Universities, to help start their businesses. Their future assessments by the China CSR is one thing they can help them with as well.
Many people I met used London’s issues during the industrial revolution as an example of what China faces now. They say London took 50 years to clean their country and so China will take this amount of time. Some say 15-20 years because we have better technology today than in the past, and some say 50-80 years because the problem is worse in China. However, it also depends on what the definition of “clean” is, and what state the environment is in after this amount of time. I believe if people are aware of the problem and continue to care, the environment in Beijing can improve quickly. I enjoyed my trip greatly, and hope to return soon to an improved China.
Pork for Christmas, by Laura Donohue
The day after finals I was on a plane destined for Aalborg, Denmark. On my third plane ride, a Danish woman asked where I was headed and I quickly replied “Aalborg” with a beaming face. With a look of disgust she replied, “Oh God,why?” At this unsettling response, I explained that I would be spending the next month working on a swine farm. Like most people, she looked at me as if I was slightly unstable. That is the look I got from most people when I explained my holiday plans. After all, I was leaving my home for the holidays to work on a pig farm. I hadn’t met my employers and only exchanged two emails with them. Yet, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to learn and see a foreign country. I had no idea what was in store, and I couldn’t wait to get there.
I could never have prepared myself for what the month had in store for me. I arrived in Aalborg and was greeted by the Lunds, a family I befriended during my previous summer in Iceland. We drove home and got settled. Two days later I was driving through the dark Danish winter to Egelund svinefarm to start working. That Monday I changed into the overalls and gray sweatshirt I would wear everyday for the next month. And in I went. My first thought: “how do I breathe in here!?” My eyes watered in my first lap through the stables past 2,300 pigs. I met the three boars, 100 poults, 600 sows, and 1600 piglets. I was thrown right in on the first day. I gave sows and piglets vaccines, painkillers, and vitamins. I castrated piglets and sorted through teams. That week I artificially inseminated sows and poults. Within a week I had already seen nearly everything that went on at Egelund.
Yet, every week brought new adventure. One week I shadowed a swine veterinarian and saw other swine operations. In conversation with Erik Staun, the owner of Egelund, I learned the logistics and costs of managing a swine farm. From discussion with Erik and the swine veterinarian, as well as seeing other farms, I quickly realized that I was working at one of the best swine farms in the world. Erik upholds a high standard of welfare for his pigs and ensures he is always providing his animals with the best care available.
Although this winter was mostly about the pigs, I spent the month immersed in Danish culture. I lived with the Lunds for three weeks, Erik Staun for four nights, and a nearby family in Nibe for two nights. This meant that I spent the holidays with three different families and I got to see how three different families lived. I learned very valuable things including the Danes love for sausage, cheese, coffee, and marzipan. Danish Christmas will forever be inseparable from a piece of chocolate covered marzipan in my mind. I spent my last three nights exploring the beautiful city of Copenhagen. The few sunny hours of the day were spent walking countless kilometers through the city admiring the architecture, people, art, and culture. On my last night in Copenhagen I thought of all the incredible people I met and I knew that this past month was an invaluable gift to me. The friendships and lessons I learned are ones that I will carry with me in my professional career and my everyday life.
South Africa: The Same Story, Different Countries Project, by Marielle Kraft
During this winter session, I spent two weeks in South Africa with 23 other UD student performers, dance professors, local choreographers, artistic directors, and community supporters touring with our Same Story, Different Countries production and project. The SSDC project has been two years in the making, and it explores the past and present racial issues in the U.S. Civil Rights movement and South African Anti-Apartheid. My role in the project was twofold: I sang in the production and I taught my research-based lessons to children in schools we visited across Johannesburg and Cape Town.
We spent our first week in Johannesburg, where we dug deep into the history of Apartheid through performances at local schools, churches, and studios. We heard first-hand accounts of the devastating trials and triumphs of the black and coloured South Africans during the time of Apartheid and beyond, gaining a much deeper understanding of why we were there sharing our project. We were dancing and singing through the exact events they lived through. Our stories are the same, half way across the world. One of our most memorable performances in Johannesburg was at Holy Cross Anglican Church, which is right in Nelson
Mandela’s neighborhood in Soweto, and the massive congregation whole-heartedly embraced us. We felt like we were part of the community, even if just for a few hours, and every move we made in our performance carried so much more weight. Other standout moments in Johannesburg include visiting the deeply moving Apartheid museum, performing at the beautiful Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, and exploring the Lion & Rhino Animal Reserve.
Our second week was spent in Cape Town, and this paradise city was very different from our experience in Johannesburg. More European and less historic, Cape Town was full of adventures including the incredible views atop Table Mountain, enriching exchanges of both dance and research at the University of Cape Town, school visits to vivacious high schools, and an emotional final performance at Baxter Theater. My favorite day here was at Oaklands High School, where we first performed our show for a room teeming with hundreds of students in the morning, and then I taught my workshop to a large group of 8th grade students afterward. The students were fully engaged, willing to step outside of their comfort zone to choreograph their own short dances and learn about the topic of resilience in U.S. slavery. Then the students broke into small groups and discussed how they are resilient in their own lives. The vulnerable stories the students shared were moving and inspiring, and it was a moment where the teacher (me) was able to learn from her students.
Overall, this trip was incredibly enriching, exciting, expository, and enlightening. Not only could we share our project with a culture that can equally connect to and appreciate the stories of racial oppression and liberation, but our lives were changed in the process. It’s so important to seek to be uncomfortable in the world around you in order to understand just how privileged you may be. This was an awakening experience for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the Honors Enrichment award for being a reason this was made possible.
Vida Volunteer in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, by Amanda Kucharzyk
This winter, I traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua with Vida Volunteer, a nonprofit organization that sets up medical, dental, and veterinary clinics in Central America. The trip I chose was composed of pre-medical and pre-dental students. I participated in the dental program alongside ten other college students from various places across the United States. Following a day of public health orientation, we visited the community Barrio Irvin in La Cruz, Costa Rica. After becoming acquainted with our translators, we set up a nutrition workshop at Colegio Barrio Irvin, the neighborhood’s school. Working in smaller groups, we educated the local children about healthy foods, vitamins and nutrients, and the importance of a balanced diet. I was excited to practice my Spanish with all the enthusiastic children!
Our group was the first Vida trip to implement the what was known as the “Stevia Project.” Stevia is a plant that diabetic patients can use as a sugar substitute. The Vida community coordinators had identified the houses with diabetic patients prior to our arrival, so we split into groups of four people and went to these houses. Once there, we educated the patient about his or her diabetes, how to manage it, and how to propagate the stevia plant. For the remaining time in La Cruz, we visited various households to collect general health information about each family member, including vitals. After the doctor spoke with the family, we provided recommendations about diet, exercise, and health in general. During the two-day public health project, we were able to help 39 families, plus the 15 families that we helped through the Stevia project. After our work in La Cruz, we spent a day at Playa Hermosa where we enjoyed sunbathing, snorkeling, swimming, and live music.
Once we arrived in Masaya, we split into our homestay groups. I stayed with four other girls in a quaint home in Masaya with our “Mamá Chilito,” her mother, and her son Diego. They had a section at the Masaya market where they sold local art. The homestays were my favorite cultural aspect of the trip. While in Nicaragua, we visited the Apoyo Lagoon and the Masaya Volcano. The dental team was led by Nicaraguan dentists Dr. Erick Collado and Dr. Isabel Soza. They were assisted by Nicaraguan dental student Reyna Villavicencio. After an orientation day in which we familiarized ourselves with the tools, disinfection procedure, anatomy of the mouth, and common oral diseases, we were ready to set up clinics in Masaya and Granada. Due to available resources and time constraints, the clinic was able to offer extractions, fillings, cleanings, and fluoride treatments. We assisted the doctors by gathering the correct tools for each procedure, holding the tools and the spit cup, and cleaning up after the procedure was complete. After that, we provided the patient with a toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste. Then, we explained about proper brushing technique in Spanish… ¡No olvide cepillarse la lengua! (Don’t forget to brush your tongue!) Over the course of four days, we served a total of 168 patients in the dental clinic.
All in all, combined with the medical team, our group was able to help over 570 people during the public health and clinic days. I am so grateful that the Honors Program provided me with this opportunity to assist so many people, to gain shadowing and hands-on clinical experience, and to improve my Spanish. As a pre-dental student with a Spanish minor, this trip was extremely valuable to me.
Teaching at Albany Private School in Quito, Ecuador, by Sarah Miller
This past winter, through the organization Volunteer Connections, I traveled to Quito, Ecuador to help teach English in a private school. As a Spanish major, I was earnestly looking forward to a chance to speak Spanish to native speakers for a whole week. And, as my future plans involve teaching English abroad in Spanish-speaking nations, I was even more excited to experience a teaching role in a school full of children and teachers native to Ecuador. However, this week abroad living in Ecuador also allowed me to experience the rich culture and history of Ecuador.
I lived with a host family of one single mother and her two young sons. They were extremely hospitable, warm, and welcoming. My host mother cooked breakfast and dinner for me and the other volunteers in her home every single day. Breakfast was comprised of coffee, tea, bread, butter, and jam. Dinner varied every evening, but it mostly consisted of chicken, rice, lentils or beans, and a simple salad. As my host mother did not speak any English, I loved speaking to her in Spanish in her house and throughout our meals.
Every morning, I took the bus to the private school at which I was a classroom volunteer. The school was called the Albany Private School, and it taught grades second through ninth. All of the students at this school came from the Albany Kindergarten School, where they began to learn English around the age of five. While none of the students were fluent in English in the school at which I volunteered, many of the students had a very good comprehension of the language by ninth grade. As a teaching assistant, I was paired with one teacher and followed her around to her seven different classes each day, half science and half English classes. She taught a wide range of ages, from the youngest to the oldest. In the younger classes, the children were very young and extremely rambunctious, so I mostly helped in discipline and maintaining some calm in the classroom. In the older classes, like our fifth and ninth grade English classes, I was able to take more of a leading teaching role. I helped the students with their classwork, their spelling and pronunciation of English, and taught a few grammar lessons. By the end of the week, I felt very comfortable standing in front of the class and switching between Spanish and English very fluidly in order to explain the lesson. At the end of the week, I really bonded with the fifth grade class and felt very sad to part from them. I took the cover picture with them on the last day, “Bring a Toy to School Day.”
On the weekend before I returned home from Ecuador, I was able to see a considerable amount of the culture and country of Ecuador. I explored historical district of the city as well as the rural mountains of the country. I visited Lago San Pablo and Quilotoa, a massive crater lake in the middle of an inactive volcano at an altitude of 14,000 ft. I was also given the opportunity to visit the indigenous people of Ecuador, and they graciously opened their home for us to visit. Their way of life is beautiful, and it was so amazing to meet people so happy to share their culture with strangers. My volunteer trip to Ecuador was one that I will never forget, and I am so grateful the Honors Program allowed me the opportunity to experience something so incredible.
Performing and Learning in South Africa, by Dominique Oppenheimer
I have been part of the “Same Story,” Different Countries project since its beginnings in the spring of 2015, when I joined as a Summer Scholar and dancer for the production. The project combines dance, music, art, poetry, and historical research to express the similarities and differences between the United States Civil Rights Movement and the South African fight against apartheid. My role included generating research for the project, focusing on women’s activism in the two countries, and acting as a dancer. Since that summer, I’ve been able to stick with the project as a “scholar/artist” as it has grown and traveled from Mitchell Hall on the University of Delaware campus to the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, to various schools and churches in the Delaware area, and now to South Africa.
When I joined the project team in 2015, going to South Africa seemed like a far off dream, but traveling through Johannesburg and Cape Town this January was well worth the wait and hours of intensive rehearsals. Continuously reworking and practicing the dances in the production was vital for making them their best for South African audiences. It felt so special to perform for these audiences, from the congregation of the Holy Cross Anglican Church in Soweto near Nelson Mandela’s former home to the students of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Preparing required a lot of adaptability, as we only had a few hours in each space to rehearse. However, at the end of each performance, the sweat and confusion seemed worth it when we received applause and kind words from audiences and would join them, sharing freedom songs from the United States and sometimes learning South African songs as well. Additionally, at some of the high schools we went to, one of the performers and fellow Honors student, Marielle Kraft, would lead a workshop for students on resilience, integrating the arts into her lesson. Helping with those workshops and interacting individually with the students was one of the highlights of my time in South Africa.
In both Johannesburg and Cape Town, the project team and I also had the chance to gain knowledge about the history and culture of South Africa. After the performance at the Holy Cross Church, for instance, we had the opportunity to speak with a woman named Ma Fikile Ncgobo, who was one of the teachers of the students involved in the 1976 Soweto Uprising. We also had the chance to go through the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and Robben Island off of Cape Town, where we received a tour from Lionel Davis, a man who served seven years in the prison because of his anti-apartheid activism. At Moving into Dance, one of the first mixed-race dance companies in South Africa, we were able to take classes in both Afrofusion and contemporary dance styles and learn how the company performs educational outreach to local communities. These experiences enriched our understanding of South Africa and of the themes we have been working to present in our production over the past two years.
As an international relations major, an English major with a concentration in Ethnic and Cultural Studies, and a dance minor, this information deepened interests that have been sparked in my studies at UD. I am encouraged to move forward in examining the possible connections between the arts, cultural exchange, and human rights work. This project has been a formative experience that I will not forget, and I am so thankful that the Honors Program has helped me gain the tools and skills necessary for this journey.
Trek to Senegal with BuildOn, by Madeline Willis
This past January I traveled with the BuildOn trek team to Mborane Sereer, Senegal, which became the most valuable, memorable experience of my life. BuildOn strives to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through education and service. In Mborane Sereer, we were assisting the community in breaking ground on a primary school that the BuildOn at UD chapter fundraised for this past year. I was honored to be a part of this trip because I believe in BuildOn’s methodology and values. As soon as we arrived in the village, the community members’ motivation and dedication to completing the school was evident. Everyone danced and sang and cheered and welcomed us with open-minds and kind hearts. At the welcoming ceremony, everyone signed the covenant which outlined expectations of the community and BuildOn moving forward with the school. Some signed by stamping fingerprints, but everyone was included which made it a really special moment for the community.
My host family included Tata Anna Ndong, Grandma Marie Ndieg, my host brothers Aliou Faye and Cheihk Diouf, and my roommate from BuildOn, Tali. They welcomed us into their home with open arms, and we got to learn about their culture through various activities including preparing meals, doing laundry, and attending dance ceremonies, a wrestling tournament, a mock wedding, and a gender talk. In the afternoons and at night we bonded most with our host family and their friends. We played jenga, Frisbee, and jumprope every night. The boys got creative with Jenga and taught Tali and I words in Sereer using the blocks. One night, Tata Anna let us stay up extra late, and the boys led us in some yoga and exercises. The kids’ personalities revealed themselves most during playtime, and these are the memories I treasure most.
By the last night, we had all become so close that saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The sense of friendship, love, and admiration that we had developed for each other over the last week was almost tangible in the silence as we all sat with tears welled up in our eyes. Each day the worksite began with a group circle, stretching, and words of inspiration. The
infectious smiles and incredible work ethic of all the community members motivated me to put in 100% effort all day every day. One day we even had a chant “Never give up!” I worked at the brick-making station for most of the time each day because I became friends with the crew and they would call me over after the morning circle saying, “Diib, come tap tap!” The sense of
community and togetherness in Mborane Sereer was overwhelming and truly unique. They are the most peaceful, hardworking people I have ever met, and I am honored to have had the chance to live with them and work with them for a week.
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