6/19/14 ASHLAND, Ohio – Six Ashland University students and one AU staff member traveled this summer to a Peruvian Orphanage just outside of Puerto Maldonado in southeastern Peru as part of a study abroad program to assist Brethren missionaries as well as to give students a global perspective and awareness.
Marcus Demas, web content and social media coordinator, was the AU staff leader for the trip that included student participants Audrey Wagner of Granville, Ohio, who was the student leader; Austin Williams of Etna, Ohio; Sadie Zegarac of Avon, Ohio; Sarah Johnson of Westerville, Ohio; Courtney Gallagher of Ashland; and Emily Bon of Ashland.
The trip, which took place from May 17 to June 3, was organized by two Ashland University offices -- the Office of Global Education and the Office of Religious Life.
Rebecca Parillo, director of Global Education at AU, said a goal of Ashland University is to prepare students to succeed in today’s globally interconnected world.
“Traveling abroad gives students the opportunity to broaden their way of thinking, experience the challenges of communicating across cultures, solve problems independently and see the U.S. from a different perspective,” Parillo said. “These skills will allow students to approach questions more creatively and from multiple angles. These travel opportunities enrich what students learn on our Ashland campus and gives them the competitive edge needed upon graduation.”
Demas said the basis of the Peru trip was to assist Brethren missionaries Italo and Rebecca Abuid, who live in the orphanage full time. “Rebecca is an American but met Italo and fell in love with him and his calling to help children. She then re-committed herself to full-time missions in Peru to help alleviate some of the growing need for caregiving to orphans,” he said. “As a child, she had already spent several years abroad in South America with her missionary parents.”
Demas said there are many unwanted or discarded children who need loving care in this area of Peru, which is very near Bolivia.
“There is a tremendous need for orphan care because 50 to 60 percent of Peruvian women do not get to choose their first sexual partner,” he said. “Also, about eight out of 10 Peruvian women are abused at some point in their lives.”
Demas said there are currently seven kids living at the orphanage, six of whom are orphans that these missionaries have dedicated theirs lives to.
“At least two of the girls, ages 4 to 13, were victims of sexual and physical abuse. They went from not eating or talking to full engagement and laughter in the time at the orphanage,” he said. “These children are being educated and are being taught the Biblical and the Brethren values that we all hold so dear.”
Demas said due to the lack of funding, the orphanage had to turn away several children during the few weeks that he was there. “They need help and are actively looking for it, but are patiently waiting for God to provide in whatever way He sees fit,” he said.
“The students and I worked very hard while we were there – scraping, sanding and repainting the entire outside of the house, as well as installing a couple of drop ceilings for the men who work to support the orphanage by farming and working the lands,” he said. “Installing the drop ceilings allow for better control over bugs getting in or out of their rooms, as well as making it easier to control the temperature of the room.”
Demas said even though it was winter in Peru, the weather was extremely hot and humid. “The rain there is ridiculously dangerous. Floods can roll in at any time without any warning,” he said.
Even though the group spent much time working on projects, they were able to do some sightseeing and traveling, including taking a boat ride down the Tambopata River, which feeds into the Amazon; bushwhacking through parts of the rainforest to go fishing in a river in the middle of the rainforest; and visiting Machu Piccu, an Ancient Incan Temple.
“We hiked up Huayna Picchu, which is the huge mountain typically seen in the backdrop of photos of the temple and we also hiked up the La Montana, which is Spanish for mountain,” he said. “They are both several thousand feet in the air and both are super beautiful. Altitude was an issue. They are easily two or three times higher than Denver, so the thin air and difficult hiking led to a lot of heavy breathing.”
According to Parillo, Ashland University, on average, has between 110 and 140 students traveling abroad each year. “During the 2013-14 academic year, 75 AU students traveled to 14 countries, reaching six of the seven continents, on academic credit bearing study abroad experiences. These included 12 students completing a semester abroad, seven students completing student teaching abroad, 12 students completing summer programs, and 44 students participating in faculty led tours,” she said.
AU students also participate in international mission trips and during the last academic year, the Center for Religious Life coordinated five trips with 41 students participating.
Ashland University, which has been ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###