Summer sojourns of service

Clark County residents share experiences helping others in foreign lands

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

Published:

 

The Columbian's "Summer Journeys" blog on the Web

During the summer, some Clark County residents recharge by traveling to other countries to gain a new perspective, see things in a new way. Many volunteer summer after summer, and say that they gain as much as they give. Some of these world travelers wrote posts for The Columbian's "Summer Journeys" blog. Here are their stories.

Occupation: English teacher, Skyview High School and Concordia University online Master's in Education instructor.

Organization: Helping Hand for Nepal.

Location: Shree Madan Smarak School, Kathmandu, Nepal, and Bright Horizon Children's Home outside Kathmandu.

Distance from Vancouver: 7,081 miles.

On the Web: www.hhnepal.org/html/

During the school year, Bev Questad teaches at Skyview High School and Concordia University. In the summer, she leads classes in developing countries in Asia.

In the summers of 2011 and 2012, Questad taught in an orphanage in Bangladesh for the nonprofit Distressed Children and Infants International.

This summer, she taught English at Shree Madan Smarak School in Kathmandu, Nepal. Questad said her world travels have changed her.

"Now that I know these people, I cannot turn my back on them," Questad said. "Now that I know them, I have a responsibility. No matter how many challenges I may face in my life, they are standard, low-level challenges for women who are slum-dwellers who have not been allowed an education."

Carrie Foshee in Peru

Occupation: Second-grade teacher, Orchards Elementary.

Organization: Kids at the Crossroads-Peru.

Location: Ayacucho, Peru.

Distance from Vancouver: 5,064 miles.

On the Web: Foshee's blog: perucrossroads.blogspot.com/. Kids at the Crossroads-Peru on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kids.at.the.crossroads

For three consecutive summers, Carrie Foshee has traveled to Ayacucho, Peru, high in the Andes to serve as the education director of Kids at the Crossroads-Peru, a nonprofit organization that provides education, food, and a safe environment for at-risk children.

"I spend my summers in the Andes working alongside the staff and more than 100 amazing children served there each day," Foshee said.

Kids attend public schools in the morning and the Kids at the Crossroads program in the afternoon.

Children in two remote villages high in the Andes had no books at all in their classrooms, so Orchards Elementary students raised more than $1,200 for books and educational materials, which Foshee delivered this summer.

"That was an amazing day," Foshee said. "I have learned that kids are kids wherever they are. Traveling expands my heart."

Henry Sessions in Colombia

Occupation: Physician assistant, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

Organization: World Teach.

Location: Santa Ana, Colombia.

Distance from Vancouver: 3,789 miles.

On the Web: www.worldteach.org

After graduating from college, Sophie Sessions is spending a year teaching children in Santa Ana, Colombia, through the nonprofit organization World Teach. During her summer vacation, her father, Henry Sessions, and brother, Christopher Sessions, traveled to Colombia to explore the country with her. They toured Cartagena, took a boat tour on the Rio Magdalena and backpacked into Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean.

"Colombia has a reputation as a dangerous place, but it has become much more safe in the past decade. Everywhere we went, the people were helpful and eager to show us the wonders of the place. Colombia really is a largely undiscovered gem. In several places we went, we were the only Americans," Henry Sessions said.

Sessions has instilled a fondness for international travel in all four of his children, who have managed to travel around the globe, paying for many of the trips themselves.

"Since they grew up traveling, I think curiosity about and desire to visit other places comes naturally to them," he said.

Rachel Clark in Tanzania

Occupation: Medical science liaison at Sanofi Pasteur, a global vaccine company, and ambassador liaison at Red Sweater Project; student at Oregon Health & Science University.

Organization: The Red Sweater Project.

Location: Mungere Secondary School, Mto wa Mbu region, Tanzania, East Africa.

Distance from Vancouver: 9,253 miles.

On the Web: www.redsweaterproject.org/; https://www.facebook.com/redsweaterproject

Most kids in Tanzania don't get a chance to continue their education beyond elementary school. It's expensive and is often a very long and sometimes dangerous walk to school. The Red Sweater Project, a Portland nonprofit, built Mungere Secondary School and opened its doors last fall with 40 students. Eventually, the school will serve at least 240 students. In addition to an education, the school provides safe drinking water and sanitation, health services and nutritious meals.

Rachel Clark, a public health professional, traveled to the school last fall and again in July to conduct public health resources assessments and to teach health and hygiene classes.

"People may not have the latest smartphone or computer, but for the most part, people seem happy. People greet each other on the street and smile at one another. I feel this basic human interaction is something we are starting to lose in the U.S. because of our reliance on technology and having to have everything instantly. My time in Tanzania has taught me to slow down. I have developed patience and learned the importance of getting out and seeing the world and taking the time to talk to people, connect with them and learn from then. You do not know what you are missing."

Karissa Cooke in Guinea, West Africa

Occupation: Student at Concordia University, Portland.

Organization: Concordia University students and teachers.

Location: Health clinic in Siguiri, Guinea, West Africa.

Distance from Vancouver: 6,748 miles.

Karissa Cooke's only previous experience out of the country had been a weekend trip to Canada. Then, she boarded a flight from Portland to Paris to Conakry, Guinea in West Africa. From there, "we had a 16-hour, very bumpy car ride to Siguiri," Cooke said.

"Going to Africa had been the No. 1 thing on my bucket list for as long as I can remember," said the graduate of Washougal High School and Clark College. A Concordia professor and his wife took Cooke and three other students on the 12-day trip to help at a health clinic run by missionaries where "we saw a lot of malaria, typhoid, malnutrition and worms/flukes," Cook said.

A trip to the Niger River provided memorable experiences of seeing four hippos in the water, and in another section of the river, women washing their laundry.

"I got a great deal of appreciation for what we have here in America. I learned not to take things for granted, like flushing the toilet."

Crystal Steinmueller on the Camino de Santiago (France and Spain) and in Morocco

Occupation: Special education paraeducator, Battle Ground High School, Battle Ground.

Organizations: 2 Hands 7 Continents and Chantiers Sociaux Marocains.

Location: Muros, Spain and Casablanca, Morocco.

Distance from Vancouver: 5,100 miles to Muros, Spain; 5,636 miles to Casablanca, Morocco.

On the Web: Steinmueller's blog: www.2h7c.com Morocco nonprofit: csmmorocco.org/

After her twin sister died, Crystal Steinmueller was determined to travel and volunteer in her sister's memory. Since then, Steinmueller has traveled extensively and volunteered in eight countries, reaching her goal of traveling to 30 countries by the time she turned 30. Last summer, she volunteered at an elephant preserve in Thailand.

This summer, she walked the 621-mile Camino de Santiago, a well-traveled pilgrimage through France and Spain. She walked with Dorota from Poland and Mario fromGermany. One of the highlights was leaving an offering for her twin sister at the Thibault cross. One of her friends "said a lovely prayer, we cried, then we pressed on up the mountain," Steinmueller said. "It was a short but significant moment for me."

"Another moment that sticks out was the night we stayed at a donativo run by a real Templar Knight," Steinmueller said. "No electricity, no running water, nothing more than a hole in the ground for a toilet, mattresses on the floor with no sheets, rain coming through the roof, all at the top of a mountain."

After she finished the journey, she traveled to Casablanca, Morocco, to work with children and help remodel a school.

"The Camino taught me that I have a strong will to succeed, make others proud and open myself up to others," she said.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com