Small acts lead to big improvement in Peruvian school

Five Rider students worked with professional carpenters in Peru for a 10-day service learning trip. Their tasks included building and painting lockers for the children of the Wawacha School.

By Samantha Brandbergh

In a Peruvian city, something as simple as a locker is viewed as a luxury.

This past May, five Rider students kicked off their summer by participating in a 10-day service learning trip to Cusco, Peru. They worked alongside professional carpenters to build and paint lockers and cubbies for children at the Wawacha School.

The school was chosen because of its programs that support “hygiene, health, food security and school-readiness for 40 children of single mothers and low income families in the surrounding neighborhoods,” according to Joan Liptrot, the trip leader and assistant director of campus life for service learning.

Prior to the trip, Ashley Leeds, a senior psychology major and self-described “service learning veteran,” was eager to help make a difference. Leeds participated in Rider’s service learning trip to Morocco in May 2016 and was looking forward to continuing her education outside of the classroom.

“I enjoy assisting individuals who function in environments that are different from what I am accustomed,” she said. “I wanted the experience to give back to individuals in a unique platform.”

In Peru, the group worked for five days from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. before enjoying lunch, Peru’s largest meal of the day. The group’s small size proved to be an advantage, as the students were able to work closely with each other and the carpenters.

“Our goal was to ensure that children in school had a safe place to store their belongings,” Leeds said. “We were able to share our love of serving them by celebrating the new lockers and cubbies following the project completion.”

Peru was senior psychology major Jessica Bensinger’s first service learning trip, which allowed her to put things into perspective.

“We got to see how other people live and how our lives can be very different, or very similar, to a group of people that we would not have had the chance to interact with if we had not gone on this trip,” she said.

For Bensinger, seeing the group’s hard work pay off and making new friends along the way were some of the highlights of the trip.

“I loved seeing the kids so happy to have a locker and the teachers so full of gratitude for what we did,” she said. “I signed up and paid for the trip only being acquainted with one girl and came home with a group that felt like a family.”

In addition to their service, the group members were able to go on tours throughout the city of Cusco for the remaining five days of the trip, which included visiting Machu Picchu, a historic Incan sanctuary.

Liptrot hopes that, through service learning trips, students can open their minds to different cultures they would otherwise not experience and learn how service can impact the lives of others.

“On this trip, I was humbled by the graciousness and positive outlook expressed by those we were serving,” she said. “It’s easy in our daily lives to get frustrated by small inconveniences. These trips open one’s eyes to truly understanding the term ‘first world problems.’”

The trip to Peru not only allowed students to provide service to schoolchildren but also gave them the privilege to try new things, such as bathing elephants and cooking new foods, such as alpaca.

“I hope the students come away from these experiences knowing you are never too old to try something new and that going outside of your comfort zone can lead to wonderful, exciting adventures,” Liptrot said.

Rider’s service learning trips expose students to new people and places and help them develop “a sense of cultural humility,” according to Liptrot.

“Students and staff discover how much we have in common with people around the world regardless of their language, religion or socioeconomic status,” she said.

The next two service learning trips will be in Greece and Morocco. Contact Kim Algeo, assistant director for center for international education, or Joan Liptrot, or visit for more information. Deadline to apply is September 15. 


Published in the 09/06/17 edition. 

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