April 01, 2016
When a small group of Susquehanna students left for what is now an annual Global Opportunities (GO) trip to the Philippines in 2010, they had no way of knowing they would change the trajectory of several young lives.
Six students, under the leadership of Jeffrey K. Mann, associate professor of religious studies, traveled to Manila’s Smokey Mountain trash dump, which at the time was home to more than 3,000 people who lived and worked in the dump. The students distributed vitamins, clothing, toiletries and first-aid materials among the community, and spent time getting to know some of the young residents.
With $750 in their pockets from Susquehanna’s Alice Pope Shade Fund, the group discussed the best way to invest the money. They chose education. Two of the Susquehanna students were Karen Ward ’11 Telyea and Katherine Sowers ’12, who both majored in religious studies.
“I remember saying in the airport during our travels home, that one year of school doesn’t matter if they can’t afford to pay for it next year,” Telyea says. “I felt very strongly that if we were going to support their education, then we needed to commit to the full process.”
As Mann explains, there are public schools in the Philippines, but families are still responsible for basic expenses. “If your family is living on $1 or less, per person per day, you may not be able to meet these costs,” he says. “Money went to school uniforms, school supplies, shoes, transportation-there are no buses and the school is far away-lunch money and medical needs.”
The group invested their initial $750 to help three Filipino students. Five of the six alumni continue to assist the students to this day, including Telyea, Sowers, David Huss ’10, and 2012 graduates Kelly Miller and Sarah Johnson.
Last spring, the effort reached an important milestone: the oldest Filipino student they’ve been supporting, Joanna, graduated from high school. She has since finished her first year of college at Navotas Polytechnic College in Manila.
“My wish for Joanna is that she never stops learning and growing,” Sowers says. “I hope she continues to push herself to be the best that she can be and to always remember that no matter what, her life and voice matter.”