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Students reflect on Global Citizen Fellowship experiences

September 1, 2023

This summer, Sabrina Kearney ’26, Phincho Sherpa ’25 and Pranav Vadlamudi ’26 were three of six Bowdoin students who engaged in volunteer and public service work in various countries through the Global Citizens Fellowship. Sponsored by the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good, fellows received funding to work with non-profit organizations abroad for ten weeks.

Sabrina Kearney ’26:

Kearney traveled to Dharamshala, India to work with Lha Charitable Trust, an organization that offers educational courses and social programs to help Tibetan refugees transition to their new homes in India and other regions throughout South Asia. Kearney taught an English class of 30 people in which many of her students were Tibetan Buddhist monks.

“People in other countries hear Dharamsala is a good place to learn English because the Dalai Lama lives in Dharamsala … [so] I also had students from Bhutan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand,” Kearney said.

Teaching was merely one part of Kearney’s experience. Before class in the morning, Kearney often visited a local cafe where she befriended the owner and eventually set up her own small art studio and drew free portraits of elderly community members. On weekends, she took multiple day-long hiking trips and visited nearby hillside cities. At one point during her stay in Dharamshala, she even met the Dalai Lama.

“My [initial] purpose in mind was to do a good job teaching my class, but it ended up being so much more than that. I didn’t expect to find and build a community around myself,” Kearney said.

Despite the fulfillment that Kearney found through her experiences, fostering connections with locals and building her own community relationships was not a simple path.

“Tibetan culture is more reserved,” Kearney said. “[But] I would constantly help the local staff with community clean ups … or plaster a local school. So through shared experiences, I connected with the staff on a personal level, and they became more comfortable sharing their experiences.”

Phincho Sherpa ’25:

Sherpa traveled to St. Louis, Senegal to work with Maison de la Gare, an organization dedicated to providing care for children in Senegal and supporting the broader local community.

“I worked for the Microfinance department … which assisted students and other people in the community [with starting] their own businesses,” Sherpa said. “I helped to interview people in French, the official language of Senegal, and wrote and translated application forms to be sent to the United States and Canada, where other people vote [on a final decision].”

Like Kearney, Sherpa quickly integrated herself within the organization’s community work.

“It was very easy to branch out and start helping in other departments in whatever way I could,” Sherpa said. “[When] they did not need my time in the microfinance office, I went downstairs to the infirmary and helped clean wounds with other nurses. [The infirmary] was [where] I really got to interact with the kids.”

Sherpa emphasized that the goal of her work was not to rescue people in the community she served but rather to work alongside them to offer new opportunities and resources.

“The most important thing is to be respectful and open-minded. We are there to help and assist their goal, not to be a savior,” Sherpa said.

Pranav Vadlamudi ’26:

Vadlamudi traveled to Akrofu-Agorve, Ghana to work with Humanity and Community Development Projects Ghana, an organization that focuses on a variety of projects including expanding access to rural healthcare, improving sanitation of local water supplies and providing free eyecare.

“I worked on patient intake [at a rural clinic], noting down the patient’s chief complaint, past medical history and other important information to pass onto other healthcare providers,” Vadlamudi said.

The clinic was often quite busy with patients as early as 7:30 a.m. coming in for malaria treatment, the most common disease they encountered at the facility. Vadlamudi also participated in outreach clinics that brought vaccinations and prenatal and maternal care directly to nearby rural community members.

“In rural areas, there are many farmers and other people who are busy with their daily lives. As a result, they often don’t have the time or money to come to a clinic,” Vadlamudi said. “By going directly to the patient, the clinic providers made healthcare more accessible.”

Valdamudi’s integration with the local community through volunteer service work also made leaving more difficult.

“How do you volunteer within these communities for two to three months and then just leave?” Vadlamudi said. “That was a super difficult conversation to have with the community members and myself.”

Applications for the Global Citizen Fellowship will be open again in the spring semester. Grants are typically awarded to five or six applicants each year.


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