From Haiti to Ireland: Global Service Learning helps Kassidy and Phoebe set their future course

Kassidy Maxie, right, in Haiti in 2014.

Kassidy Maxie, right, in Haiti in 2014.

While studying public health in Ireland, SUNY Broome students had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a different healthcare system, and to share their skills and talents in service of others.

But the Irish had much to teach them as well, whether in rural Wexford and Donegal or urban Dublin.

For one, you always make Irish coffee for someone else – never yourself — as a measure of hospitality. Any problem can be solved after having a cup of tea. Life isn’t meant to be rushed.

“Everything to Irish people is ‘grand.’ They’re a very peaceful people,” recalled Kassidy Maxie, a SUNY Broome alumna who took part in SUNY Broome’s first-ever Global Health in Ireland course over spring break – and learned that her own first name is Irish, meaning “curly-headed one.”

“Dublin reminds me of New York City but a much cleaner version,” she added. “They really enchanted me,” she said.

SUNY Broome students headed to Ireland over spring break for a global service learning course.

SUNY Broome students headed to Ireland over spring break for a global service learning course.

Global Health in Ireland is the college’s latest Global Service Learning Course, joining the established Health for Haiti program. In fact, many students end up doing both courses, giving of their time and talents in two very different environments.

Both courses, however, have certain commonalities beyond the fact that they take place on islands. They draw participating students from a wide range of majors and academic backgrounds, involve both service and cultural activities, and give students the opportunity to truly connect with the cultures they serve.

Phoebe Macauley, left, in Ireland

Phoebe Macauley, left, in Ireland

“It’s what makes Broome so great: Their study abroad programs are so personal,” said Maxie, who participated in the very first Health for Haiti class in 2014, while working on her Associate’s degree in Individual Studies.

Changing lives

Students are drawn to Global Service Learning courses for different reasons: a chance to travel, the opportunity to explore their heritage, to earn needed credits and to use their skills.

For Clinical Lab Technician major Phoebe Macauley, it was all of the above. She went to Haiti in January 2017 and Ireland this spring.

Macauley, who plans to transfer to Upstate Medical University this fall to major in medical technology, needed Liberal Arts credits and Health for Haiti fit her interests. “I’ve always been passionate about international travel and global health, and I knew I wanted to coordinate my medical experience into international missions,” she said.

Phoebe Macauley makes a friend in Haiti.

Phoebe Macauley makes a friend in Haiti.

Maxie, a woman of color originally from Detroit, was enrolled in the Binghamton Advantage Program when she decided to take the inaugural Health for Haiti course. It was a chance to travel internationally for the first time and to learn about herself.

While Haiti reaffirmed Phoebe’s goals, it gave Kassidy a chance to explore new directions and refine her life path. Visiting with children in orphanages and the dying, she recognized that she truly wanted to help the vulnerable, leading to an interest in teaching and later public health.

While in Haiti, Phoebe worked at the pharmacy in Grande Saline, counting out medication in a linguistically challenging environment; prescriptions were written in Creole, French or even Latin, and she needed to work closely with translators.

Connecting with the Haitian people while distributing food changed her outlook on life, and broke through cultural and linguistic barriers.

Kassidy Maxie in Haiti

Kassidy Maxie in Haiti

“One older woman – she looked at me with eyes filled with gratitude. Rice and beans were making their year,” Macauley, a Binghamton native, remembered. “It told me this is where I was supposed to be and was supposed to be doing.

“A little boy came up and he just took my hand. We were fast friends,” she continued. “I left part of my heart in Haiti. The people on a whole captured what international medical missions really mean.”

Unexpectedly, Macauley remained involved with the Health for Haiti project even when she returned. Professor Maureen Hankin recruited her for a data project in which she inputted four years’ worth of patient information from the Grande Saline clinics into a database. She just finished the massive undertaking, which ended up teaching her Creole – the language of many reports – along the way.

“Haiti exploded in my life,” she said.

From Haiti to Ireland

After graduating from SUNY Broome, Maxie transferred to Hunter College, where she majored in History and minored in Africana Studies. Hoping to become a teacher, she applied to Teach For America, which placed her in a Harlem middle school, teaching humanities to sixth-graders.

Phoebe Macaulay in Haiti

Phoebe Macaulay in Haiti

She stayed in touch with Professor Hankin, whom she became close to during and after the Haiti trip.

“She’s like mom,” Maxie said. “Broome was filled with people who loved and cared about me.”

Hankin alerted prior Health for Haiti students of the new course in Ireland, encouraging them to take the opportunity and travel. Macaulay jumped at the chance, using the savings she set aside from her job. In fact, her final semester at SUNY Broome was filled with travel opportunities: clinical rotations in Albany, Syracuse and Ithaca, the Ireland trip, and then back on clinicals in Albany.

Macaulay had a chance to explore the CLT field in Ireland, where the doctor she shadowed had a basic lab in his office. She and the other Global Health students participated in community rural health initiatives, educated participants in nutrition and proper handwashing, and participated in cultural activities.

“It really gave me confirmation of my decision to pursue global health,” Macaulay said. “I love the lab, but I also love educating people about nutrition and healthcare practices.”

On both global service learning trips, Kassidy was among the few students of color. Paradoxically, that seemed to set her apart in Haiti, but not in Ireland.

“In Haiti, people were like, ‘What are you?’ I was weird to them,” she said. “In Ireland, two of us were black. They were so open to us. They just embraced us, even the older generations. It was really nice not to be ‘othered.’”

SUNY Broome students in Ireland

SUNY Broome students in Ireland

Future paths

While Haiti shifted Kassidy’s path to teaching, Ireland shifted it yet again to another core interest: public health. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Global Public Health from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, an online program that will allow her to continue her teaching career.

She’s not sure what form her career will ultimately take, but plans to continue traveling globally and addressing global issues, perhaps by starting a nonprofit.

Phoebe, who plans to earn her bachelor’s degree at Upstate Medical University, plans to work as a medical technologist in the United States and then take what she knows internationally on a short-term basis – similar to what she did for Health for Haiti. Ultimately, she would like to help set up blood labs internationally and train individuals in the countries she serves.

Visiting Dublin

Visiting Dublin

Her education at SUNY Broome has prepared her well for this path, she said. In the United States, technology leads to quick and thorough results from blood tests. Students in the CLT program, however, also learn to do these tests in low-tech ways that translate well to environments such as Haiti.

“I know they are preparing me to work internationally. It gives me hope for what I really want to do,” she said.

It’s quite a change from her high school days, when she vowed never to attend her local community college. That changed when she learned about the CLT program and met professors with years of experience in both the field and research.

“I am so impressed with the education I have received in the Health Sciences department at SUNY Broome,” she said.