February 25 2014
Lawrence Goun, BSILR '15
In August of 2011, I remember coming into Cornell as a very scatter-brained ILR freshman. On a whim at an international programs fair outside Uris Hall, I decided that I wanted to become a Global Health minor because I felt that understanding health policy and management would be essential in discussing workers’ rights and benefits both in the USA and abroad. Fast-forward to December 2013, where I found myself in the international San Juan de Dios clinic in Cusco, Peru, working as a volunteer caretaker for children with disabilities alongside nurses and physical therapists. Using my knowledge and understanding of disability rights, health policy, workplace psychology, child development, and of course, Spanish language and Latin American culture, I was able to put a wide array of Cornell curriculum into action in ways I never could have imagined over two years ago when I entered the university.
The treatment of people with disabilities has always been a topic near and dear to me, and the ILR School has afforded me many resources to learn, engage, and discuss disability issues. At the clinic, I found myself seeing firsthand the different impressions that Peruvians have of people with disabilities and what services, or lack thereof, these individuals receive. My ILR education served not only as a means of reference for disability rights, it also served as a catalyst for open discussion where I could engage in thoughtful questions about how people with disabilities are treated in Peru.
I did not anticipate that I would become so intrigued by the workplace culture in the clinic or by the local government involvement. One afternoon when I was working in the clinic, the Mayor of Cusco showed up with a caravan of publicity in order to document his charitable toy donations to the young children in the clinic. After this visit, I took time to talk with a local Cusco teacher. From this conversation, I learned that the current Mayor of Cusco is the first Mayor in the city’s history to address indigenous Quechua communities in their native language, Quechua (instead of Spanish). Despite the fact that most Peruvians have Quechuan heritage, it has been typical to repress such connections to the Quechua people—but the clinic and the local government are working together to change this. This made me realize that even though I disapprove of the local government’s lack of resources provided to the children with disabilities living at the clinic, I do approve of the government’s efforts to provide equal access to services to both Spanish-speaking and Quechua-speaking communities.
As one of the few Spanish-speaking volunteers at the clinic, I often acted as a mediator between nurses and volunteers. The nurses were extremely concerned about the clinic’s liability and the children’s safety, but using the negotiation and communication skills that I developed in my ILR classes, I was able to help both nurses and volunteers reach agreements that allowed more freedom and activity for the children with disabilities at the clinic.
In summary, my time in Cusco, Peru utilized my ILR education in so many respects that I could hardly have imagined how I would have handled this experience without it. The ILR International Travel Experience Grant and the Global Health program made this opportunity possible by encouraging me to create an idea, select a destination, identify workplace and health issues, and figure out a well-crafted plan to immerse myself in another culture in order to offer a meaningful eight weeks of service and to hopefully leave behind a legacy of further advancement in the world of work.