Lynn students to bring food to poverty-stricken Vietnamese school

Published March 14th, 2008By Dale M. King
CITY EDITOR

Lynn University senior Danielle Bissett still remembers the study trip she and fellow students took to Southeast Asia last year.

In fact, she said, it’s an experience that’s hard to forget.

Bissett was part of a group of Lynn students who joined Lynn professors Robert Seifer and Charles Barr for what she called a “life-changing” academic trip in July 2007 that crisscrossed Vietnam and Cambodia.

During the almost two weeks of travel, students ate and meditated with Buddhist monks; joined a Vietnamese family for a six-course meal and toured the death camps and killing fields of Cambodia.

But it was the day in Phnom Penh and its sprawling municipal dumpsite that impacted the group most.

The Lynn students walked the dump on one of the first days in the country. They watched as desperate residents picked through the trash heaps, pulling out food, clothing and other discarded items.

And they visited a small schoolhouse on the edge of the dump, built to educate the children of those people who subsist off the site.

During the visit, Lynn students handed out what they could, but left wishing they could do more.

Today, they are working to do just that.

Bissett, who will graduate this May, has joined with her professors and more than a dozen classmates to raise $15,000 to take back to Cambodia when they return there this summer.

This semester, students are working to raise money to provide a year’s worth of rice to the school when a new group of students returns there this summer.

In recent weeks, the first of several fundraising projects kicked off as seniors Brittany Rudich and Amy Mandel started making and selling red bracelets on campus. By March 1, the two had almost single-handedly raised more than $600.

And more student projects are just getting started – with all proceeds going to the nonprofit Vulnerable Children’s Assistance Organization that runs the school outside the Stung Meanchey dumpsite.

Seifer, who spent more than a year planning the original trip, is leading his second this summer. “The power of studying abroad,” he said, “is illustrated perfectly in the reaction of last year’s students. Not only were their eyes opened to a culture they’d not experienced before, but they got to know specific people and see the challenges they face firsthand.”

“At Lynn, we talk a lot about providing our students with a global perspective,” Seifer said. “Through trips like this, we’re allowing our students to see the real world – the global world.”

Jackie Montoya, a senior psychology major, called the trip “one of the most humbling experiences of my life – and most challenging too” as students bathed out of basins and draped their cots in mosquito nets some nights.

“The first few days, we were even brushing our teeth with bottled water,” she said. But it didn’t take long for everyone’s perspective to change, she said. “By the end of the trip we weren’t scared about the water– and we’d eat just about anything” including, for a few brave souls, cricket legs that tasted like “unbuttered, unsalted popcorn.”

“I felt very fortunate to be there with these students and see them learning things firsthand,” Seifer says of the experience. “It felt like we were cultural ambassadors.”

This summer’s trip will differ from last year’s, as students will return to Cambodia for visits at mental health facilities and Buddhist retreats, but will forgo Vietnam for Thailand, where they will meet with mental health providers and visit psychiatric hospitals, among other things.

But most pressing in students’ minds at this point: a trip back to the dump, the school on its outer border and the children they’re working hard to feed through their efforts.

“I think it was a new experience for everybody,” said Bissett. “I really had no idea what I was getting into, but it ended up being the best experience of my life.”

Robert Seifer’s class and students are soliciting donations for the Vulnerable Children’s Assistance Organization to support the Phnom Penh school. Anyone interested in contributing can contact Seifer directly at rseifer@lynn.edu or by calling 561-237-7447.

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