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House on the Hill: Global Perspectives

Feb. 17, 2014

From left: Ryan Dodds, Catrina Yohay and Allie Torru pose for a photo after playing soccer with local boys in Kenya. 

When Alec Golini was a hungry 7-year-old, he'd track his mother down, just like many of us did, and request a snack. She'd open a pantry loaded with goodies or a fridge stocked with food and hand her son something to eat.

Golini's little belly would stop growling until his next meal. It's all the 22-year-old rising redshirt senior soccer player at Lafayette College, has ever known.

Homeless shelter Golini worked at in Peru

A recent trip to Peru through his Lafayette class, Peru's Indigenous Population, opened his eyes to the way so many other people in foreign countries live. During his stay from Jan. 5-23, Golini spent five days working at a homeless shelter for boys where he witnessed them often getting just one meal a day that consisted of corn or bananas. He'd watch as they'd climb out of a bed that another boy had urinated in the night before. And he knew that days went by before they got to change into clean clothes.

Golini felt so bad for one little boy that he sneaked him a granola bar that the little boy proceeded to hide in his back pocket so he wouldn't have to share it.

"It's heartbreaking," he said. "You want to give these kids everything that you have; you want them to have the same experiences you had as a kid."

Golini and teammate Ryan Dodds have and will continue to do everything they can for underprivileged kids, and they'll apply much of what they learned in their respective trips abroad to the local non-profit organization that Golini started about 18 months ago: Athletes C.A.R.E (Creating Abundant Relief Efforts). Golini was recently honored as a semi-finalist for the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup for his work with Athletes C.A.R.E.

"I might not have realized this in high school, but after doing all the non-profit work I've done and you see kids living like that, it's a culture shock," said Golini, who was accompanied by 23 other Lafayette students and two professors on his trip. "If I ever have the opportunity to go into a shelter like that with Athletes C.A.R.E, there are definitely a lot of issues I would like to address in terms of the organization of the shelter itself, especially helping those kids get an education so they might be able to apply themselves or better themselves later in life. I'd work on getting them clothing, beds, whatever it might be, and just the cleanliness of the shelter itself. I would leave after cleaning a room in that shelter in Peru and you could barely breathe and you would blow your nose and it was all brown and black.

"I'm so fortunate to take my learning experience in Peru and apply it here. I was learning about things in a way that was so hands-on and the first-hand experience really fascinated me. If I go to Philadelphia to feed the homeless I might be able to connect with them in a way that you don't know how to, but I can teach you how to because I was exposed to it. You interact with kids the same way you do any culture."

The students will all receive credit for the trip, but that was hardly the driving force behind their ventures.

Pickup soccer game in Peru.  

"Just to hang out and play with the kids, that was something that was so valuable," Golini said. "I don't need to have a grade or numbers on a paper to show for it. I don't need to have everyone know about it unless they want to. But I can talk about it because it was life changing."

Dodds, a junior on the men's soccer team, traveled with 19 Lafayette students, including women's soccer players Allie Torru, Shannon Hartzell and Catrina Yohay, to Kenya. He's a board member with Athletes C.A.R.E, and through his trip he was reminded how important it is to not take for granted everything he has, from the little things to the big things.

"Lots of people want to go to Paris or London, but this trip makes you appreciate everything you have," Dodds said. "The big joke was time went so slow there. Time flies here. People aren't worried about the time there. They enjoy things and take in their environment. They don't talk about a tweet from last night. They take in the scenery and their company. I wish we took that approach more here. There is such pressure of doing well in school and in sports. Over there, we were constantly asking, 'What's next? What's next?" And our professor (Robert Blunt) said we didn't have a master plan. We took things day by day there, and that was such a welcomed experience."

So, too, was not feeling the pressure to check his phone every two minutes. With limited Internet access, Blunt encouraged his students to leave their phones in their bags except for a handful of times when he gave them the freedom to fiddle around with them.

At first, Dodds admitted he was leery of that philosophy. If felt weird, he said, not to be able to text his parents and tell them he was all settled in. Plus, he's close to his three brothers who he talks to every day when he is at Lafayette. That wasn't possible in Kenya. But he ended up getting so used to it that he finds himself leaving his phone in his pocket more and more. He doesn't text or check his email as frequently since his return to College Hill.

Golini climbs Machu Picchu.

"One time we were walking through a city, and we saw donkeys," Dodds recalled. "If we were on our phones, we would have gotten rocked by donkeys.".

Dodds and Golini visited destinations and experienced things they never thought possible. Golini hiked up Machu Picchu and called it "A once-in-a-lifetime experience." 

Dodds watched in amazement as a herd of 340 elephants crossed a street in front of him, saw Mount Kilimanjaro, took part in a going-away gathering where he drank goat's blood and spent a few days in a village where the inhabitants practice polygamy, an experience that has allowed him to be more open-minded about the cultures and ways of life of other people.

"I was a little like, 'Oh my gosh,'" Dodds said. "But you have to realize it's their customs, it's their traditions. The wives go help each other out. They basically consider each other sisters. It's a lot different than what we practice, but it works for them and it works well and they're happy and that's what matters. Western culture looks down on it, but to me it didn't seem like an issue."

Dodds, who was required to take 30 hours of Swahili classes while he was there, is so grateful of the opportunity provided by Lafayette to spend 3 ½ weeks in a foreign country.

"It's awesome, especially as an athlete because it's harder to study abroad because we are always practicing and preparing for the season," Dodds said. "They vary the places you can go. It's whatever fits your likes and your schedule and you can pick and go. I made friends, and I know they're great people, and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to be introduced to them otherwise." 

By Mandy Housenick | House on the Hill