Students honored for service abroad

Living in a dangerous area was just part of the job for graduate student Larissa Hotra and alumna Krystal Sirman during their time working for Survivor Corps this past summer.

The two were recognized at an event Friday night at the Cranford House near Embassy Row that celebrated the international service of the 2008 Advocacy Project Peace Fellows. Claudia Fritsche, Liechtenstein’s ambassador to the United States, honored the work of 34 graduate students from across the United States who served as “ambassadors for peace” in 20 different countries over the summer.

Hotra recalled the difficulties she faced in El Salvador as an intern for Survivor Corps, formerly known as the Landmine Survivor Network, which helps people who have been affected by landmines.

“The most challenging thing was being in a new environment and moving to a new place,” said Hotra, who decided to apply for the internship when she heard that a friend was applying to the program in Peru.

Hotra said her experience altered her outlook on the world.

“I went to El Salvador with the impression that I’d be encountering survivors who were so deeply affected that the war would show on their faces. Instead, it showed on their bodies,” she said. “They just wanted a life with equal rights like anyone else.”

At the same time, Sirman was busy on the other side of the world serving in Amman, Jordan.

Sirman taught landmine victims about how the Internet can be used to help them tell their stories. This involved teaching them about Web sites such as Facebook and YouTube and explaining how to create their own blogs.

“In this way, they will be able to get their voices heard by potential supporters, donators and volunteers,” Sirman said.

Like Hotra, Sirman also experienced her fair share of challenges. In particular, many Jordanians did not understand the potential of new media.

“They thought sites like Facebook were cool, but they couldn’t understand what to write on their pages and blogs,” Sirman said. “This difficulty will be overcome because they have a strong desire and willingness to learn.”

One of the most rewarding moments of her experience in Jordan came when Sirman visited a summer camp where disabled youth were meeting with healthy children.

“The program was about inclusion and having the youths learn about each other,” she said. “It was great to watch the children grow and to just see that spark in their eyes when they realized that they have a lot in common with each other.”

While working with the victims in El Salvador, Hotra said she became very interested in disability rights, working with Survivor Corps to help implement a campaign to educate the public on the new El Salvadoran disability rights laws.

After her time in El Salvador, Hotra said she is eager to return to the area to advocate for human rights.

“I always loved Latin America and the culture but now, after being there, I’ve realized that I need to go back,” Hotra said. “I want to be directly involved.”

Fritsche said the main mission of the Peace Fellows program is to support and expand international service and help students as they disseminate information that advocates for social change.

“It’s about giving a voice to those who don’t have one,” Fritsche said.

The service provided by the Peace Fellows is especially important in revitalizing and restoring the image of the U.S. abroad, she said.

Fritsche said the Peace Fellows “have a two-fold mission in that they are advocates for the Advocacy Project’s work, and at the same time these people who are struggling see these young Americans helping and reaching out. And so the Peace Fellows also serve as ambassadors for the United States.”

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