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More than an award

Interest in international child rights leads student to volunteer abroad

by Marlena Chertock, February 22, 2010

Meagan Harrison traveled to the Phillippines where she wanted to help the children. In turn, she said the children helped her more than she ever expected. Photo by Justine Schulerud.

When sophomore Meagan Harrison, went to the Philippines she was able to help many children and in return they taught her valuable life lessons.

In order to travel to the Philippines and help children there, Harrison needed the funds. Last April, Harrison received the Ward Family Learning in Action Award for 2009. This and the Bruns Endowment for service learning covered her expenses and payment for her communications internship.

Harrison received $3000 for the Ward award. She also received $5000 from the Bruns Endowment.

The Ward award is given to students who have used their passion to help the community, Harrison said. Elon gives this award annually to a rising sophomore, junior or senior based on their experiential learning project, according to E-net. Projects can include undergraduate-research, international study, internships, service and leadership experiences.

“It covered everything,” she said. “I was able to buy a Mac to bring there because they were lacking computers. We used it while we were there, for them, the research and photo editing, and then we left it there — one of our gifts to them.”

For two months in Oriental Mindoro, Philippines, Harrison used her communications skills and advocacy beliefs to help children.

Harrison chose to travel to the Philippines because a friend of hers from Duke University had attended school and volunteered there.

“A couple of friends and I were looking for a thing to do for summer. We were interested in child rights internationally,” Harrison said.

The organization her friend participated with seemed like a perfect match. According to the Web site, the Stairway Foundation is “a learning and resource center for children’s rights.” The organization is located in Oriental Mindoro.

Their goal is twofold, according to Harrison.

She described the residential area. Filipino boys aged 9 to 14 live in a dormitory. Most come from jails in Manila and many have been sexually abused. Social workers and psychologists are available to speak with the children. The children are allowed to stay for 10 months and then are placed into another school, or if the situation allows, they go back to their families.

“They do a lot of creative therapy, they give them school, everything you need, a place to stay,” Harrison said.

Another aspect is advocacy. The Stairway Foundation creates animations and videos they hope will prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation, according to the foundation Web site.

The animations make difficult situations, such as incest, sex trafficking and sexual abuse, easier to talk about, Harrison said. She said education about these issues is important.

“This component is pretty extensive. They’ve gone to the Geneva Convention. They’re really active in advocating for child rights,” Harrison said.

During her time working with the foundation, Harrison created many multimedia projects for children’s rights advocacy. She also took pictures, conducted research on sex trafficking in the United States and made a movie trailer. She worked in the creative advocacy department of the foundation.

“I was … planning a campaign for them,” she said. “I did research on U.S. cities. Sex traffic is huge in the United States and people don’t know that.”

Harrison has extensive experience working on children’s rights. She co-founded Oasis, Outdoor Action for Social and Intrapersonal Strength, a nonprofit organization in Durham for youth. The organization was set up in 2007 and offers a retreat program every year.

“We take … at-risk youth to do outdoor activities, things that will build their self-confidence, make them better leaders. They can overcome their fears,” Harrison said.

Harrison seems to put her beliefs into action.

“I really like to volunteer and with the kids it’s easy to make relationships,” she said. “They’re always interested to get to know you. It makes work more rewarding.”