Service Learning in Action

Peabody’s commitment to hands-on learning and community service gave recent human and organizational development graduate Palmer Harston the confidence to spend the next year helping children orphaned by AIDS in one of the poorest areas of South Africa.

Harston, a May graduate who also majored in political science and was the recipient of a prestigious Ingram Scholarship, will live and work for the next year at the Lily of the Valley AIDS orphanage in Kwa Zulu Natal near Durbin, South Africa, an area with the second highest AIDS population in the world and one of the highest child abandonment rates.

She’ll spend her days on HIV education and testing with the 150 orphans living in the village. She also will work with widows of AIDS victims. Her involvement will extend as well to community development micro-financing—not on the loan side, but helping people with loans develop projects. In her spare time, she plans to take classes in Zulu.

“If it hadn’t been for my professors and the encouragement from my department, it would have been more daunting,” Harston said. Her experience in Africa is made even more challenging by the fact that she will volunteer from a wheelchair.

“If it hadn’t been for my professors and the encouragement from my department, it would have been more daunting.”

When she was eight, her family was involved in a car wreck while visiting relatives in Nashville. She was airlifted to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, where she underwent emergency surgeries to save her life. Her memories of the life-saving treatment she received at Vanderbilt led her to apply for college here.

Harston spent two summers doing service work in Africa as an undergraduate—first in Mozambique and then in South Africa—which gave her a desire to go back for a lengthier stay.

A particular service learning project that boosted her confidence in taking a leadership role as a volunteer was an opportunity at an academy that does life-skills training for the unemployed, including people living with HIV.

“When I got there, my position as a volunteer had really changed. They asked us to give training to the staff. If I hadn’t had the skills I got in HOD on how to make presentations, how to do organizational analyses, how to make lesson plans, and how to be engaging, I would have been even more intimidated. It was a challenge that turned out great,” she said. “It made me realize how much I’d learned.”