For the past 35 years, WCSU Adjunct Professor
of Anthropology Dr. Jean Hatcherson has been traveling the globe on
missions of humanitarian service – and since 2006, she has been
introducing Western students to her world.
Hatcherson, a member of the WCSU faculty since
1999, first became involved in humanitarian travel during the 1970s
and 1980s as a volunteer for nonprofit organizations providing
assistance to orphanages, refugee camps and communities in Asia and
Latin America, traveling widely to provide services ranging from
delivery of medical supplies to escort of adopted children from
their home countries to their new families in the United States. As
volunteer administrator on a total of 22 international surgical
missions for Healing the Children Northeast, she conducted site
visits and coordinated medical team trips to 13 countries in Central
and South America, Southeast Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Most
recently, Hatcherson has become a volunteer in educational programs
organized by the charitable organization Empower the Children to
serve children and disabled adults in Kolkata, India; she plans to
make her fifth trip to Kolkata as an Empower the Children volunteer
in January 2013.
Hatcherson’s recognition in an award ceremony
this March as recipient of the 2012 Danbury Women’s Mentor of the
Year Award highlighted her special gift to the university community
– her eagerness to bring Western students along on humanitarian
missions to raise their awareness of social and economic conditions
far from their homeland.
“At times, I would talk about my trips in my
classes, and my students would ask, ‘Why can’t we go on your trips,
too?’” she recalled. Those persistent requests inspired Hatcherson
to organize her first trip for WCSU students on a three-week mission
to Bangladesh in January 2006 that offered an opportunity for
service in support of visiting medical teams providing screenings
and surgical treatment at clinics and hospitals in Dhaka and other
sites. Students also completed readings and papers for course credit
during the Bangladesh trip.
The success of the Bangladesh experience led to
organization of a second humanitarian mission and study-abroad
opportunity in Cambodia, including interviewing and participant
observation for course work.
The subsequent founding of the Humanitarian
Travel Club at Western has provided fresh impetus for student
participation in a series of service missions led by Hatcherson over
the past five years to Brazil, Ghana, Cape Verde, Ecuador and India.
She said approximately 50 students have participated in one or more
of these trips, providing volunteer labor and service in diverse
tasks ranging from building an orphanage classroom and teaching
English to repairing a day-care facility playground.
Lorien Crow '07, a Western graduate who traveled to
Bangladesh and Ghana and plans to join Hatcherson again for the
January 2013 mission to Kolkata, said she has been changed “in ways
I never could have imagined” by her past trips. “I’ve learned
strange and wonderful things – how to assist in an operating room,
how rural villages are affected by global warming, how children are
educated in Ghana, what struggles mothers face to keep their
children healthy, how my daily choices affect the livelihood of
people far away,” Crow said.
to think I’ve become a more compassionate individual, less concerned
with myself and more concerned with those around me, near and far,”
she added. “As a writer and professor, I get to share my experiences
and interpretations of the world, and I hope to lead my future
students on trips abroad. I don’t know of a single student who has
traveled with Jeannie who has not returned with a renewed sense of
purpose, and that translates into actions that benefit not just the
university, but the entire community.”
Mike Carlo '08 also found his participation in the
Brazil and Ghana trips to be a life-changing experience that
inspired him following his graduation from WCSU to serve for 27
months as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine.
“These trips take you far outside your comfort
zone and force you to think about who you really are and what you
want to do in a whole new way,” Carlo remarked. “What really makes
those trips special is that you’re not just traveling and seeing a
new place through the window of a tour bus, but you’re actually
working side-by-side with the local population, addressing a need in
“While we did accomplish concrete and tangible
things on both of my trips, I found the most significant takeaway
was the exchange of cultures and ideas between our group and the
local people, particularly in Ghana, where many of us were exposed
to real poverty for the first time,” he recalled. “We encountered
children who seemed not to know what it was like to smile, but by
the end of the week, we had formed such a close bond with those kids
that it was very difficult for us to leave.
“While I hope that our classroom and the
basketball hoop we built went to good use,” he added, “I know the
real impact we had that week was more about the way we made each
other feel and the memories we made.”
Carlo’s humanitarian travel provided a fresh
perspective for his 2008 trip with 11 other Western students to
Geneva, Switzerland, to study human rights issues and attend a
session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. “I had traveled
to some areas of the world with very real and pressing problems, and
then got to sit in on meetings with world leaders and policy makers
as they discussed what could be done about them,” he said.
Hatcherson observed that humanitarian travel
often influences future career choices, noting that several WCSU
graduates who participated in humanitarian travel have gone on to
work for nonprofit organizations, public health and other agencies
with service missions. Perhaps the most important lesson that
students learn is their shared bond with the peoples of societies
that seem so different from their own: “We have had the opportunity
to work alongside people in these countries, learn about their
social and economic conditions, and experience the sense of
community that people can create anywhere in the world.
“I love seeing things though the eyes of our
students for the first time, because it helps me to see familiar
things in a new way,” Hatcherson said. “I always come back with more
questions than answers.”
Cover photo: Dr.
Jean Hatcherson (center) in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Above photo: WCSU students visited
students from Prayrona School in Kolkata, West Bengal,