Picture of Dr. Maria SchmeeckleMaria Schmeeckle,with help from Kara Miller, Sylvia Rajska, and Taylor McCabe

During the summer of 2005, I (Maria) was feeling depleted and discouraged for a variety of reasons.  Wanting to turn things around, I started asking myself some big questions.  The main one I pondered was, “what would I do if money were no object?”  As I considered this, one major idea formed in my mind.  I had long been interested in foster children (ever since members of my own family were in need of foster care), and had also become interested in developing a global perspective on many topics.  The global equivalent of a foster child, I mused, might be an orphan, because many countries lack the basic kind of infrastructure of services that we take for granted here in the United States.  (Later, I’d add street children, child soldiers, and impoverished children to my focus on orphans.)  I felt a desire to help these vulnerable children on a global basis, and suddenly realized that my academic position was a great platform from which to do that kind of work.  My university’s focus on civic engagement and service learning, and a long history of “sociological practice” and “public sociology” in my academic discipline gave me an additional boost.  I began to raise my own awareness about orphans and other vulnerable children, and one of my students, Mourad Bouajaja, worked on this with me.

Not even a year later, my friend Janet Wilson (a theatre professor here at Illinois State University) was asked to direct the world premiere of a play about Brazilian street children.  Written by ISU graduate student Margaret “Beth” Iha, Hopeless Spinning was set in Rio de Janeiro, and juxtaposed the adventures of an American tourist wanting to do a photo essay on street children with scenes of a belligerent and desperate group of street children.  Janet arranged for me to meet Beth, who had been to Rio, and told me about a famous Brazilian activist named Yvonne Bezerra de Mello who works with street children there.  We decided to invited Yvonne to attend the play, and to visit ISU and our community.  To our delight, Yvonne accepted and we spent the next six months raising money for the airfare, planning her week-long visit, and arranging for her to speak to many groups.  Despite a massive snowstorm on Dec. 1, 2006, Yvonne’s visit culminated with a sold-out opening night performance of Hopeless Spinning.  Across the run of the play, students from my Marriage and Family class distributed information about street children, and raised $1000 to contribute to scholarships for children Yvonne is working with, donating through the organization Students Helping Street Children International.  (Stacey Evans from that organization was able to make it for opening night as well.)

First, Kara, one of the students from Marriage and Family that semester, will give her perspective of her service learning experience in that class.

Kara Miller photo Kara Miller

" In the fall of 2006 I took the Marriage and Family course taught by Maria and for the first time participated in long distance service learning.  Prior to this course I had no experience in long distance service learning and really knew nothing about it. Maria gave the class different options of group projects to work on and I chose to be in the group focused on Brazilian street children and the work of Yvonne Bezzera de Mello. As a group we were to research Brazilian street children and create a pamphlet of information based on our research.  Before doing this research I knew very little about Brazil or street children in general.  While working on the project I became more and more interested in continuing to learn about and participate in long distance service learning pertaining to street children. The project became less about a grade in a class and more about what else I could possibly do to create awareness about this issue and potentially help these children. Now, two years later I am so thankful I was able to participate in that project because it has lead to Global Children Outreach and has truly changed my life." (Kara)

Having encountered an impressive real person doing innovative, life-changing work with real street children, I inquired of Yvonne Bezerra de Mello whether I might visit her project the following summer. I thought I might be able to serve as a bridge between the students and staff at Illinois State University and actual children who are our focus.Yvonne agreed to have me visit, and with the help of a Portuguese immersion course in Salvador, Brazil (led by University of Illinois professor Luciano Tosta) and funding from my university, I set out for Rio in July, 2007.There I had a chance to observe first-hand how vision and determination can make a difference.On a shoestring budget, Yvonne and her staff serve 420 children who are at risk of becoming street children.In a school-like setting, these children receive well-rounded academic training, nutritious meals, and nurturance.The pedagogy is innovative and effective, enabling children who have emotional blocks due to exposure to violence to be able to learn.It was a humbling and challenging experience to visit Project Uerê; but, I was able to return to Illinois with a greater idea of the obstacles that poor children are facing in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.Upon my return, I had a small group of students who wanted to work with me to build some kind of program to help street children and orphans from our location here at Illinois State University.Kara Miller, Sylvia Rajska, and Taylor McCabe were this small group.

Picture of Sylvia RajskaSylvia Rajska

"The first step was to read a book informing us about the issue of street children and various stories about them. Throughout the semester, we became aware of the issue through various resources, including movies, books, web sites, and centers. We also became knowledgeable of starting up an organization in itself by looking at how other people have done it and working together to see how we could do it.

We helped form an organization called Global Children Outreach. We are slowly but surely making the campus aware of street children and helping them by fundraising and working together to make it easier for them to receive an education.  For example, we are working on making tapes for them to learn colors, numbers, and daily activities. This has inspired me to work abroad the summer of 2010. I hope to teach English to students in impoverished countries. " (Sylvia)

In the spring of 2008, I was assigned two sections of Marriage and Family, which I planned to teach from a global perspective. With the help of Kara, Sylvia, and Taylor, I created some service learning options for the course as well, so that we could assist children with few or no family resources.Kara and Taylor served as teaching assistants for the course.

Lastly, Taylor will give his impression of our activities with 80+ students.

Picture of Taylor McCabeTaylor McCabe

"Before any work could begin, it was our job to decide how this large group of over 80 people, spread across two sections of the Marriage and Family course, could work together effectively and efficiently. There were many different ways the course could have been operated. We decided that the best way for this large group to work together towards our goals, was to break up into smaller committees with individual responsibilities to complete.

Four committees were formed. Kara helped with the Education and Fundraising committee, and I assisted the English Language Video Groups and the Copyright Permission committee. Working in the small groups allowed us to complete numerous tasks. I was so proud to have been a part of these great achievements; the students showed true care and passion for our partner organizations. The students left us at the end of the semester with honorable and humble quotes. One student, Meghan McGill, said 'You do not normally get the opportunity to have class work affect the real world. This makes for a boost of motivation when doing work for the service learning aspect of this class...knowing that what I do will be useful.' ” (Taylor)

To read more about the accomplishments of these groups, please see, our Projects and Services page.

poster for the play, Hopeless Spinning

Poster for the play, Hopeless Spinning

Poster for Yvonne Bezerra de Mello's visit

Poster for Yvonne Bezerra de Mello's visit

picture of Section 1 of Marriage and Family class

Section 1 of Marriage and Family class

Picture of Section 2 of Marriage and Family class

Section 2 of Marriage and Family class



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