By Lori Vanbeek
Project Learning Around the World at Youngstown State University is an organization that delivers school supplies to enhance learning environments for children in rural township schools in South Africa.
Charlene Milano, the president of PLATW, first learned about the program when it appeared as an optional course on her course list.
“I contacted Dr. [Audrey] Ellenwood, who was an integral part in creating YSU’s school psychology program and is the founder of PLATW. She has since retired from teaching, but continues this program at YSU as an adjunct professor,” Milano said. “After last years trip, I attended a meeting. After the meeting, I decided that I was going to go on the trip to South Africa this year, became president, and the rest is history.”
PLATW is sending six members to South Africa this upcoming May. While in South Africa, the members will travel to villages to distribute school supplies, balloons and stickers to children. They intend to meet with community leaders to discuss strategies for improving their regional educational system.
“During this conversation, they will ask the team to provide funds that have already been raised to help complete a community project,” Milano said. “In the past, these projects have included building a playground, creating and stocking a swap shop, a place where goods are exchanged, and many others. YSU and PLATW have been working together on these projects since 2010.”
While PLATW’s primary goal is to benefit the population where they’re operating, the group also provides an opportunity for students to manage and coordinate an international volunteer effort.
As president, Milano has multiple duties; she creates meeting agendas, coordinates all communications and organizes all the paperwork and information for the group.
“As president of PLATW, I run the monthly meeting, plan and organize the fundraisers,” Milano said. “We do a beer and wine tasting at Magic Tree, our ‘Give Back Night’ at Chili’s, and a few other potentials. I have contacted the SGA for financial support and done presentations to a few local organizations, such as the Boardman-Poland Women’s Junior League to help raise funds.”
Julianne Borowske, a residential education graduate assistant, is in her second semester of the clinical mental health counseling masters program and is the former president of PLATW.
“As president, my main purpose was organizing fundraisers. Each year, the group members decide how many fundraisers they want to hold and what kind,” Borowske said. “From last year’s fundraiser, we donated $700 toward Project Learning Around the World, and the remainder of money was put toward each individual’s trip costs.”
Beyond the potential for international leadership experience, PLATW also provides an opportunity for cross cultural engagement among the volunteers.
Samantha Basista is a senior majoring in middle school education math and language arts and is one of the six members going on the trip to South Africa. She gained interest in PLATW while walking to class one day and seeing it displayed in a hallway in the Beeghly College of Education.
“I always wanted to go to a country in poverty to help give back to the community and help children,” Basista said. “So when I saw it, I was instantly on board for the trip.”
While in South Africa, she will take part in all of the events planned to give back to the community. As a member, she will also learn about how the people live, and what they do to survive.
“To me, the purpose of the trip is to learn about the African culture and to give back to their community and schools,” Basista said. “We will be going to Knysna, a town in South Africa to give back to the town. We will also be going into the villages to give everyday supplies to people in need. I can’t wait to take on this journey and learn about these people, and give back in a way that is bigger than I can imagine.”