Helping Out Abroad

Members of USF’s Kosove Society spent a recent holiday weekend helping care for children in Panama.



By Laura Kneski

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 22, 2013) – Stepping off a plane in the middle of Panama City, Panama, could be a daunting experience for some. The majority of the crowd speaks Spanish, and everyone hurries along with purpose.


A bus ride away, however, the atmosphere is much calmer. Tall trees shade dirt driveways, including one that led to Nutre-Hogar. That was the destination last month for members of the Kosove Society from the University of South Florida.


Roughly translated to “nourish home”, Nutre-Hogar is a place for just that. Severely malnourished children are brought to the association’s location from all over the country so that they can receive the proper medical and nutritional treatment.


The goal of Nutre-Hogar is to be able to get the children healthy and back with their families.


The members and their advisor, Kiki Caruson, assistant vice president of Research, Innovation and Global Affairs at USF, visited the center during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. They spent their time helping the small staff, which was caring for upwards of 20 children.


The women members took the toddlers and infants to a local park for the day, pushing them on swings while the children smiled and urged their guests to “make them go higher.” Later in the day, the USF students fed the toddlers soup, rice and other food, and nap time for the children followed.


“It’s like we became part of their little family,” said Kosove alumni Tiffany Piquet.


While the women took the children to the park, the men spent the day doing maintenance work on the house. They cleaned from floor to ceiling as they swept and disinfected the children’s bedrooms.


Peter Silverman, the vice president of legacy projects, and Tony Kurian, treasurer, visited a room down the hall that housed three children with cerebral palsy. The oldest was a 16-year-old boy.


The room had a glass wall so that the children could glimpse the outside. They received little interaction from the others except for feeding and cleaning.


The president of Kosove, Andrew Schwartz, recalled watching through the glass wall as Silverman and Kurian visited with the oldest boy. He said he would always be touched by that moment.


“…and I saw his eyes light up, and it was more…realizing…because he couldn’t verbalize his gratitude. But just seeing his eyes light up, that faint glimmer of a smile that probably hadn’t been there in – I wouldn’t even say days or weeks maybe months or years – it sticks with me now.”


Schwartz wants people to know that you don’t have to travel to another country to help those less fortunate. Being involved in the local community, he said, can change lives.


The Kosove Society works with Eckerd Community Alternatives in the Hillsborough area, which administers child and family care services to homeless youth between the ages of 18-to-23. The Kosove members visit every two weeks to give workshops on topics such as holiday traditions, what employers look for during the interview process, and academic skills.


Panama was chosen as Kosove’s first international service trip destination because USF already holds an office there through the USF Research Foundation. The nursing program and USF Education Abroad also frequent the country.


While the students enjoyed putting smiles on the children’s faces, they took a few days to visit tourist destinations, such as the Panama Canal. The day prior, the group canoed to an indigenous village to experience native Panamanian dancing, shopping and cuisine.


The majority of the members had previous experience traveling abroad, but none had been as personally impacted as they had been on this trip.