Animals in the Amazon: Volunteer Trip Focuses on Protecting the Rainforest

By Colby Gallagher

Published on March 26, 2019

Jenna Kwiecinski and Alyssa Kearney during a service trip to PeruA desire to help others, apply what they’ve learned at USciences, and an Instagram featuring Daniel the giant river otter led two students and best friends on the trip of a lifetime helping animals in the Amazon during spring break.

Each year, Jenna Kwiecinski BMS’20, HumSci’20 and Alyssa Kearney BMS’19 have used their week off to serve others by participating in various service opportunities from working in homeless shelters and food pantries to mentoring children, but felt like there was still something missing.

Alyssa Kearney and Jenna Kwiecinski in Iceland“As amazing as these opportunities were, I felt like I could be doing more with my spring break. The Honors Program is centered around global learning, and we go on a global trip at the end of each school year,” said Kwiecinski. “Last May, Alyssa and I traveled to Iceland, where we were immersed in an extremely sustainable society – plastic bags/straws were minimally used, and energy was geothermally powered. I fell in love with this way of living, which inspired me to search for an environmentally-friendly and sustainable spring break project.”

The two used the website Giving Way, a database of volunteer activities that pairs you with potential projects based on the preferences entered; for Kearney and Kwiecinski, they wanted an opportunity that combined healthcare, conservation work, and research.

That’s where they found the Rainforest Awareness Rescue Education Center (RAREC), a center that offered an opportunity helping to take care of animals in the Amazon.

“What drove us to the Amazon is the high rate of deforestation going on. Especially in Southern Peru, the rainforest is being torn down at alarming rates,” said Kearney. “We decided to volunteer in Northern Peru in an area where there is only moderate deforestation to see what strategies could be utilized to begin to reverse this process.

After presenting the opportunity to faculty members, the two were able to get it sponsored through the University's Honors Program. They documented their trip of walking otters, bathing tapirs and feeding monkeys in a Vlog to show prospective students what they can achieve if they push themselves.

“This trip allowed me to combine my two passions – the environment and medicine – in a unique way that I never could have imagined,” said Kwiecinski. “There are thousands of opportunities like this out there, and it is important to find one that is best suited for you!

“I would tell the students that there are many, many programs out there so there is destined to be one that can combine all of their learning and personal goals,” added Kearney. “One important tip is to get planning the trip early in advance to make sure that it is feasible and so that you can fundraise if need be!”

Aside from the obvious crossovers between providing healthcare to a living thing whether it’s a human or an animal, Kwiecinski said the skills they developed will ensure their success as they get closer to their careers.

“The most important thing I learned was to be confident in myself,” she said. “By the end of the week, I felt like the king of the jungle! Nothing could stop me.”

The trip also allowed Kearney to teach others about her future career as a physician’s assistant.

“We had the chance to volunteer with fellow students from other countries, such as Peru and Belgium. These students did not have an understanding of the role of a Physician Assistant, because they are not found in either country,” she said. “I was able to explain what a PA is and what our missions are which will help me to be able to better articulate the goals of a PA during clinical practice to any unsure patients.

When Kearney graduates in May, she’ll head to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine as part of the accelerated PA program; Kwiecinski’s goal is to continue on the track to becoming a doctor after graduation in 2020.

Categories: News, Misher College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Students, Proven Everywhere, Community, Community Service, USciences