By Katie (Paxson) Hammaker ’93
Whether teaching her second-grade class in south-central Pennsylvania or delivering new books to some of the poorest regions of Peru, Emily (Hutchison) Trace ’10 has a passion for helping children learn.
Trace is the co-founder of Project Open Arms (POA), a nonprofit organization based in Chambersburg, that provides resources and volunteers for schools in the world’s poorest countries. The organization places special emphasis on Peru.
A Shippensburg native, Trace majored in elementary education with a minor in Spanish. In 2008, she studied abroad for a semester. “I wanted to practice my Spanish and study somewhere not as populated or well known,” she said.
She chose Peru and was assigned a host family in the rural town of Cusco. She opted for a nontraditional study abroad curriculum that combines classroom work with community service.
Each weekend, Trace and other students tackled projects such as tutoring children at a nearby school, building wood stoves for local residents, and assisting with free health screenings for natives in the Amazon Rain Forest.
“The needs are so diverse and so many,” she said. “Many do not have quick access to medicine, doctors, or other common necessities.”
Over half of Peru’s rural residents live in extreme poverty, due in large part to high illiteracy rates and a lack of food and other necessities, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
“I returned home that December, but I couldn’t wait to go back. Not to travel for leisure, but to really make a difference.”
Trace wasted no time in making her dream a reality. She recruited classmate Stephanie (Cramer) Davenport ’12 to discuss and form POA. They chose the organization’s name because it demonstrates their desire to show love, compassion, and support for others. “Our arms are open, and we are ready to help in any way needed.”
Fundraising was an important next step. Trace and Davenport launched a marketing campaign to promote POA and approached friends, the community, and local churches for support.
Trace returned to Peru in May 2010, accompanied by a team of POA volunteers. Just months before their return trip, disaster struck when Cusco and the surrounding area was buried by a mudslide. The damage was extensive.
With help from her former host family, with whom Trace remains in close contact, she learned of a rural school just outside of Cusco in dire need of basic supplies. She mobilized volunteers and support to purchase the supplies, which included a new set of library books.
Securing support was not a problem, but getting the supplies into Peru was. According to Trace, in impoverished areas, the Peruvian government tracks a school’s inventory and reserves the right to move supplies to other schools.
“Our items are inspected upon arrival in the country,” she said. “Once we are there, we’ve learned to draft contracts stating that the items are for a specific school. This helps assure that the supplies are used by the intended students and teachers.”
Once Trace and her team arrived at the school, they were greeted with open arms. “We were received by the students with overwhelming happiness and songs as a way of saying welcome and thank you.
“When we visit a school, we truly just spend time with the children,” she continued. “We might plan a craft or a Bible activity. We’ve been in parades, learned songs, helped teach lessons, and played outside with them.”
Trace and her team also surveyed the school’s needs while there and purchased extra supplies from nearby markets. The children are always appreciative. “On the last day, we have a party with cake and music. We want to let them know they are loved, and that lots of people are thinking about them and praying for them, not just when we are there but all the time.”
Trace has completed three more trips to Peru. On her most recent trip in 2014, she visited a school in Lacco. The isolated and impoverished town sits atop a snow-capped mountain. Children attend a one-room school with a dirt floor, no electricity, and plastic coverings in place of windows. Despite the region’s cold weather, many students walk an hour or more—some without coats—to attend.
“There is so much need there,” she said. “We were asked by the parents to build a new school, because they want their children to have an education and a future.”
She cheerfully accepted the challenge, and is conducting a campaign to raise the funds. She will return to Lacco this summer to hire builders and make arrangements for construction. She hopes to break ground in 2017.
Trace relies on many volunteers to help run POA, including Ship grads Emily Fulker '15, Benjamin Shenk '15, and Trace's brother Luke Hutchison '19, and economics major at Ship.
For more information on Project Open Arms, visit paopenarms.org.
Katie (Paxson) Hammaker ’93 is the director of development and marketing for the Susquehanna Chorale and a freelance writer based in Mechanicsburg.