After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, Elizabeth Arrazola returned to the United States with a passion to support equitable immigration rights, particularly for unaccompanied minors. This path led her to the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Global Development program where she was awarded the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship, which provides financial assistance for returned Peace Corp Volunteers to pursue a graduate degree.
As a Coverdell Fellow, she plays a pivotal role in the Cornell Farmworker Program, addressing the unique needs of often-overlooked communities in New York state. Join us as Elizabeth shares her insights into global development, the transformative power of community collaboration, and her unwavering commitment to advocating for a brighter future for children worldwide.
What are the big challenges you want to tackle in the world?
I want to continue to dedicate my energy and engagement working to help children, especially unaccompanied minors who come to the United States in need of the stability they are not afforded in their home countries. I knew this was going to be a moral obligation I would forever engage in when I started working with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona with detained minors. I spoke with kids as little as 3 years old who came with an older sibling, also just a child, but had endured so much in their young lives and were often seeking just a semblance of peace they have not been afforded in their lives. Migration does not have to be complex, especially when children are involved, and I want to continue to address the moral obligations we as a global society have for children all over the world.
Where were you stationed in the Peace Corps and what projects did you work on?
I was a volunteer in Morocco, a small rural village in the province of Taza. It is a town surrounded by olive trees, mint tea, the most delicious oranges you can ever taste, and a community eager to embrace, teach, and share with others.
I worked in a Dar Chabab or youth center, and mostly taught English classes for varying levels and computer literacy classes. I would see the space transform into one where middle school youth came to express themselves in a way not too familiar to them, but they embraced it and we all transformed because of it.
Tell us about the most impactful experiences you’ve had as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Peace Corps was the vessel that led me to develop a definition for what community power and stability can be. With this new definition I had, I returned to the United States and began working with unaccompanied minors in Arizona. This experience is what truly crystallized the need to want to work holistically to advocate for the rights of children.
Working with children in detention centers and hearing their stories for reasons of migrating was often overwhelming, but when I would feel defeated because of the legal framework in the United States, most of the children would completely humble me by their view of the world to never deter from their faith for a better future.
Why did you choose the Global Development MPS program at Cornell CALS?
I appreciate that the Master of Professional Studies program in Global Development has a capstone project that would allow me to research and even do fieldwork in the area I am interested in and have a background in. I also wanted to have the ability to learn and even work with faculty who were experts in the field I was interested in.
My experience with faculty has been invigorating and inspiring, I feel a guidance and professional care from my advisors and professors that I am in awe of. I truly never imagined just how much faculty would care about student work, but they care in a way that allows me to grow and develop professional skills I always dreamt of being able to do.
I want to highlight some faculty that have been instrumental in my growth so far. Mary Jo Dudley, Mildred Warner, Scott Peters, and Terry Tucker. I am inspired by not only their professional work, but their kindness. They have allowed me and others to continue to work for that better future I dreamed of.
What does ‘global development’ mean to you?
Global development for me means intentional collaboration among countries to ensure historically marginalized communities are able to envision stable yet promising futures for youth.
As a Coverdell Fellow you are working with the Cornell Farmworker Program. Tell us more about what you’re working on and the significance of this work.
The Cornell Farmworker Program has a long and grounded history at Cornell. It highlights the history of community building and tenets of service and collaboration. Mary Jo Dudley is the director of the program, and she has shown me the significance of working side by side with a community very often ignored or in many cases targeted in the United States.
I have assisted Mary Jo in meeting the needs farmworkers have voiced through surveys, gatherings, and research. Often this is running focus groups to discuss policy that directly impacts farmworkers and the undocumented community. The program also successfully runs consulate events where the Guatemalan and Mexican consulates come to communities to help people get IDs. During these consulate events, we also hold legal screenings with pro-bono attorneys, perform survey work, share important information regarding tax filing, hold health screenings, and whatever else there is a need for.
It is so important especially as a student at Cornell to be aware of the needs of farmers in the community. In the dead of the Ithaca winter, who are the people working outside to ensure people are fed? That’s farmworkers and they often face some very alarming challenges to be able to do their jobs they take pride in.
Working with Mary Jo and local farmers has taught me once again the power of community, of networks, and how tackling challenges as a community will always be necessary and full of joy among the more difficult challenges.
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