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Senior Megan Baker Awarded Fellowship to Work in Moldova

For most college kids, summer means hanging out with friends, working a full-time job – or jobs, and maybe catching some rays.

Most don’t travel 6,300 miles from home to Moldova, a small European country tucked between the Ukraine and Romania.

It's probably safe to say that Megan Baker isn’t your typical college kid.

A senior Elementary Education major from Box Elder, S.D., Baker was selected, along with Moldovan Cornelia Calin, a former Augustana international student, for the prestigious American Cultural Ambassadors Fellowship (ACAF) Program, an initiative designed by the International Research and Exchanges (IREX) Board.

Together, they’re spearheading a project called “Bringing the World Together – One Ability at a Time,” a camp for people with special needs in Moldova.

“Even though this day camp is for people who have disabilities, we do not want their disabilities to define them. Rather, we want to show the world the abilities that they have. We believe that they have a lot to teach our world. Through this project we will be able to show the people of Moldova that these people are people who are contributors to society and long to be loved and accepted just like any other person,” Baker wrote on her blog.

The ACAF program supports fellowships for current U.S. undergraduate students to collaborate with 2011-2012 Global UGRAD scholars from Eurasia and Central Asia in their home countries. Global UGRAD fellows and U.S. students enrolled in the same university apply together to implement a short-term service-learning project in the fellow’s home country. This program is designed to give American students an in-depth experience of life in a Eurasian or Central Asian community and provide the opportunity for ACAF participants to utilize and further develop leadership skills through civic engagement.

Baker describes the camp as activities-focused with games, arts and crafts, songs, a service project, a scavenger hunt, a presentation about America and dancing. In honor of the 2012 London Olympics, the day camp will be Olympic themed. She’s also planning to take campers to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, to visit a zoo and a museum.

“It is also our goal to spread the word to Americans. As we all know, people with special needs don’t just live in Moldova. There are people with disabilities all over the world. Time after time, I see people stare at and judge others with disabilities, and I don’t want to continue seeing that. I want people to accept them for who they are, talk with them, and be their friend. Upon returning to the U.S., I will have several presentations sharing my experiences and new-found knowledge. It is also my desire to become more involved with the communities of people with special needs in Sioux Falls, and encourage others to get involved as well,” Baker wrote.