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Melody Mills

College: Macaulay Honors College | Baruch College
Awards: Fulbright U.S. Student Program, 2014

Saving Lima's Street Girls

Melody Mills (Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College, B.A. in psychology and political science, 2014) sees potential in the “street girls” of Lima, Peru, despite their tenuous circumstances. Living on the capital’s streets, the girls are exploited as child labor, and drug addiction - many sniff cheap glue called Teracol - is common.

While studying abroad in Lima in Spring 2013, Mills volunteered to tutor, mentor and teach dance to street girls who had agreed to live at Institute Mundo Libre, a private drug rehabilitation facility. Inspired by that work, and a study she conducted then, Mills has been awarded a 2014-15 U.S. Student Fulbright Study/Research Award to track the girls’ “educational trajectories” after the program.

“I want to see how girls who graduate the program compare, and what advice can be gathered to better prepare them, and give these girls more resources to continue their education,” says Mills, whose passion is “working in education of children with social disadvantages.”

Many of the 12- to 17-year-olds at Mundo Libre are runaways from Lima’s poorer neighborhoods. Mills’ Spanish fluency - her mother is from Argentina, and Mills spoke Spanish at home in Brooklyn - helped her connect with the girls, whom she mentored while she attended Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP).

Last year, Mills compared the educational motivations of 16- and 17-year-old girls at Mundo Libre with girls the same age attending PUCP. The results: Both groups “were highly motivated to gain a college education,” Mills wrote in her Fulbright grant request.

Her Fulbright project, “Educational Trajectories of Street-Living Girls of Lima: Focus on Instituto Mundo Libre,” will employ an “advocacy/participatory/critical action” method that will allow the girls themselves to “design questions, collect data, analyze information, or reap rewards of the research.”

Mills credits Macaulay and Baruch with sparking her interests. Macaulay’s Opportunities Fund paid for her Peru semester and a previous semester in Ghana, where she taught in elementary schools and initiated girls’ sports.

Following her nine-month Fulbright stay in Lima, Mills plans to earn a master’s in “education policy or leadership,” she says. “The Fulbright will help me home in on what to do.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, administered by the Department of State to increase understanding between U.S. citizens and those of other countries, offers fellowships for study, research and/or teaching English abroad. A stipend covers living expenses.