Touched by the sparrows

Children hugging

by Rhonda Mullen

In Peru at the Casa Hogar Los Gorriones, the "home of the sparrows," Amanda Paniagua found a life's calling.

Just out of high school, Paniagua traveled to South America to volunteer, immerse herself in another culture, and learn Spanish. Mornings found her helping out at a day care unit within the Yanamilla Maximum Security Prison for the young children of female inmates. In the afternoons, she read stories, sang songs, and led art projects for children at Casa Hogar. The "sparrows" there included homeless children who were living on the streets, some from abusive families, others with parents in prison, and still others who were so severely disabled that their families were unable to afford to attend to their many special needs.

When she returned home to Georgia, Paniagua didn't forget her young charges. At Emory's Oxford College, she helped create the Peruvian Orphanage Project through Volunteer Oxford. By the time she transferred to Emory's Atlanta campus, the fund had raised thousands of dollars for los gorriones. And her efforts earned her Emory University's 2006 Humanitarian Award.



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Still passionate about community health, Paniagua continued her studies in Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. There, she focused on labor and delivery nursing and also co-founded the Atlanta Doula Cooperative. A "doula" is a birth attendant and labor coach, and the cooperative is a volunteer organization that helps women through childbirth. "Most doulas in Atlanta are expensive, and we wanted to reach out to immigrants, teenage and single moms, and low-income women, who might not be able to afford such support," Paniagua says.

One of the goals of the nursing school and Emory at large is to prepare engaged scholars like Paniagua who devote their lives to leadership and service. Scholarships are one way the university enables students to base career choices on what is in their hearts rather than just their bank accounts, and scholarship support is a priority for both the nursing school and the recently launched Campaign Emory.