From Papal History to Peru

From Papal History to Peru

An Alum Finds Her Path

Photo of Jean-Claire Peltier

The calls of tricycle-riding vendors, the pungent smell of trash and cooking fires, and the strains of reggaeton emanating from the chaotic dance of street traffic greet Jean-Claire Peltier (BA, Latin American Studies, ’13) every day in El Porvenir, Peru. Her taxi commute alone, in a place where traffic laws are, she says, more of a “suggestion,” is always exciting. But Peltier takes it all in stride as she starts her day as an English program coordinator at Supporting Kids in Peru (SKIP), a nonprofit that helps economically disadvantaged children in El Porvenir get an education. 

Peltier attended Lewis and Clark University in Oregon at the age of 16 to study papal history. “I think my immaturity was the driving force behind studying papal history,” she says. “Incredibly interesting! Incredibly useless!” 

With this realization, she decided to leave academia behind for a while and try to make a difference in the world. She found SKIP through a family friend. “It was really important for me to find an organization that was professional and driven by a moral/ethical/social vision that I could identify with,” Peltier says. “I wasn’t interested in the ineffective ‘voluntourism’ programs that were growing in popularity at the time.”

But Peltier couldn’t speak much Spanish. She spent the first month as a challengingly silent classroom assistant, then taught English. She served two terms with SKIP before coming to CSU, Chico in 2010. 

“When I returned to Peru for the second time, I realized I was angry at the injustice of the modern global system and its mechanics of oppression, so I transferred to CSU, Chico with the idea of majoring in sociology,” she says. Peltier, knowing she would return again to Peru, considered adding a Spanish major until she was persuaded by Professor Steve Lewis to enroll in his class on Latin American revolutions.

“After about two weeks of his class, I was convinced that Latin American studies was where I belonged,” she says. “Steve allowed me space to explore Latin American history with a sociological perspective in an engaging and exciting way.” 

Peltier says her Chico State experience set the stage for her future work as a catalyst for change. She served as an intern in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Panama City. She helped organize the first human trafficking awareness week at the University as president of  the student group STOP (Stop Trafficking of Persons). 

“After working with SKIP, my focus shifted to empowering others to be the agents of change in their own lives,” she says. “If we support people who are looking to affect change in themselves and their communities rather than imposing our ideas of what ‘development’ should look like for them, the result is ultimately more sustainable, more functional, and more empowering.”

Ann Wilson, a former U.S. Army airborne photojournalist, now works in the Office of the President at CSU, Chico.