Kuster wants to serve as a champion for women and girls.
Anne Kuster
Anne Kuster

Peru is a special place for incoming student Anne Kuster, who will join the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy this fall as a member of the one-year Master of Arts in International Development and Policy (MAIDP) program.

Kuster currently lives and works in Peru helping to empower teenage mothers through storytelling. She is in Peru on a Fulbright Research Grant and working with two organizations: a home for teenage mothers called Casa Mantay and the Universidad Católica Pontifica in Lima.

“I’ve always been a huge champion of women and girls,” said Kuster. “I think women’s empowerment issues represent a huge hole in policy and international development.” This is a gap that Kuster plans to help fill after studying policy design and analysis in the MAIDP program. Her hope is to identify policy solutions that support all women and are effective across cultures.

Kuster’s interest in Peru and Latin American culture started at a young age. Kuster’s grandmother, who spoke Spanish fluently, inspired Kuster to pursue her own learning of the language throughout high school and college. During her first semester of college at Notre Dame, she felt transformed by a Spanish class titled “Andean Culture,” which led to her first trip to Peru. 

“The class was all about the Andes and the unique problems that people face here, particularly the indigenous populations,” Kuster explained. “Because of that class, I decided to come to Peru, to Cusco specifically, after my freshman year. That was my first introduction to Casa Mantay and the challenges facing young women, particularly teen mothers, such as abuse, incest, extreme poverty, and a machismo culture.”

Kuster is now working with young mothers in Peru on the “ethical responsibility of storytelling,” she said, which grapples with a number of questions, including: Should the telling of a story always be delivered by the person who experienced it? Is there a moral or ethical responsibility for stories to be told if they could help others more broadly?

Kuster reflected on the latter question and said, “The government of Peru, for example, could really benefit from understanding how the girls at Casa Mantay ended up there. It’s not always as simple as not having reproductive health education or not having support following an assault. Personally, I think it’s important for women to reflect upon and tell their stories, but I need to know what they think. The women at Casa Mantay haven’t always had control over their own lives; it’s essential they have control over their own stories.”

As part of her work in Peru, Kuster is conducting formal research with interviews and surveys to develop a better understanding of how young mothers feel about storytelling. The results will be completed before she begins her studies at Harris Public Policy.

What does Kuster see for her future? She would love to keep working on women's empowerment issues, particularly in Latin America.

“I love storytelling, and I love working with NGOs, but I'm not exactly sure what form my career will take.” Kuster has been looking into different types of consulting and firms that might allow her to continue working on women’s issues in the region after earning her Master of Arts in International Development and Policy.

For now, Kuster feels grateful and fulfilled by the feedback she is receiving. Women have expressed relief and feelings of personal growth as a result of writing, drawing, or telling their own story, in their own way.

Kuster feels her own story in Peru has come full circle. “The teacher who taught my freshman Andean Culture class now teaches me Quechua here in Peru. It feels like a real completion of one cycle, and I look forward to what comes next.”