Reflections and Action – International Service Trips

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“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On the heels of a motivating chapel service on Wednesday and just before our American neighbours observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next week, this blog entry is dedicated to Service, which is one of the streams of the Leadership Development Program.

We offer International Service trips to Kenya, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and for the first time this year, India. These trips have proven to be nothing less than life and perspective changing experiences for the students, parents and faculty who have chosen to challenge themselves in this way. Issues in developing countries are complex and can be overwhelming. We have discussed at length how to ensure that our students get the most out of an international service trip. That they are adequately prepared, able to contribute in a meaningful way, and return home feeling inspired to look at the world through the lens of a global citizen. Often there is not a tangible way to know the impact the experience has on the students, as it may not be easy for them to articulate for months or years after the trip. We were fortunate this past Wednesday to hear from a collection of students who have been to Vietnam, Kenya or Dominican Republic and I was struck with the clarity with which they were able to articulate what they learned and what they are doing at our school to continue to grow as responsible global citizens.

Thoughts from Emily who went to Kenya in March 2009 to help build a school.

TEAMWORK

Looking back on my service trip to Kenya two years ago, I didn’t realize I was signing my initials beside an imaginary form agreeing to a “life changing experience.”  But I came back, with one, where my outlook on life completely changed. Take the idea of teamwork for example.  In school, we learn academic concepts about teamwork. We do cooperative learning and of team sports.  These are important steps to learning life skills.  In Africa I quickly learned that you can’t build a school without a team of people coming together for a common cause.  And that means working hard.  Digging, mixing cement, carrying heavy materials; Laying a foundation.  This was a real experience of teamwork.  Because without it, the job would not have got done.  And then another kind of teamwork.  Playing.  After a hard day’s work, the highlight was always playing with the kids.  We quickly discovered that explaining complex games like Rugby and Dodge Ball in basic Swahili and English just didn’t work. However I did witness one of the most unique versions of rugby, as it turned out looking like a combination of mixed martial arts and Frisbee. So after several fights and bruised egos we decided to stick with the tried and tested soccer and Duck Duck Goose.

Another excerpt from Alexandria who volunteered at an orphanage in Vietnam, explaining the newest organized group of students, “PREFS”.

One of the things many faculty and students have discussed is preparing for trips and support once we return.  So at the school, we have started a club to focus on gaining some of the skills that we should have when we work with kids or when we travel.  Our group will have 5 focuses:  Preparation, Research, Education, Fundraising, Support

The first goal is Preparation. That means learning games and activities to do with kids, and learning to care for ourselves and for each other.

The second goal is Research. This gives students the opportunity to find a trip best suited for them and research ways which are help is most effective.  Vietnam has a corrupt mailing system, which we only learned after sending boxes of toys and received mail they never got there. Some research would have been handy.

The third is Education.  We will host information nights and meetings to share our experiences and stories with students and parents.

The fourth goal is Fundraising. After researching and seeing firsthand what these places need.  We will work with the school to continue to support current initiatives and to work to find new ways to support the ongoing relationships we’re developing.

The last goal is Support.  It seems like each of us who has been on a trip has times when we just don’t know how to deal with what we’re experiencing.  Our group will create a supportive community to help each of us to feel that there are people to talk to.

Be sure to check out the service blog: https://news.smus.ca/service/ for local volunteer opportunities and more student reflections.

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