Arti Khanderia spent four months in Thailand studying how different universities are merging the secular and the sacred - photo by Darin Dueck
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 5 | May 3, 2007
Degrees of Kindness
Education and Service Go Hand-in-hand for Grad
By Lorraine Chan
True learning that transforms the world must connect the head, heart and hands.
That’s what Arti Khanderia witnessed at UBC’s Learning Exchange, which integrates students’ volunteer service with academic course work, and in Thailand while researching her master’s project on community service learning.
“There has to be the potential for academic theory to touch the heart’s compassion, which then leads to on-the-ground action for social change,” says Khanderia. She graduates this month with an MA degree from UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning.
In 2004, Khanderia enjoyed “a truly amazing” experience when her friend and fellow UBC student Marisol Peterson invited her to work on a student-led initiative with the residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Peterson and Khanderia, through UBC’s Learning Exchange in the neighbourhood, helped the residents provide ESL classes to immigrants and refugees. That pilot project has since evolved into a full-time program.
“I learned more about planning than I would have if I only sat within the walls of a classroom,” says Khanderia. “And it was incredible how the project boosted people’s self confidence and gave everyone a chance to form caring relationships.”
She was further inspired in 2005 during four months of research throughout Thailand. Khanderia studied the spectrum of Thai educational models in a country where there’s a movement among academics to merge the sacred and the secular.
Khanderia explains that in past centuries, Thai students learned in temples from Buddhist monks, “who not only taught the alphabet, but promoted human ideals of loving kindness and service to others.”
Over the past 50 years, however, factors such as globalization have moved Thai universities closer to the Western model and its values.
“For my project, I was looking at how there’s a resurgence among Thai universities to make the culture’s implicit spiritual values more explicit in the way students learn through community engagement, learning-by-doing and inner-reflection.”
Khanderia studied how one university got engineering students to work with a community to build schools and install toilets in villages. Or in another case, science professors provided villagers with practical skills so they could transform recycled beer bottles into jewelry and start up small businesses.
Khanderia says she was struck by a saying that was written on the walls of a Thai Buddhist monastery: “If you don’t raise students to give to the world, you raise a society that does not give back to the world.”
She plans to apply this maxim when she returns to her native Toronto. Khanderia hopes to land a job at the housing project Regent Park where she spent four years working with inner-city youth while earning a BA at the University of Toronto.
“I want those kids to know they can make changes and to provide them the tools and resources to do that.”