International Service Learning programs grow

Students wishing to take their university education around the world will have a new opportunity when UBC’s Go Global International Service Learning (ISL) program opens its registration again this fall.

Go Global will recruit students in September for its ISL placement in Lesotho, a small southern African country. The project was first held this past summer and is one of six ISL programs.

The ISL placements – also offered in Costa Rica, Rwanda, Mexico, Swaziland and Uganda – connect students and their academic interests with grassroots community organizations around the world for volunteer programs that focus on reciprocal learning.

“For each of the programs we’ve set learning objectives with the community partners based on their priorities,” says Associate Director Tamara Baldwin. “Students then have the opportunity to take a hands-on approach to projects that genuinely interest them, both personally and academically.”

In Lesotho, engineering students partnered with a community based organization, Mohoma Temeng, to design and build ventilated improved pit latrines in a rural area of Lesotho called Qacha’s Nek.

A 2004 study by UNICEF found that about one-third of the country’s rural population lack access to acceptable sanitation facilities, which often causes contamination of nearby water sources.

The project took hold after Mathabo Tsepa, born and raised in Lesotho, completed doctoral studies in education at UBC. She now teaches at the University of Lesotho and is Go Global’s primary contact, and a liaison with individuals from the academic, civil society and local communities.

Baldwin, who recently returned from Lesotho, says the results of this summer’s project are “amazing on so many fronts.

“The students were able to build a number of latrines, but the focus they took was on working with the community organization to ensure the work would continue after they left,” she says. “Together they’ve trained local youths who have gained important work skills and will be better able to contribute to their community.”

For next summer’s placement, a team will be selected by November, with pre-departure learning sessions held through May. Participants will learn about the country and its culture, and gain team-building and intercultural communication skills.

The recruiting for the summer programs is in September and October, with applications due Oct. 18.

The ISL programs span disciplines as broad as engineering, psychology, social work education and science.

In Swaziland, students work with SOS Children’s Villages on community-strengthening initiatives that include assisting youth with job search strategies and conducting training sessions focused on strengthening families impacted by HIV/AIDS.

In Uganda, one project is focused on assisting with community libraries that are working to increase the reading culture and computer literacy.

The environmental impacts of tourism and the effects the industry has on the habitat of animals such as sea turtles is studied in Costa Rica, while students who venture to Mexico help small cooperatives establish a dialog for greater leadership and development.

In Rwanda students most recently taught business planning to a weavers cooperative, and assisted in English-language training to allow the women to better interact with their customers.

Students are drawn to UBC’s Go Global ISL program because of its reputation and emphasis on developing real-world skills that can apply inside and outside of the classroom, Baldwin says.

“They’ve studied this or that, but often say that it’s all theoretical,” she says. “We also hear a lot of students saying they’ve wanted to volunteer, but have been cautious about other international programs.”

In the case of Lesotho, a successful first run means the program will continue next summer.

“I think a lot of stereotypes were broken on a lot of sides,” Baldwin says.

“Our group went in thinking about this being a technical project, but came out seeing it as so much more.” One student said that he can’t wait to get back and learn more about politics and economics – topics he says he wasn’t interested in before this project.

On the other hand, some community members told Baldwin they’ve never seen young people work so hard. “They said they thought this may be another group of ‘white’ people with their hands in the pockets,” she says.