March 26, 2015

Service Learning Goes International

For the second time in two January terms, Guilford sent a delegation of students and staff to the small rural farming community of El Roble in El Salvador to participate in an international service-learning project. While study abroad has long included service learning in its semester-long program in Ghana, this new project marks the first such opportunity in the January term.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has identified service-learning as one of several high impact practices that are most beneficial to student development. These types of projects offer field-based “experiential learning” that provides direct experience with issues students are studying in more traditional settings.

The continuing program is led by Iván Villasbôa, Program Director for CoCoDa (Companion Community Development Alternatives). Over more than two decades, he has helped organize and execute approximately 20 infrastructure projects across El Salvador's rural communities. El Roble alone has benefited from an improved water pumping system that freed women from laborious trips to the spring, a community center, and a soccer field, which gave kids a safe place to play. The most recent project has been rebuilding the school because it would save the kids an hour's walk to school.

In a unique combination of Study Abroad’s focus on cross-cultural engagement and Guilford’s historic commitment to service, the program started with a deep study of the country's political, social and cultural history in San Salvador, the capital, and then moved to the village of El Roble for intensive volunteer work. El Roble is located in a region that suffered the worst aerial attacks during the country’s civil war from 1980-92.

For two weeks, the Guilford delegation, alongside other students and a faculty member from DePauw University, lived with host families, rose early to work in the milpas, community kitchen or at the school reconstruction site. Together with the community members of El Roble, they dug out the school's bathroom foundation and septic system, leveled the ground for the kitchen and lunchroom and laid and tamped down sand for classroom floors. They also celebrated the peace accord at the Guazapa Festival and took a short boat journey to see the spot where the Copapayo massacre took place. They heard its story from the sole survivor, then nine years old, now a 40-year old man.

Jada Drew (Director, Multicultural Education Department) and Andrew Young (Coordinator, Volunteer Training at Bonner Center) traveled with and worked besides the students in order to learn enough about the program to be able to guide the right students to it in the future. This year two Bonner Scholars and one Multicultural Leadership Scholar were members of the delegation. Andrew Young observed that "our students distinguished themselves with the seriousness of their commitment to the service component. They all unpacked their American privileges and simply dug into the work with open hearts."

The staff of CoCoDa, the Study Abroad staff, the Bonner Center, and leadership of Multicultural Education all agree that this project has a great deal of long term potential for our students, and adds a unique opportunity to the January term catalog of offerings.

The program will be available to students again in January 2016.