As a sensitive traveler, you may have encountered poverty, hunger, or disease. You may have been deeply touched, but there was so much of it, and you were just passing through. Perhaps you’ve been on some kind of mission trip. You and others were deeply impressed with need and helped build a clinic or school or work on a water pump, but soon enough you were back at school or work and memories faded. You questioned yourself: “Were your brief efforts only fading as time went by with inadequate resources?”
Or you may have dropped a monetary gift into a charitable cause and then heared that some countries admit; “Poverty is our primary industry.” Gross misuse of funds is an unfortunate concern when chosing which cause to give to. Is help, then, always helpful? Experience demands a negative answer.
Many sincere white, Euro-American helpers have become mired in local politics or personal dysfunctions and realized their efforts were becoming counter-productive.
To put the matter in a nutshell, many with resources have attempted to help without an adequate knowledge of the local context and without deep enough relationships. Both the givers and recipients of aid must be committed to learning together in the long term. Beyond such learning/working relationships there is a need for research and analysis of the broader picture.
Practitioners of public health and community developers, whether missionaries or secular (governmental or non-governmental organizations), are too busy to carry on adequate research as to the effects of any effort in the larger context. That is why educational institutions are needed. The study of needs, resources, and outcomes of programs by students and faculty, engaged at some level with field workers, is what service-learning is all about.
What is Service-learning?
Wikipedia defines service-learning as “a method of teaching, learning and reflecting , frequently youth service, throughout the community. As a teaching method, it falls under the philosophy of experiential education. More specifically, it integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, encourage lifelong civic engagement, and strengthen communities for the common good.”
Thus with this definition in mind, effective service-learning should be community-based (hopefully along with local churches, mosques, temples, etc.), situated in academic institutions, and supported by government. We must keep that essential triad in mind-Community (and its religious institutions), Education, State or Government.
Service-learning is enlightened social justice practice. It operates on an action-reflection model expanded to include careful listening and relationships, research, analysis, planning, training and implementation, evaluation with more research and analysis of outcomes and raised capacities-and the publishing of results.
Once service-learning is understood, it is important to consider the consequences of its absence in school curricula. These consequences affect us all: poor and non-poor, students, educators, business leaders and politicians. Peace and well-being cannot come without the understanding of and the careful, persistent practice of justice.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Have you ever found yourself deeply concerned about needs and dilemmas of the poor, of inner cities, slums, and under-developed countries? If so, what did you do with that concern? If not, do you want to continue living with your unconcern?
2. What do you think of an education only concerned with how you can better yourself? What possible dangers could this pose, for you… and for others?
3. How would you define service-learning?
4. Have you experienced service-learning first hand? Where would you like to see it instituted?
5. How do you react and respond to this article? What comments, criticisms or suggestions do you have about it?
6. How could you and some friends carry this study on a bit further?
1. Billions of dollars of aid and charity have, and are being, wasted in ours and other countries. Innumerable hours and years of involvement have become “of no or very little account.” Something has and is being done about this-and the research and involvement of practitioners of service learning are contributing to such corrective-progress.
2. Youth groups, classrooms and church discussion groups might begin on the Web-as you now are-and go on to look at sites such as NYLC, study a book together, and begin to brainstorm among the group and with experts as to a possible specific, desirable, and realistic endeavor.
3. The words of Jesus continue to challenge and encourage: “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 7: 21, from the Sermon on the Mountain)