The concept of young students volunteering overseas is one that has grown in popularity in recent years, as has the profile of international development as a discipline. The question of how more developed nations should engage with the less developed world is an incredibly complex one. So, what things should you be aware of when considering an overseas ‘service learning’ trip for your students?
Ensure it’s a shared experience
Too often we focus on the material concerns in a community project. What we will give or what we will build. The focus of a student trip should be to ensure students improve their knowledge of the world through a shared experience with a community. Students should be encouraged to learn new skills from their hosts as well as sharing some of their home culture.
Working with the local community
Even though students may lack the skills of tradesmen they can help on projects of the communities with whom they work. Students should be encouraged to not be discouraged if the task seems too large but to create an open dialogue with the project hosts about what help is needed .
Be a guest and learner
Through their ‘service learning’ students should be encouraged to learn about particular issues faced by the countries to which they travel. By using these issues to inform our selection of partner organisations, we can reinforce understanding of the developing world, as well as (hopefully) breaking down assumptions or prejudices about the people these issues affect.
There’s no such thing as a short term project
Students visit for only a short time so the work they do must be driven by the community to ensure it will be beneficial in the long term. Working hand in hand with local development organisations should be key, as they have the expertise and ownership to drive lasting change within the community.
Travelling offers an unparalleled opportunity to discover more about the world and grow as a global citizen. In the end, the experience should hopefully lead to increased awareness and further engagement in finding enduring development solutions, whether they be local or global.