Vol. 38, No. 18
International service-learning makes a world of difference
Forget about being an American in Paris. How cool would it be to be an American in south central Honduras - at an orphanage for HIV-positive children, no less?
About 17 Ohio State students - 14 engineering and three human ecology majors, to be precise - think that would be pretty darn cool, even though temperatures at the Monta–a de Luz home often soar well above 100 degrees. Along with faculty advisers John Merrill, director of the First Year Engineering Program, and Erin Galloway, program specialist with the Center for Learning Excellence in the College of Human Ecology, these students are taking part in an innovative partnership between the two colleges that promotes international service-learning.
"We're interested in creating a service-learning opportunity for students that combines with international travel, which lets them really understand a foreign country and do something meaningful for a community there," explained David Andrews, dean of the College of Human Ecology and interim dean of the College of Education.
While not a new concept, international service-learning is relatively new to Ohio State. Andrews' own interest in the idea stemmed from a project he was involved with three years ago, in which human ecology sent 12 computers to two all-female middle schools in a remote part of western Kenya. The girls learned computer skills and communicated via e-mail with Ohio State students taking a course Galloway taught about Kenya. The interaction helped both sides learn about cultural norms and practices in their respective countries.
Last year, Galloway organized another quarter-long international service-learning course that examined how history and culture influence family dynamics and youth development issues in Tijuana. Guest speakers from across campus discussed significant issues, such as the challenges of proper nutrition and prenatal care in developing countries.
"As one of their projects, students put together maternity kits of things expectant mothers might need. They also raised money to buy rice and beans, which they then had to bag and distribute to a community of people who live and work at the Tijuana garbage dump," Galloway said. "These are students who don't want to go to Europe or Cabo San Lucas; they want to go to a developing area and really make a strong contribution."
They also are the kind of students enrolled in the Honduras Service-Learning Experience, which will send a service-learning contingent to Monta–a de Luz over spring break. The course covers topics such as service-learning theory and practice, environmental sustainability, orphanages and communities, and HIV/AIDS awareness. Students meet weekly and listen to guest speakers, have a rudimentary Spanish lesson and plan the service projects they will be doing on their trip. "We have five teams: computer, water, electricity, agriculture and human ecology," said Merrill, who also is the staff adviser for the student group Engineers for Community Service, or ECOS, which established the Ohio State connection with the orphanage. "We're also looking to the human ecology students to help us expand our relationship into the community."
The students will take nine computers and all the necessary peripherals to furnish the computer lab ECOS helped build on last year's trip. Plans also are in place to lay the foundation for a large satellite dish, which will permit phone service, e-mail and perhaps video conferencing for training purposes. The human ecology students will bring educational materials for establishing a preschool for the local community in addition to the children at the orphanage.
"When the orphanage was first started, it was supposed to be a hospice where children living with AIDS could die in peace and comfort," said Erin Whiteside, a junior majoring in human development and family sciences. "Now, the Honduran government is helping pay for medications, these kids are living and it's great, but no one knows quite what to do with them. That's where we come in. I look forward to using what I've learned at Ohio State and putting it to use to help someone else."
Nicole Lammeier, a senior civil engineering student and a project leader for the trip, echoed Whiteside's sentiment - and then some. "The best possible outcome would be to improve the children's lives in whatever way we can," she said. "Overall I hope that our projects show the children that there is a world of opportunities and they shouldn't be afraid to explore them."