There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” If involvement brings understanding, then the Loyalist College International Support Worker (ISW) students are definitely prepared with an understanding and appreciation of the careers that lie ahead of them. They spent the past five weeks living in Chiapas, Mexico, involved in support work initiatives. They were immersed in experiential learning — living with families in the community and working with established developmental agencies. They learned new skills and gained new attitudes — and sometimes entirely new ways of thinking.
The students had a full schedule. They learned about building schools and providing free medical care, explored organic farming practices and attended human rights sessions at the university. They met with senior staff at the Canadian Embassy in support of a museum renovation proposal, visited safe houses for street kids and helped to wire a rural school. Dry toilets, rocket stoves and adobe bricks became a part of their vocabulary.
The students’ experience in Mexico helped them develop skills necessary to participate in relief and development projects in another country. Their ability to support and empower others was encouraged and they learned a wide range of development strategies. They experienced safe international travel and became comfortable working in a multicultural context.
Some of the group kept a blog that described their experiences and thoughts. These messages from Charlotte and Michelle were included in the entries.
Charlotte Kudadirgwa, a member of the ISW class, grew up in Africa and has lived in Canada for almost a decade. “Being in Mexico made me redefine what true wealth is. The importance placed on family in Mexico is unbelievable. People in Chiapas take a two-hour lunch break between 2:00 and 4:00 so that everyone can go home to eat with their family. I realize that when offering assistance it must always be done so with respect so it is not offensive to those being helped. When those being assisted have a sense of responsibility then a true partnership is created, not a dependency.“
Student, Michelle Newlands, described some of the insight she had gained. “I have learned to overcome cultural barriers such as language — and to fall asleep each night, thankful for my opportunities. I have seen the strength of a community when everyone works together. I have learned that we don’t have to come from the same place to experience the same thoughts and feelings.”
The students will now return to the college and complete their course work. This will involve reflection upon their international experience as they prepare for a final four-week internship.
“The ISW students are learning how to take their skills and use them where they are needed around the world,” said Gary Warren, coordinator of the program. “Canada has a great history of supporting other countries and these students are continuing this tradition.”
Graduates of Loyalist’s International Support Worker program receive a post-graduate certificate. The group’s blog from Mexico can be viewed at ideals.nu. For information about the program click here.