Friday 12 Jan, 2018

The EF Approach to Service

“Los chicos siempre nos dejan algo, y nosotros procuramos dejarles algo tambien, alguna ensenanza, alguna palabra…”

“The kids always leave something for us, and we also seek to leave something for them, too–a teaching, an understanding…”

EF Service Learning Tours aim to help EF travelers and developing communities grow. Through collaboration on service projects, cultural exchange, and reflection, students help communities address critical needs and learn in the process. EF offers Service Learning programs in the Americas, Africa, and Asia where they partner with local organizations to address community-driven projects. Here are three vignettes that illustrate our approach through the pillars of EF Service Learning: meaningful service, cultural immersion, and leadership development.

Meaningful Service

Two years ago, in the rural Peruvian community of Huyac, a women’s weaving cooperative is ready for the next step. With the support of NGO Awamaki, they have been growing their weaving business, and they decide they need a center to meet, store their materials, and sell their goods. Awamaki wanted to help but didn’t have the resources at the time. Insert EF travelers–with the influx of the resources, labor, and advocacy of more than 10 EF groups, the women now have a building from which they sell their goods.

What makes service meaningful? At EF, service learning projects address needs that are identified by the community and solutions that are driven by them to ensure they are sustainable. We partner with local organizations such as Awamaki to identify where EF travelers can help accelerate the process of sustainable development. EF travelers may not see the conclusion of their project–whether it is building a weaving center or greenhouse, tutoring students in English, or restoring coral reefs–because it is part of a long-term process that the community and other groups will build on. While there are a variety of themes and project types, they are always community-driven, meaningful, and part of a process of sustainable development. While their individual impact may be limited, their collective impact is great. Just ask the women of Awamaki.

women weaving in Peru
Cultural Immersion

In the interior of the Dominican Republic, in the community of Angostura, students stay in an eco-lodge created and owned by the community. They spend the first day walking through the community, visiting homes, seeing peoples’ gardens, and getting to know the local colmado (store and community meet up spot). They enter the home of Maria, who cooks with a wood stove in a kitchen with one small window. Over the next week, students will help install a clean cook stove–one that allows Maria to use less wood and ventilates smoke out a chimney, so she no longer has to breathe in smoke all day as she cooks for her family of eight. This improvement not only protects Maria’s health; by using less wood, it saves her time and energy while being better for the environment.

EF travelers gain an intimate view into life in rural communities across various developing countries. They work to have a small, but meaningful, impact on a few lives. They meet community members, get a glimpse into their daily lives, and begin to understand the context of their service. Community members also get to share their culture, learn about visitors’ culture, and communicate–whether in broken English, Spanish, or some sort of nonverbal sign language. But don’t worry, the local Field Director is always there to facilitate exchange if called for.

Kids Lifting Trees
Leadership Development

Students arrive at school on Sunday when the local students are not there. They spend the day learning about where the students they will tutor are in their curriculum, and where EF travelers can help. They are working on present perfect, so they will assist the teacher with conversation lessons and even develop some activities on their own that will incorporate their lessons.

EF travelers will need to step up to act as responsible global citizens and collaborate across cultures to make an impact. They will plan, act, and work in teams in a different language, climate, and altitude than they are accustomed to. They will reflect on their work and plan how to bring their service home. While students often come back with as many questions as answers, they also come back with inspiration and a plan. Communities, too, must plan, collaborate, and delegate in a way that helps them manage projects and bring in resources to the community. By working together, EF travelers and communities learn through service and grow.

students teaching english in peru

The most important learning may not come from formal activities. Sometimes the jarring experience of being in a community so different than yours in some ways, yet so similar in others, jolts introspection. Working alongside people from a completely different way of life, but with similar values, can shift perspectives. Students may return home with more questions than answers. How can I continue to make a difference? How can I learn more about the world? What skills can I build to make an even bigger impact in the future?