The 3 pillars of service learning

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 travellers 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 we partner with local organizations to address community-driven projects. In this three-part series, we’ll illustrate our approach through the pillars of EF Service Learning: meaningful service, cultural immersion, and leadership development. Read on for more about what meaningful service means to us.

This is a Meaningful Service

Two years ago, in the rural Peruvian community of Huilloc, 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 centre to meet, store their materials, and sell their goods. Awamaki wanted to help but didn’t have the resources at the time. Insert EF travellers—with the influx of the resources, labour, 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 and the  Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development  to identify where EF travellers can help accelerate the process of sustainable development. EF travellers may not see the conclusion of their project—whether it is building a weaving centre 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.

This is 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 cookstove—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 travellers 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.

Cultural immersion might also mean an opportunity for students to get hands-on experience with a local tradition or custom. In Peru, EF travellers took a break from work building a greenhouse to try their hands at constructing a huatia, an earthen oven traditionally used to bake potatoes there. The community members they were working alongside showed students their technique, then challenged them to a competition to see which small group could complete their huatia first.


This is 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 travellers 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 travellers 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 travellers and communities learn through service and grow.

On a recent trip to Peru, a group from California and the community they served did all of the above while building a greenhouse to benefit a local family.

Topics: Travel Tips, Tour Planning, Teacher Story, What to Expect on Tour, Global Experiences, Global Citizen

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