Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Student’s Reaction to Service-Learning

In January 2008, we took 10 students to an orphanage in DingXi, Gansu. It was one of the poorest  places in one of the poorest provinces in China. For one week, we installed computers, fixed computers, installed a network, taught computer classes to the students and the teachers, and played with the students.  The place was clean and spacious.  The teachers were dedicated and caring.  The children were never hungry.  We stayed in the same dormitories as the students, and ate the same food. The orphanage was funded by donations.  And it was bitterly cold, consistently below freezing.  Hence fresh vegetables were expensive. And so was meat.  Our diet for the week consisted mainly of noodles, plain steamed buns, potatoes, with just a little bit of vegetables and even less meat.

When we were finished at the orphanage and returned to Lanzhou, we decided to give the students a treat.  We took them to a restaurant which specialized in mutton, and ordered a feast.  We were all very tired, but excited about having more appetizing food for a change, and in anticipation of going home after a challenging week.  While we were tugging into the food, however, one of the girls couldn’t eat.  She was one of those who wore her emotions on their sleeves, and she was obviously down.

It turned out that she was upset about the thought of us feasting on mutton, while the children  continued to eat noodles and potatoes and could only look forward to more potatoes.   We decided that there weren’t much that we could do at that point, but we would try to do something later.  Many of us went back again, and again to that orphanage.  And we would probably still be going back there if it had not been closed down.

When the orphanage was shut down, we were quite angry for some time.  We missed the children but couldn’t do much because of the circumstances.  Many of that team continue to serve in other projects.  And the children’s photographs remain on the white board in my office.  Service Learning has made a big impact on our lives, and on our students’ lives.

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