Is Service Learning bad?

Service Learning is a big aspect of both high school and college educations. Service Learning allows students to generalize the teachings learned in academia by applying them to real life situations. Additionally, Service Learning hones skills learned in the classroom by providing new experiences from which students grow academically and socially. Getting involved in service can contribute to your social responsibility, by becoming more aware and accepting of cultural differences. Overall, opportunities to engage in service can enhance your worldview. Although partaking in service can be a life changing experience for the participants and recipients, sometimes the motives of the participants and the institutions creating the educational opportunities, can be negative. Among Colleges and Universities Service programs are sometimes used to gain legitimacy and to boost collegiate reputations. Some colleges use Service as a way to hide negative impacts they have made as a form of reparation. Some students insincerely and selfishly use service to develop their resumes, feel good about themselves, and to gain credits to avoid actually taking traditional classes. Organizations frequently use their Service Learning participants to gain free labor as well as prestigious status. These motives continuously blind students, institutions and organizations from truly addressing real issues in society, and only benefit the “guilty” entities rather than effecting positive change in a community.

Short term service trips can do more harm than good. In reality it is virtually impossible to visit a country in need for a 2 week period and greatly impact a community for the better. Aspects of Service can be more disruptive than productive to a community when only a short period of time is allocated to a project.  Such experiences are just a one time thing, often rendered singularly without follow-up, or a contingency plan that would allow a community to sustain the change independently. Short term service learning can be especially bad when the work is targeted to impact the youth. The relationships that are made between a volunteer and a child tend to become very positive and life changing. When the volunteer’s time is up the separation can be very heartbreaking and even cause a lot of trauma to young individuals. I have done a number of Service Learning trips and have witnessed this negative factor first hand. It’s emotionally difficult to leave a group of kids with whom you recently spent several weeks. Naturally, you and the children would become emotionally attached as human bonds form which is extremely important to establish trust. The organization that I worked with prior to college is called “Living Hope”. They are an organization based in Cape Town, S.A. What is special about this organization is unlike other agencies, they are based within the country that they work. While they accept global volunteers to help out, the majority of their staff are natives to the area. This allows for the natives to be taught by the international community and to help themselves by continuing the efforts of the initial service project. “Living Hope’s” approach makes a lasting impact on the youth in their communities by equipping the native leaders with the skills and resources necessary to turn a short term project into a lifelong venture. Creating more organizations like Living Hope would help solve the negative impact that short term volunteerism can have on a community. Living Hope, allows for long term support by community members themselves rather than foreigners coming and going. Selecting the right volunteers is also very important. Having a group of people who meaningfully want to participate goes a longer way than having a group of kids who aren’t focused and don’t care to be helping out. Overall I think everyone should experience Service Learning if done for the right way and for the right reasons.

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