Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ukraine Powerpoint Presentation

This is my powerpoint from an in-class presentation done on my host country and placement. You will find the slides to be relatively uninformative, and this is mainly because I used them more as a reference, so if you are interested in knowing more just ask and I can fill you in with more details! Also, I included the link to a photo journalism contest where I found some pictures for my slides. The 1st place winner focused on street kids in Ukraine, particularly Odessa...but I found the other contestants and their work to be compelling as well. You can check it out at:

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Entering this program, I did not anticipate that the depth of the course content before sending us off would strike me in a meaningful way. I don't think anyone really signed up for Beyond Borders thinking, "can't wait for intellectual training in RS 283, and 383!". Your entire mindset is focused on those sweet 3 months in a new and exciting country, and the countdown starts from the beginning. Before discovering our placement, all we want to know is where we'll be placed...and once we've been placed, all we want to know is when we can go, and when we find that out too, we wait with baited breath and count down the days until we are gone. We all agreed to participate in this program for a summer away for three months, and what we got in turn has been so much more. This is something I have come to appreciate more when reflecting on the question, "does service learning matter?"

We've heard the sayings, "practice what you preach", or "put your money where your mouth is," and service-learning seems to embody the negligence of hypocrisy which these idioms imply. Service-learning involves incorporating theoretical education with a practical component aimed at putting the same theory to use. In full consideration, it seems basic that in order to fully understand something one must experience it hands on; thus, appreciating the full depth of the theoretical foundation is achieved as you become acquainted with its practical strengths, shortcomings, and possibly where review of the theory is necessary for a more full understanding.

In the Beyond Borders program, the service-learning component was crucial not only to opening my perception of social justice and making a difference, but in validating my ability to practice dialogue and participate in community right here at home (without going overseas!). For me, this two-fold message has been tantamount in preparation for my placement in Ukraine. In this way, the program has been orchestrated to flow from theory to practicum to expansion internationally in a manner that revoking one portion would disturb the foundation upon which the next step is built. Moreover, with this foundation one is always able to revisit each fundamental component with the understanding of its importance and the ambition to strengthen its purpose.

I said that service-learning was crucial in opening my eyes toward social justice. This is not to say that I was unaware of opportunities in acting towards social justice prior to the program, but rather to articulate how my attitude has been critically renewed since September. I walked into BB wanting to act towards change and not really knowing how, wanting to make a difference but simultaneously feeling insignificant. Through in class readings, most especially Pedagogy of the Oppressed, class discussions, and volunteering at the Working Centre I have come to appreciate and understand the importance of dialogue as an agent of change. I have learned that liberation is achieved through solidarity which stems from the oppressed. This has allowed me to understand my impact on the dehumanization of people, which has in turn brought an awareness of my capability to humanize "the other" simply through treating them with equality. I have come to acknowledge my ability to make a difference with a smile, a conversation, with simply listening. I have been more conscious of my ability to validate the suffering of others, and less conscious of my ability to solve these problems with my western ways. I have practiced my ability to "be"with others in the name of solidarity, and lived its effectiveness in building community. This learning is irreplaceable, and futile if not practiced.

Secondly, I mentioned a new found awareness of my ability to act towards social justice locally. While travelling abroad is an enticing notion which provides a unique opportunity to explore and act towards social justice in a profound way, it is important not to underestimate our call to solidarity in local communities. Being an active and responsible participant in your own community can mean recycling your waste, paying your bills, providing a service to others through employment, growing your own produce, or volunteering at a local community centre. It is important, however to expand and challenge your growth by exploring opportunities which involve the greater community as you are able. All this is not to imply that travelling abroad is a vain attempt at social justice, but rather to emphasize that participating in community is achievable and important no matter where you are.

Thus, I would like to reiterate my sentiments and state that service-learning does matter. Not only has it coaxed my progress in Beyond Borders, but I consider it quintessential to the structure of the program. As I look back on the previous 8 months, it is only now that I realize I have gained so much more than an opportunity to travel abroad this summer. If asked to participate in this program knowing it would stop today, I would do it all over again.