Two groups of Hendrix College students, faculty, and staff began summer break with service-learning trips to New York City and Rwanda, where their experiences serving others led them to learn more about themselves and the world.
Organized by the Hendrix College Office of Religious Life and sponsored by the Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics, and Calling, service-learning trips welcome individuals from any faith tradition or non-religious perspective. Participating students work on projects that benefit communities experiencing material or social disadvantages while building relationships with those they serve. Students also spend time exploring their own values and social concerns, beliefs and commitments, gifts and limitations through guided discussions and journal writing.
“Service-learning trips give students an opportunity to connect with cultures and people who hold different perspectives of the world,” said the Rev. J.J. Whitney ’96, chaplain and director of the Office of Religious Life for the College. “Through service that leads to significant interactions in the community, students continue to discern their vocations, discovering how their gifts and passions can make a difference in meeting the needs of our time.”
The New York City trip was coordinated through Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP), a Quaker organization grounded in the Quaker values of respect, simplicity, and service with students from any faith or belief system and those who do not ascribe to any faith. Director of student activities Tonya Hale and biology professor Dr. J.D. Gantz led this trip, which included students Lexie Burleson ’21, Christina Choh ’19, Brittany Chue ’21, Christine Donakey ’21, Nina Faidley ’20, Chelsea Flowers ’21, Audrey Mutoni ’22, and Harper Purifoy ’19. The group spent their days serving at soup kitchens, organizing supply closets for shelters, distributing food and toiletries, and tutoring young readers in an elementary school. Evenings and the week’s end brought opportunities to see the sights of New York City.
“This service-learning trip ignited a new passion to serve that I never knew was in me,” Flowers said. “Typically, as Americans, we see the homeless as more of an object of misfortune rather than an actual person. We tell the homeless what they need to survive in society without much concern for providing that aid.”
Flowers embraced the change in perspective the trip brought her, and recommends that others take advantage of similar opportunities. “I promise you that learning things about someone’s experience will leave a lasting impact on you and them, and it may teach you some things. Be open to that,” she said. “The little things truly go a long way for people, and this trip helped me realize that. I am forever grateful for it.”
The second service-learning group traveled to Gashora, a small village in rural South Rwanda, to spend a week at Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST), a long-standing partner with Hendrix College. During lunch, Hendrix students interacted with GGAST students and talked with them about the U.S. college experience. In the mornings and afternoons, the group volunteered with Dihiro Public School, which serves primary and secondary students. They worked with teachers and students of Dihiro to strengthen English language instruction there, and at week’s end, they watched the Dihiro English Club hold a debate on the topic of unplanned teen pregnancy.
Before returning to the U.S., the group engaged with Rwanda’s history of genocide and reconciliation, and took some time to explore Akagera National Park by safari.
Dr. Peter Gess, a politics and environmental studies professor, and Gwen Stockwell, director of ESOL and International Student Services, led the Rwanda trip. Hendrix students Greer Ayers ’22, Aleck Bratt ’20, Sumaira Sardar ’21, and Alexandra Scott ’20 participated, and were assisted by Dr. Jennifer Penner, a Hendrix psychology professor who spent part of her recent sabbatical teaching at GGAST, and by Hannah Eldred ’21, Hannah Henderson ’20, and Reagan Kilgore ’20, Hendrix students completing summer internships at GGAST.
“Our teaching topics included various aspects of grammar, vocabulary, and literature, as well as lesson-planning,” Gess said. “We also trained the teachers on the use of technology—the LCD projector we donated was so happily received!”
“Rwanda is full of beautiful people whose smiles are contagious and whose joy is infectious,” said Ayers. “I am so thankful for this experience from the Miller Center, as it has once again allowed me to experience cross-cultural servanthood as a way of deepening my understanding of the world and all the beautiful things it has to offer.”