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McMaster’s Reading Week Series: 5 Perspectives

reflecting in VancouverService Learning is a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students work with others through a process of applying what they are learning to community problems, and, at the same time, reflecting upon their experience as they seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.

The McMaster Office of Community Service Learning and Civic Engagement ran 5 different Reading Week experiences this year. Each team had 2 Team Advisors (staff) and 1 Team Leader (student) and the groups ranged in size from 10-14 participants. Our theme this year was ‘Looking Closer’ as we aimed to get students beyond the headlines, beyond their assumptions to deeply appreciate and understand the complexity and interconnectedness of multi-faceted social issues.

Each team leader was asked to write a brief outline of what they did on the trip and what the experience meant to them. This is what they had to say.



Name: Brooke Mackinnon, 4th Year Honours Psychology
Trip: Hamilton, Ontario (Cycle of Poverty)
service in the Hamilton communityService Learning, by definition, is a method of teaching through learning and reflecting, combining an academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service in the community. But this definition does not include the laughter, the friendships or the tears that often come along with such an experience. And it doesn’t include the dissipation of ignorance into hunger for further knowledge. It doesn’t include the redirection of one’s future goals, or the changing of a soul. After 4 years of Service Learning I know it is much more than the dictionary definition entails. This year my experience as a Team Leader for the Hamilton trip gave me an even better idea of what Service Learning should be. The participants reminded me it is about learning from each other, even for those leading such experiences. Service Learning is about creating inspiration, growth and change. But most importantly, it is about knowing  that Margaret Mead was right, a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world, and indeed, we will.

Name: Drew Simon, 2nd Year Political Science
Trip: Cuernavaca, Mexico (International Policy and Community Development)
helping out in Cuernavaca, MexicoMy name is Drew Simon and I am a 2nd year Political Science major. I had the opportunity to spend a week in the beautiful city of Cuernavaca, Mexico. After one week in an environment completely unfamiliar to me, I came out a changed man. I am sure that many members of my team have truly come to agree with the theory that we learn better from doing. In our short time in Cuernavaca, we were able to learn by becoming one with the Mexican culture, by experiencing firsthand what we read in the news, and most importantly, by helping out a lovely family. I learned that wealth doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, that everything has a ripple effect, and most importantly, that there is hope. The value of this experience cannot be measured, as it was truly life changing.


Name: Aleisha Bauhaus, 3rd Year Medical Radiation Science- Ultrasound
Trip: St. John’s, Newfoundland (Social Services in Urban vs. Rural Communities)
group of 10 travel to St. John's, Newfoundland to explore a variety of issuesMy experience traveling to St. John’s, Newfoundland during reading week was definitely an unforgettable one. A group of 10 of us from McMaster University traveled in hopes of exploring a variety of issues while looking at the rural versus urban communities. What we learned was more than any of us could have expected. For me, it was such a wonderful opportunity to volunteer my time and meet a number of friendly people. The experience was the chance to look at communities in a different perspective and to really be able to learn something from that. It was rewarding to know that with a few hours of simple work such as; painting the interior of a house or peeling some carrots, that we were making a small difference in these peoples’ lives. Everyone we met just seemed so grateful to have us and it really made me feel honoured to be there. Just being in St. John’s and learning about its history, both good and bad, was eye-opening, and it’s experiences like these that will help shape the person I want to become.  

Name: MingWei Zhang, MA in Globalization Studies
Trip: Vancouver, BC (Environmental Sustainability)
visiting and volunteering with the David Suzuki FoundationOur aim of the experience was looking closer into the issues of environmental sustainability which have been continuously advocating and practicing in Vancouver. During this service-learning trip, we
visited and volunteered with several organizations such as City Farmer (urban agriculture, composting), David Suzuki Foundation (cultivation of the communal awareness of environmental sustainability), Quest (food rescue and redistribution to local disadvantaged community), United We Can (recycling of bottles/cans/reusable containers, creating job opportunities and income for local binners). After this trip, we gained much insight into the intertwined relationship among environment, poverty, food and community.


Name: Anita Ramakrishna, 3rd year Bachelor of Health Sciences
Trip: Little Rock, Arkansas (Housing, Poverty and Development)
volunteering feeding livestock to donate to villagesDuring our time in Little Rock, Arkansas, I was able to see a whole new side of the United States. I am used to visiting areas in the Northern US and this was my first time seeing the South. I was blown away with how hospitable every person we met was. The kindness and generosity we were shown is the kind you remember for a lifetime.

We also had the opportunity to work with the organization Heifer International at their Ranch. Their organization stands for sustainability and helping villages in developing countries deal with poverty. They donate livestock to families and ensure that each community passes on a part of the gift that they receive to other villages that are in need; communities share in the prosperity. Through simulations where we spent the night in homes that are typical in certain countries I was also able to understand the living conditions of those around the world.

The great hospitality we received, as well as the enlightening experiences allowed me to better appreciate everything that I have in my country and realize that there are a lot of initiatives available out there for the more fortunate of us to utilize in our efforts to help those who are in need.