During late April, Middle School students from Kyoto International School embarked on their yearly work-service camp to Xian Niang Xi, China. This work-service camp differs from typical service trips as the students are between Grades 7-9, and this is the second year that KIS students have traveled to support the same village. Further, KIS students wanted to move away from a more traditional service trip structure where they "helicopter in"to a rural or poorer community on a pre-determined project without adequately consulting about local needs. Although previous service trips provided positive outcomes at the moment, there was no lasting engagement to determine if a project was truly effective or sustainable over time.
For the second year in a row in this ongoing project, KIS teachers and NGO workers guided KIS students, collaborating with the local Chinese social worker in the village who then connected students with a nature trail group attempting to promote a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle and a greater appreciation of rural Chinese life. Their need was for a new nature trail path going up in the nearby mountains. Part of this new trail needed to be cut out of the mountains while other parts needed bamboo reinforcement.
KIS students were provided photographs of the area, and they then developed skills from their math and science classes to design a step-path and to test possible bamboo construction. When at the village, students applied the concepts that they learned in class in order to construct a staircase that can assist the locals in their goal. To make the work-service camp more meaningful, students combined what is learned in class with what actually happens in real-world situations.
An important goal for our students to cultivate in this project was to develop an attitude of 'support' rather than 'to help'. To help may become too infused with condescension, however unintentional, whereas to support local groups fosters more of a sense of teamwork moving forward together toward a shared goal.
In order to grow this idea into a sustainable program, next year, the students will take the lead in liaising with local villagers, via a local NGO, to determine valued projects that the villagers would like for next year. Further, the students will also take the lead in organizing the trip in addition to engaging in the research and logistics necessary to complete their projects.
Importantly, by making learning in the classroom genuinely connected to real life problems, Middle School students can construct appropriate solutions with the right guidance, trust...and support.