ASEC’s Service Learning Program began in 2008 with a goal to provide international service learning opportunities for faculty, students and sisters of ASEC member colleges, universities and congregations that broaden the cultural perspectives and enrich the lives of those who serve and those who are served. Through these opportunities the participants deepen their understanding and appreciation of a culture different from their own and see more objectively the strengths and weaknesses of their own cultures.
This year’s service learning group consists of
- two mentors (one ASEC staff and one Chestnut Hill College faculty member)
- one student and two alumnae from Marywood University
- five Chestnut Hill students
- two Catholic Sisters from ASEC founding congregations; one member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) and one of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia (SSJ).
Service Learning Preparation
Marywood and Chestnut Hill students prepare for the trip by taking a 3-credit course on salient issues in Africa. The course provides participating students with firsthand information and tools to take part in service learning activity, and to understand Africa, and some of the challenges and successes of that continent. Sisters attending the trip can take this 3-credit course or attend a seminar provided by ASEC staff.
Participants raise funds to cover the expense of their service trip. For example, Marywood service learning participants planned and hosted an “Africa Alive” benefit on campus that featured displays of African artifacts hosted by African sisters and performances by an African Storyteller from Democratic Republic of Congo, a group of a capella singers a regional band.
Sr. Lina Wanjiku Ndung'u, SE, ASEC's Regional Director in East & Central Africa has also been key in making trip preparations in Kenya. She says that the staff and sisters are eagerly waiting for participants to arrive. When asked about the service learning program, she said,
"We have a saying in our native language that says 'For those people who don't travel and interact, might think only their mothers who can make delicious meals.' Service Learning is a very enriching program and it is usually a moment of learning and exchanging experiences. Both giving and receiving the best practices and expertise. In most cases the beneficiaries of this program are mainly the vulnerable children and adults and this is usually a key moment for them to receive and experience from the service learning students the love that they ever missed. Having said this, we really look forward to the upcoming service learning program in Kenya because it will bring a difference to our people."
Service Opportunities in Kenya
Participants will provide service at various sites at the LSOSF compound, working hand-in-hand with ASEC alumnae from the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program.
The sisters work tirelessly to improve the lives of the poor and the marginalized people of East Africa and participants will have a wide-variety of service opportunities during the trip. For examples, volunteering with at-risk youth, refugees, HIV and AIDS patients, hospital patients, disabled orphans and school children. Trip organizer Sr. Margaret Gannon, IHM, adds,
“There’s such a diversity in ways that students are able to serve the people of Nairobi and they are able to participate in real service, not just observation.”
US Catholic Sisters as Service Learning Participants
This is the first ASEC Service Learning trip to include Catholic Sisters from the United States into the experience. The sisters’ presence is intended to support the spiritual focus of the service learning trip to enrich the experience of the student volunteers as well as learn from the host community in Africa.
The upcoming trip is stirring up a lot of excitement for Sr. Elizabeth DeMerchant, IHM. She currently lives with two African sisters, and looks forward to learning more about their culture.
“My trip to Kenya is a dream come true. Of all the places in the world I have been interested to experience is Kenya. I use to study the National Geographic magazine every month as child. Now I can see it in person and experience the people and culture.”
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Safety & Support for Participants
When service learning participants travel abroad, ASEC takes every precaution to ensure they have a safe experience. Insurance verification and vaccinations are mandatory before leaving for Kenya. Adult mentors attend the trip, facilitate the group’s travel and also take part in the service. Working with Catholic Sisters also helps to increase safety while in Kenya because the sisters are highly respected by the people of Nairobi.
Olivia Alessandri, an ASEC 2017 service learning participant, traveled to Nairobi for last year’s trip. This year, she serves as a resource for participants who have questions or need support. Alessandri’s biggest piece of advice for those going on the trip is to “be open to anything and accepting of everything” and to “say yes to every experience.”
While in Nairobi, participants will have support from the African sisters in the LSOSF community as well as their trip mentors.
Dr. Jacqueline Reich, a faculty member at Chestnut Hill College is one of this year’s mentors. In a reflection about her experience as a mentor on the 2017 trip, she discussed many of the eye-opening experiences she had while in Kenya. One in particular was at the Sr. Martin’s Saturday Feeding Program in the Nairobi slum. “There were iconic African moments… there were also heart-wrenching experiences, such as looking into the eyes of hungry children as they lined up for the only hot meal they would receive that weekend.” She adds, “We fed over 1665 children that day in a clean facility that was literally an oasis in the middle of the poverty and despair of the slum. The experience was a profound one for each of us on the service trip.”
Tara Lopatofsky, ASEC’s HESA Evaluator and one of the mentor’s for the upcoming trip. She visited Africa just a few months ago and is looking forward to providing guidance to participants while abroad.
“I am very excited to be a part of introducing students to a cross-cultural learning experience, especially in Kenya. Service Learning is an amazing opportunity to not only see the world but to take in a new culture. From prior experience, I can attest to the warm and welcoming nature of the host-sisters. I can’t wait to witness the students’ personal development and the lifelong friendships that will certainly be created.”
Opportunities for Future Trips
Service Learning trips take place each year, with a location change every two years. For more information about this service learning opportunities, please contact Sr. Margaret Gannon, IHM at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also make a donation to support future trips by visiting asec-sldi.org/donate.