“You’re just going over there to help them, they need your help, and that’s probably the aim of your trip. You’re going there to help them build houses and that’s it right?”
I shuddered. Was this how the trip was going to be seen?
It was two nights before I was leaving for our school’s overseas trip, and it was one of the many kitchen talks my mother and I were having. We were leaving for Cambodia for our school’s Capstone Project, and it so happened that I was sharing with my mother in detail the projects we were planning to execute.
I never imagined that our Capstone Project, an almost fully student-planned, and close to auto-pilot project that we took so much pride in, would be seen simply as such an ‘emotionless’ project. My mother saw the project as an execution and achievement of tasks, but I did not. I saw it as a chance to go and embed myself into the local community, to understand their culture, and to open my eyes to the global situation. I saw it, as the heart of service.
And this is how I hope others will see overseas projects too.
Singaporean schools are in the habit of bringing students overseas to conduct community involvement project, where students will uptake tasks to benefit the community. Such tasks usually include building and repairing of facilities. While some may argue that the exposure to these tasks train character, as students need to pick up new skills in a foreign environment, I personally do not think that the nature of the task trains character. Rather, the attitude the student faces the task with makes all the difference.
Some students will face the task with the aim of finishing it. In this case, the overseas trip becomes a very mechanical one, with the main focus being on the task. Some students will face the task with the notion that they are superior, and thus are ‘helping’ the community. Yet others will simply do the task with a heart of service, and try to understand the locals that they are serving.
It is my wish to see that the essence of overseas community involvement trips will be the one that was exemplified by the third type of student. Students going on overseas community involvement projects will hopefully see the value of the programme because of their heart of service, and not because it helps to build their portfolios.
The heart of service is the most important part of any community involvement or service learning project. The heart of service is the key element that will ensure that the person involved in the project will walk away from it more aware of their privilege and how to use it meaningfully, and how to ensure that no long term harm will be done to community that is being served.
The heart of service humbles. It makes one very careful of the actions that they are taking, and it ensures that one stops periodically to evaluate and re-evaluate if they are doing any harm upon the community. This is because one will put the interest and benefits of the community they are serving first, and one will really take the effort to understand the needs of the community.
In fact, the heart of service is one that will spur students to not only serve the overseas communities, but serve their local communities. Often times, the transformation students experience overseas does not carry over across the borders, giving onlookers the perception that they are not sincere about service. Once back at home, students often neglect the idea of service. However, if one has a heart of service, one will be spurred to continue service at home.
The heart of service is often the absent element in our service culture today. More often than not, service is seen necessary for portfolio building or graduation requirements. However, that is not service. Service in itself is something that starts from the heart. It is the recognition and knowledge of the privilege some of us have. It is the refusal to do nothing about the difference in the privileges one receives due to uncontrollable circumstance. Most importantly, it is the the willingness of the human race to share their privilege with others. This, is the heart of service.
Hopefully, service in future will not be measured by the number of hour clocked or the number of houses built. Service in future, will not be quantified. Service in future, I hope, will be all about attitude.