Last night was our first "reflections," when we gather to share our thoughts and emotions as recorded in our daily journals. Reflections is an important component of the service-learning process, requiring participants to think carefully about what they are feeling and experiencing even as they are living through it. Their insights as a result are deeper than they might be otherwise, and through sharing they come to realize the commonalties and divergences in their collective experience.
An interesting theme to emerge last night was the question of whether the Bolivia program could "change your life." Some thought it would, or had, while others were skeptical. I am not a big believer in the idea of "life changing," as it implies that our lives are stable and constant, and can change suddenly from one particular state or condition to another, rather than being more of a continuum that is always in flux. But I think that living here in Bolivia for six weeks, doing the kind of work we do with women and children in poor communities, can change one's perspective. Students reflect on their own privilege and the lack thereof of their barrio friends. They recognize how difficult it is to create lasting and meaningful change in the lives of others, despite our best intentions, but also how even the smallest efforts are significant and
appreciated. And through this kind of awareness, they begin to understand their own positions relative to others in entirely new ways. They begin to relativize their own problems through juxtaposition with those of others, and they start to think differently about what role they might be able to play in building a new kind of society. So while their "lives" may not necessarily change by being in Bolivia, students do, I think, come to see the world, and their place in it, through a different set of lenses.
(Photo credits: Natasha Bennett; Lauren Giannetti)