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Serve to Learn, Learn to Serve
By Jessica Held, Grade 3 Teacher currently on a Community Service Sabbatical in Nepal

‘Action refers to choices, big or small, made by individuals which are personally meaningful and have a positive impact on oneself, the school, the local community or the broader world’ (ISZL)

An essential element of the International Baccalaureate and of our teaching at ISZL is action, and this includes service learning. Service learning is a form of experiential education, one where students use academic skills and knowledge to address genuine community needs. Teachers also have the opportunity to engage in service learning, and one opportunity that ISZL offers us is the Community Service Sabbatical.

3-2-1 Action! Two children from NAG ready to take on any challenge

The sabbatical programme at ISZL was launched a few years ago, enabling staff to take time away from school to work on a community service project. After two years of planning, a successful application and a few months of intense preparation, I departed the comforts of Switzerland this summer for a year away in Nepal to start my sabbatical volunteering at Nawa Asha Griha (NAG) in Kathmandu. As many members of the ISZL community know, our school has a long association with NAG, a home and school for street children in Nepal, as it is our whole school charity and the focus of many of our charitable fundraising efforts.

Service Learning includes reflection

After only a few months at NAG, I feel like I have already grown so much. On a professional level, I have been working with NAG teachers and students from nursery age to college level, focusing on teaching English. As an educator, I am learning to apply the skills I have gained through my years of experience at ISZL in a new setting. For example, I have been introducing teaching practices such as flexible grouping, peer feedback, assessment tools like rubrics and checklists and project-based learning. I am adapting and growing as a teacher as I must consider the different constraints, resources, culture, educational goals and needs of this school and student community. I also find myself teaching more than just English. Daily yoga classes, environmental awareness and recycling, starting a running group, leading a cooking-around-the-world club, supporting and training NAG teachers, promoting reading for pleasure and revamping the school library are some of the other initiatives I am involved in.

Reading stories in English to Class One students

On a personal level, it has been both challenging and extremely rewarding to venture out on my own, discovering a new-found assertiveness and developing friendships with the people I have met so far on my travels. The sabbatical has also allowed me to have the time and energy to pursue other personal interests such as trekking, rock climbing, and learning to playing the ukulele.

Tea with a view of the beautiful Himalayas on the Annapurna Base Camp trek

Service Learning includes reciprocal collaboration

Since the start of this school year, a group of ISZL teachers has been working with me to help children in our Primary School and children at NAG have a better understanding of who we are and how we are connected. One recent collaborative project has been the NAG sponsored run, which presented the ideal opportunity to show ISZL students the cause they were running for. A group of teachers in Zug, led by Heidi McCowan and with the support of Kyle Hawkins, Linda Graham, Isabel Miguens and Mike Neil, have completed a number of video exchanges with me out in Kathmandu. A Grade 4 class created a video for the NAG children which showed what ISZL looks like and where the sponsored run takes place on Zug Campus. At the end of this video, the ISZL students shared their questions about life for the students at NAG. Here in Nepal, I presented this video to the NAG students explaining why ISZL supports NAG, how money is raised through the run, and what the donations are used for. It was now our turn to respond, and the NAG students in Class 5 along Vice Principal Ohm Thakuri, answered Grade 4’s questions, shared how ISZL’s donations have helped NAG in the past and gave the details of a future project this year’s sponsorship money will be used for. This video was then shared with Primary School students in Zug at the assembly the week before the sponsored run.

Most recently, the team at ISZL has created a video showcasing the charity run in all divisions of ISZL for the NAG students to watch this week – you can watch it here. These communications have been invaluable in giving students at both schools a stronger connection, a better understanding of ourselves and the lives of others, our commonalities and differences, and the positive impact we can have on others halfway across the world!

The NAG children are so grateful and appreciative of the support they continuously receive from ISZL

Service Learning is mutually beneficial

Having been here during the High School Personal Development Week students’ visit in September, it became evident how NAG gives back to ISZL. Service learning or taking action is not merely ‘us helping them’ in a monetary capacity. Our charitable donations certainly do help NAG to function on a day-to-day basis. However, the giving is reciprocal if not greater with regard to the priceless ways in which NAG ‘gives’ back to the ISZL community.

Firstly, for many students and teachers alike, learning about how NAG’s founder Nicole Wick Thakuri responded to the need she saw in the community 25 years ago and took it upon herself help in whatever way she could is awe-inspiring. She is a role model to many in demonstrating how one person with a seemingly impossible idea can make changes to a daunting and complex issue. We can all admire her courage, determination and resourcefulness to better the lives of girls and boys, to give them a chance through having a safe home and a good education. She inspires her students and anyone who knows her to follow their dreams, to understand that if there’s a will, there’s a way, to roll with the punches and to be selfless yet not lose one’s self in the process!

With former NAG student and now PR manager, Jamuna Khadka

Secondly, NAG helps provide a week’s worth of learning that lasts a lifetime for those ISZL students lucky enough to volunteer at NAG during Personal Development Week. The week is filled with opportunities to interact with NAG students through activities, sports, games, dance performances, scavenger hunts and lessons. ISZL students also explored the interesting sights around Kathmandu and visited Seven Women, a women’s empowerment project, for a traditional Nepali cooking class.

In just one week, we witnessed ISZL students step outside their comfort zones and embrace the work of NAG, its people and the Nepalese culture. Tears were flowing on the day of departure, and it was clear that the spirit and warmth of the NAG community had a major impact on them.

Finally, NAG is also a gracious host to those who come to volunteer for weeks and often months. The cycle of giving continues, as we volunteers use our newly gained perspectives, understanding and skills to give back to our community at home and beyond.

With Class 12 students at a prom hosted by ISZL PDW students

So what is next for me? When I leave Kathmandu I plan to spend some time focusing on my health - ayurvedic treatments, yoga, and meditation in India, surfing and meditation in Sri Lanka. I will visit friends I have not seen in years in Hong Kong, Cambodia and Australia. And I will be spending one month in Indonesia testing my wits on a remote island, learning to dive and collecting marine data for a conservation project.

I am truly so grateful for this sabbatical year and all of the valuable experiences I have had and are yet to come. Thank you ISZL and NAG for this opportunity to learn and to serve.

 

Links

NAG Nepal: http://www.nagnepal.org

Instagram: nag_nepal

Facebook: NAG Kathmandu

Blog: https://toduornottodu.blogspot.com

Service Learning: http://www.cbkassociates.com

Seven Women: https://sevenwomen.org

 

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