This semester, we were challenged to make a lasting difference in our service sites as part of the Emerging Leaders Program that we were participating in. We knew about it from the beginning, but like normal college students, we put it off until the last moment. As we struggled to come up with a good idea, we realized several things:
The first deals with our lack of planning and proactive actions. Do we need to have consequences hanging over our heads in order to have the motivation to make changes? As time was running out to come up with an idea and project, our goal was to complete the task, not to make a lasting impact. It wasn’t being graded and we weren’t super invested in the program, so we didn’t need to make it perfect. We just had to get it done, and if it worked, it worked. This was very different from the goal of the project. The hope was that we could use our ingenuity and think outside the box to come up with different plans of action to make an impact on those we serve. It could be little or big, but it was supposed to be different than the norm, something to address the problems.
Here comes the second realization: ingenuity takes time. In order to find a “solution,” you first have to know the problem you’re addressing. We decided that leading and following was something the boys struggled with. Because of their backgrounds, many are very tough and don’t always like to follow the rules. We wanted to provide a way to build their skills as both a follower and leader. But good ideas don’t often come to you in 20 minutes. Unless you’re a natural innovator, it takes time for an idea to be born and grow.
Finally, we realized that things don’t always go as planned. Our boys love basketball, so we ended up playing the game “HORSE” where one person decides where to shoot from and the rest shoot from that location. If you miss, you gain a letter of the word ‘horse.’ We were hoping that it would help the kids both follow after those in front of them, and be leaders by keeping track of their own points. However, the boys never fully understood the game, and instead of playing a fun game, it ended up getting chaotic and even leading to fights.
Reflecting upon our semester at Acción allejera and more specifically, our failure to create and put forth a project that we were proud of, we have come to some conclusions. To begin with, we believe that our EDP class should require us to design and implement such a project as part of our service component. Along with that, students should read articles, news, or books on the issue or issues, which they face at their service sites, so that they may understand exactly what they should be responding to. Their own research should prompt them to not only go to their service site, but to make their service a part of their life as much as possible. Finally, we believe that the project should be sustainable and that it should attempt to address the root causes of the issue or issues. We failed to understand the totality of the boys’ situations as children working on the street, as children of Haitian immigrants or refugees, as children who dropped out of school, and as children of lower social classes of Dominicans. Essentially, the project should be a strong demonstration of the students’ journey, which should include research, service, reflection, and action.
--Kelly Sullivan and Jelena Pjević