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UMPI students prepare for service learning trip to Guatemala

The University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Social Work program is planning a return trip to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, in order to take part in an international service learning project.

The group consists of six UMPI Social Work students–Gaila Allan, Ashley Brewer, Breigha Debison, Melanie Maynard, Jenna Rideout, and Amanda Scott–and three Canadian women with ties to the group–Darlene Debison, Amanda Danyluk, and Sharon Tobin. The trip is being led by Shirley Rush, UMPI Associate Professor of Social Work and Bachelor of Social Work Program Director.

The group’s venture to Central America starts on Feb. 13 and lasts for 10 days. However, the adventure has already begun. The group started raising the $8,000 needed for the UMPI students to participate in the trip this past summer. The women worked hard selling sno-cones at various summer festivals. Two recent fundraisers, a FAST CASH raffle and apple pie sale, pushed them closer to this goal. During the apple pie sale, the group made and sold a whopping 200 pies.

The group recently wrapped up two other fundraisers. One was for a full cord of cut and split maple firewood donated by Westin Enterprises, which was delivered to the winner. The other was for a hand-made quilt donated by Valerie Maynard, mother of one of the Social Work students. The group plans to conduct a few more fundraisers prior to their trip departure.

“Every person that buys a raffle ticket or otherwise supports the group is going with them in spirit,” Rush said. “We can’t stress enough the importance of our community’s support, which enables us to help others. We’d like to thank the members of our community for their help so far and ask them to take part in our upcoming fundraising efforts that allow service learning opportunities like this to continue happening.”

Service learning is an experiential method of learning that uses collaboration, service and reflection. While in Guatemala, the group will have plenty of opportunities to do that. They’ll spend five days working with community organizations in Quetzaltenango. The group’s assignment will be given in January and will depend on the community’s needs. The task could involve anything from taking care of children or teaching English in a classroom. During the stay, the group will also experience the culture as much as possible. The women will visit Mayan villages to learn about weaving and pottery making and travel to the highlands where Quetzaltenango (Xela) is located.

The Social Work Program’s service learning experience grew out of a 2008 trip to New York City where 10 Social Work students took part in the annual Social Work Day at the United Nations as well as an International Social Work Conference for students at Fordham University. In 2009, four UMPI students spent a week in Guatemala doing community service. While there, they painted the exterior of a public kindergarten and interacted with the children by playing games during recess. In 2011, Rush accompanied a cohort of four UMPI students, an alum, and a Husson student on a similar service learning trip to Moshi, Tanzania. The group spent two weeks teaching English in preschools and at a juvenile detention center.

Participation in international service initiatives, such as this trip, is consistent with The Global Agenda for Social Work Development Commitment to Action, which was ratified at the United Nations in March 2012 while UMPI students were in attendance. The Global Agenda is a collaborative effort by the International Federation of Social Workers, the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Council on Social Welfare to promote social and economic equalities by partnering with local communities around the world.

“Being able to travel internationally specifically because of their fundraising efforts and their County work ethic really speaks volumes about these students. They’re going to be excellent ambassadors for our region,” Rush said. “In exchange for our service efforts, we will be graciously hosted by our Central American friends and we expect to return with some wonderful stories of transformation.”

To learn more about this service learning trip, please contact Rush at shirley.rush@maine.edu or at 207-551-9954.