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Reading Week Projects 2008

Brescia University College
St Francis Xavier University
University of Toronto
University of Alberta
Carleton University
University of British Columbia

Brescia University College

With staff support from the Student Services Department, 13 students learned a new sense of gratitude and awareness when they traveled to Thailand in February to work in an orphanage for two weeks in Brescia University College’s first Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program.

The participants hosted a showcase on March 31 to present their experiences and photos from the Baan Dada Orphanage to about 30 members of the Brescia community. Diane Reesor, first-year family studies student, learned several lessons in gratitude. “These children at the Baan Dada Orphanage have been through some horrific and traumatizing experiences, yet remain centered and guided by what they know they have to do. From when they get up at sunrise and don’t rest their head till the sun goes down, they appreciate everything that’s provided to them. Being in Thailand really makes you realize that you are always going to have more than some, and less than others. But you should always be happy with what you have, and the people around you.”

Kathleen Maika, a fifth-year student majoring in english and sociology, describes how the ASB experience significantly changed her perspective. “The people of the orphanage are conscious of their limited means but are very resourceful with their land. They practice reducing, reusing and recycling in a manner which reflects great awareness of the value of every commodity.  Conservation of everything, from the amount of paint we used while painting the great hall, to the rice we used to make the mud bricks for their new building, to the portions of food that we ate were taken into consideration.

“Their sharing, caring attitude was very evident within the Baan Dada community. This made me reflect on my own lifestyle. Not only do I take for granted the easy access to a consumer-driven western world lifestyle, but I follow it blindly. This trip provided me with the opportunity to think about how I can be more resourceful in my everyday life, and resist the lure of consumerism.”

Reesor and Maika both aspire to become teachers. In increasingly multicultural classrooms, the ASB experience has afforded them more worldly and empathic approaches to teaching. Maiker said, “I am a firm believer that education is received outside the classroom as much as it is within the classroom. As a sociology student, I was able to experience first hand the social inequality I’ve spent so much time reading about in textbooks.”

Reesor added, “I feel that this program has opened my eyes to an entirely new world. It has brought up so many questions about my life and what I want out of it. I do know that I want to continue to work with children, and help them find the right path in life.”

Jessie Westlake-McCormick, co-curricular service-learning coordinator at Brescia, said some of the students in the Program went to Thailand with a passion for service and others discovered their passion on this trip. “There were a handful of students who had the message of service almost ingrained in them. Then, this project really brought out the emotions to connect them with that. Because they’ve had this experience, they will continue service work for the rest of their lives, as they indicated in their journals. They want to go back.”

ASB organizers continue to accept donations towards the Bann Dada Orphanage to support the 50 children aged two to 19 who live there. Also, people are invited to contact Westlake-McCormick at jwestla4@uwo.ca to arrange to view and purchase hand-woven garments made by Thai women. The proceeds will support the Bann Dada Orphanage and the Weaving Project, through which Thai mothers make and sell the garments to support their families.

For more information, please contact: Jessie Westlake-McCormick, Co-curricular Service-Learning Coordinator at 519-432-8353, ext. 28036.

St Francis Xavier University

StFX Immersion Service Learning groups embarked on 4 experiences over the reading week break.  Each group, led by a StFX faculty member, traveled to one of four locations:  Cuba, Grenada, Mexico, Guatemala and Mexico. 

Students prepared for their experiences by participating in workshops and group meetings, discussing assigned readings and hearing from guest speakers. 

Once on site, each group was welcomed by a local host organization which provided on-the-ground programming, arranged service placements, accommodations and in country travel.  Evening reflection sessions led by hosts and faculty leaders allowed participants to share their experiences during the immersion experience. 

The annual Immersion Presentation Evening provided each group with an opportunity to share their experiences with fellow students and community members upon returning to campus.  Students described their experiences as “life changing” and indicated that the vast amount of knowledge gained about the country and culture was amazing.  Highlights of their presentations include:

For more information on the above experiences or our upcoming immersion experience to Oradea, Romania in early May 2009 please visit the Service Learning Program webpage:   http://www.stfx.ca/academic/servicelearning/

University of Toronto

The Centre for Community Partnerships at the University of Toronto offered it’s 3rd annual alternative reading week event on Feb. 19th and 20th;  Connecting with Community 2008.   This two-day event was developed to provide an opportunity specifically for student leaders, who wanted to participate in a Day of Service while exploring ways to provide a more meaningful experience to other students who may want to participate in the future service events.  This was of particular interest to those students with membership in a student group/club/council/etc.

Students went beyond volunteering by participating in pre-service workshops and a presentation given by our community partner; The Daily Bread Food Bank.  The second day gave all 50 participants the opportunity to serve at the Daily Bread Food Bank then completed their day with a post service reflection/discussion and a lecture from one of our Political Science faculty members.

Quotes from Participants

1st Year student: Day of Service was a great way to spend Reading Week. Volunteering with the food bank brought to light the poverty and hunger issue that I didn't even know was so prevalent in Toronto. Not only was the day meaningful, I also got to meet new people and have fun along the way. Count me in for next year!

3rd Year Student: The event was very well-organized and delivered. It was helpful to start with workshops that helped us to identify ourselves, then others, and putting ourselves and others into the community and bringing some perspective on a larger scale.

4th Year Student:  The timing of the workshop was perfect as it provided participants with the opportunity to reflect on service in general. The teams also got the opportunity to interact on various levels before collaborating within the agency setting. The post-reflection activity where groups discussed issues relevant to the student experience was very informative and definitely created a sense of community within that small room.


Karen McCrank
Community Service Coordinator
Centre for Community Partnerships
University of Toronto
569 Spadina Avenue, Suite 315
Toronto, ON  M5S 2J7
Website: www.ccp.utoronto.ca
Email: serve.learn@utoronto.ca
Phone: 416.946.7103
Fax: 416.978.2817

University of Alberta

This Reading Break, 9 students from the University of Alberta, living in residence travelled to Thibodaux, New Orleans to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. The community that they were helping had been destroyed by hurricane Katrina and Rita in 2005.

The entire experience was fantastic! It provided students with an opportunity to apply some of the skills they were learning in the classroom to the real world. One of the most important parts of the experience was certainly the reflection component. At nights they would have lengthy group discussions, sometimes lasting 2 to 3 hours. Discussions focused on what students were learning and experiencing and how it could be applied to their own lives and communities. The students showed incredible growth during this time and truly became better global citizen as a result. Each student was given a journal that enabled them to comment on their experiences and engage in individual reflection. There were certainly emotionally charged discussions and an incredible amount of personal and collective growth that occurred throughout the week.

During the course of the week the group installed all the windows, put on the entire roof and finished the siding of a home that will go to a family who lost everything in the hurricane.

Another great part of the trip was that students were able to experience a new environment and culture. Other activities that happened during the week included: visiting local restaurants to taste traditional Louisianan cuisine, attending a Cajun Music night at a local venue, going on a swamp tour and seeing wild alligators up close, attending an NBA game, visiting the New Orleans Aquarium, going to the I-Max show, “Hurricane on the Bayou”, visiting a plantation museum and experiencing the French Quarter.

A very impactful experience for the group was visiting one of the most devastated areas in New Orleans, the lower 9th ward. This incident was very emotional and upsetting to some of the students as the condition of the community was hardly better then pictures they had seen taken only weeks after the hurricane hit. Several hours were spent reflecting on and debriefing the experience.

Fundraising was a big component of the project. Students spearheaded fundraising events before the trip and were able to raise approximately $9,000 to help offset the costs of the trip!

Check out our website at: http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/residences/servicelearning.cfm (Students comments and feedback about the experience will soon be available on the site)

Or read the following article:


For more information please contact:

Chelsey Brokop
Coordinator, Student Engagement & Learning
Residence Life
1-005 Lister Centre
Edmonton, AB
T6G 2H6
Tel: 780-492-5873
Fax: 780-492-7032

Carleton University

ASB Mexico

A group of 29 including 25 students and a professor from the School of Social Work, spent 8 days with the Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development. Carleton’s first international ‘ASB’ focused on globalization and poverty. The group participated in a number of pre-departure sessions and worked with structured journals. Our faculty chaperone, Dr. Allan Moscovitch, facilitated student learning around poverty in inequality in Canada, helping students connect their experience abroad to their home community. In addition to the varied lectures and workshops, the highlights of the trip for students were two days with Habitat for Humanity and a visit to a squatter settlement, La Estación. While in La Estación, students visited local families in small groups, and were asked to formulate questions based on their reading and experience in Mexico. The women of La Estación discussed their lived experience, including topics such as illegal migration, drug addiction, the cost of education, social isolation, and domestic violence. Students valued the opportunity to learn directly from these women and their children. Prior to departure, students completed detailed ‘learning plans’ with their program goals. Before returning to Canada, the group collectively determined an action plan.

The ASB program is housed in Student Affairs at Carleton and it is designed to enhance the student experience: “It was the most amazing experience I have had in a group at Carleton. I learnt so much from so many people. I have NO words to describe how this trip has changed my life (not just much because of the country, but because of the group of people I got to work with). I have no words to say how much every conversation in the workshops, group work sessions, or community visits, etc. means to me. Every student I got to meet was so very different from the regular crowd of students I am exposed to in university. I knew NOTHING about politics, public affairs, or social issues associated with Mexico until I met these students and student leaders. I feel so fortunate to have been included with 24 other students who are from completely different programs. I feel lucky to have met the people I did and in the 7 days form a bond with these people that will be there for the rest of our lives.”

For more information, please contact erin_kaipainen@carleton.ca or visit www.carleton.ca/csl

ASB Ottawa

For the last two years, students from Carleton University have worked with Cambridge Street Community School through the OttawaReads program. Through this partnership, we began to discuss the possibility of doing a local Alternative Spring Break program with the school. Cambridge has a very diverse student population, with children speaking 29 different languages, so it was important to us that the projects reflect that diversity. The principal and Carleton alike also wanted the projects to touch on environmental issues. Thirteen students and 3 staff from Carleton spent their reading week working on a quilt to hang in the front hall, and painted wooden shapes (flowers, sailboats, butterflies) to hang on the school’s fence. These project ideas were both designed to make the school feel welcoming to parents and community members, and to bolster student pride in their school. Like the Cambridge student body, many of our participants speak languages other than English, and have come to Canada from elsewhere. Four of our participants were part of ASB Vancouver 2007 – they jumped at the opportunity to do a school project following a very positive experience with Grandview School and UBC.

We really value our relationship with Cambridge School, and hope to work with them in the future on ASB or ‘Alternative Weekend’ projects. At the moment, we are working with a number of community members and the school on a school-grounds greening project – transforming the kindergarten yard into an exciting space for learning and playing.

For more information, please contact erin_kaipainen@carleton.ca or visit www.carleton.ca/csl

University of British Columbia

The UBC Reading Week Projects in schools and non-profit organizations were a huge success - reaching more schools and non-profits than ever before! 486 UBC students spent three days of their Reading Week, this past February, participating in 11 Vancouver elementary schools and 18 non-profit organizations. In addition, another 255 students participated in approximately 19 non-profits organizations on similar projects, which took place outside the traditional Reading Week period. The majority of UBC students got involved as part of their course work with approximately 15 courses integrating community service learning, while other students participated through an established student group or as an individual.

The Reading Week projects were led by a group of energized project leaders. These leaders were UBC staff members who were given release time to play this role, graduate students, or even in one case, an undergraduate student. This year UBC was pleased to have eleven Business Objects employees engaged as leaders of community service learning projects for the first time.

Project Leaders led their team of UBC students in one of almost 50 projects, proposed by the school or organization. Reading Week projects stimulated thinking about important social issues while making significant contributions to schools and organizations. Here are some brief project overviews:

Grade 7 Britannia Elementary students participated in the TOTEM (Teaching Others to Enjoy Math) project where they worked with UBC students to solve and exhibit a math problem, culminating in an interactive math fair for peers and parents.

A team of UBC students from the First Nations Studies Program assisted the Musqueam Band with an on-going creek revitalization project. Musqueam Creek is the last wild salmon-spawning creek in Vancouver. UBC students helped clear invasive plants and clean up the surrounding trail.

Second year Civil Engineering students participated in several projects at Pacific Streamkeepers Federation. The projects included helping to design and build new fish food feeders; designing and building model fish ladders for demonstration purposes; and testing the water quality and quantity at McKay Creek while researching how often separating systems should be cleaned and where they should be installed.

The Reading Week community service learning projects are a unique educational experience for elementary students, university students, community members, and staff alike. Through active engagement and interaction with others, each person is able to create their own exchange of learning - where they contribute to and gain from the people they work with.

Students told us:

“I had so much fun while participating in the Reading Week Project. It will be an experience I will never forget.”                                           
- Where the Wild Things Are Project, Hastings Elementary

“I really enjoyed the experience, it was inspiring to make a difference in a child’s life.”
TOTEM Project, Macdonald Elementary

“I really want to volunteer at Strathcona some more. It was an amazing school and I am really impressed by the community.”
Stitch This! Project, Strathcona Elementary

“I really, really enjoyed this project.  It gave me the opportunity to be active about habitat restoration, something I feel strongly about.”
Creek Revitalization Project,  Musqueam First Nations Band

“It was a rewarding experience to see outside our own little world.”
Social and Recreational Activities, Coast Mental Health