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During this past Reading Week, not every student took a break from their education. From February 18-22nd, a committed group of University of Calgary students continued learning through participation in an intensive community service program call Project Serve Canada.

 

For the past three years, Project Serve has enabled students from the U of C to connect with students from the University of Guelph in Ontario. Together, these students serve in collaboratively designed projects as part of a five-day community service learning program. Integrated within these service projects are diverse learning experiences and reflection exercises that raise participants' awareness on critical social issues facing Canadian communities.

 

This year, 9 U of C students traveled to Guelph to work with U of G students and local health organizations to learn about the effects of HIV/AIDS on communities. The team worked with the AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington and had the opportunity to speak with two individuals living with AIDS. The project was at times emotional - but Sarah Ha, a 3rd year business student said that it was also “very inspirational” and that the team “really supported each other.” During a visit to Toronto, the students visited the AIDS Committee of Toronto, the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation, and Casey House, a local hospice. Erin Lu, an international student from China who is finishing her Masters at the U of C, reflected that working with a team of committed people in a developed country who really care about what’s happening around the world allowed her to stay hopeful. Erin plans to stay involved in AIDS issues once she returns to China.

 

The highlight for 2nd year Social Sciences major Roseanne Mailman was the high school presentations. After their training, the Project Serve team took their new knowledge into local classrooms and delivered presentations in order to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. The U of C students who participated in the AIDS project are committed to continuing their awareness work and have already planned presentations for both the campus and Calgary communities.

 

The remaining 9 U of C students stayed in Calgary to host 11 students from Guelph during an intense service project focused on homelessness. Sara Klimes, Assistant Coordinator, Student Transitional Programs and I were fortunate to participate in the Calgary project along with our students. We worked with local not-for-profit agencies, including McMan Youth, Family & Community Services, The Mustard Seed and the Homeless Awareness Calgary Committee to gain a strong understanding of the causes and consequences of homelessness. During Family Day, participants took part in a drumming circle with youth from McMan. Despite the challenges these youth are dealing with, we were inspired by their strength and resiliency. Participants also worked with Inn from the Cold, cleaned the emergency night shelter housed in the old Brick on 16th Ave. and engaged in a panel discussion with professionals and faculty representatives.

 

One of the highlights of the week for students involved in the Calgary project was the opportunity to participate in night tours of the downtown area. Our guides were people who have or currently are dealing with homelessness. They shared their personal stories with us, educated us on the challenges of living on the streets and highlighted the difficulties in obtaining the services needed to gain a permanent address. Sonya Hope, a graduating student in Development Studies and Women’s Studies said that the experience was “more influential than many of [her] academic experiences” and others agreed that the learning they gained that night would last a lifetime. Rachel Wik, a 2nd year Law & Society major commented that she “will never forget the people [she] connected with, met and listened to”. She plans on continuing her volunteer work following Project Serve.

 

One of the main goals of Project Serve is to encourage the development of lifelong citizenship in our students. This year, both the Guelph program focusing on HIV/AIDS awareness and the Calgary program focusing on homelessness allowed U of C students to listen to the stories of people who most often don’t have a voice in our communities. They were given the opportunity to become involved in important social issues in direct and meaningful ways. Thank you to all the students who participated in Project Serve this year.

For more information, please contact Aryne Sheppard, Coordinator, Student Leadership Programs in the Office of the Student Experience at 220-2277 or alsheppa@ucalgary.ca.

or visit www.ucalgary.ca/ose/projectserve

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