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McMaster University completed its second annual Reading Week Service Learning Series this past February 2007.  This year the participants dedicated themselves to learning about ‘Poverty and the Human Condition’ through the team meetings, guest speakers and service placements.  Five teams of students worked in the following communities:


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Hamilton, Ontario – In our home community a team of students from McMaster University also hosted a team from University of Alberta.  The students worked with a number of service providers in the community such as a homeless shelter, food bank and community centre.  The team also worked with the Hamilton Social Planning and Research Council to conduct a needs assessment in a particular community in Hamilton that is under serviced for the current demographics.

Lake Charles, Louisiana – Still recovering from Hurricane Rita, the team that went to Lake Charles worked with Habitat for Humanity on a number of houses.  Unique to this experience was the teams housing at the Southwest Louisiana Volunteer Centre, a location that houses up to 200 volunteers from across the country and the world, all there to assist with Hurricane relief.  In addition to beginning to understand the impact of a natural disaster on individuals, the group explored what motivates people to get involved and stay committed.

Cuernavaca, Mexico – Working with Cuernavca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development this team learned about poverty and the human condition in a context different from North America.  This team worked to help paint a local school, with Habitat for Humanity, at a local compost centre and served breakfast at a squatters settlement.  In addition to the service placements this team had the opportunity to learn from guest speakers such as a local professor, activist groups and community members.

St. John’s, Newfoundland – In the middle of a snowstorm this team experienced the hospitality of Newfoundland.  Struck by the kindness of people everywhere they went, this team learned about the challenges of providing services on ‘the rock’ and reaching individuals beyond the city centre.  The team worked with a homeless shelter and community centre over the course of the week and learned of systemic issues such as funding structures. 

Vancouver, British Columbia – Returning to the Main and Hastings area for a second year this team worked once again with Quest Outreach.  Quest's mandate is to rescue food from being sent to the landfills and redistribute, through donation, to social service agencies.  Working with a group of dedicated staff this team learned about issues prevalent in the area and the impact on individuals in this area.

In the end, all experiences were successful, in that we learned more about poverty and the human condition, contributed time and care to the communities that we were in and came back to McMaster University asking ourselves about what comes next and what more do we need to learn.

For more information contact Tamara Baldwin

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