Service Learning: A Required Course for University Students

Text│ UM Reporter Terrence Tan

Many University of Macau (UM) students like to spend their free time doing volunteer work in the local community. Some of them even travel abroad during holidays to participate in service learning programmes in remote areas of the world, where they can experience different cultures and ways of life.

Helping Others Helps One Grow

A group of students who enjoy doing volunteer work have formed several volunteer organisations at UM. For example, students from the Stanley Ho East Asia College formed a volunteer organisation that helps to distribute food at Caritas de Macau on a regular basis. In addition to the various volunteer organisations founded by the students, there is also a Service Leader Programme at UM, which brings together students with volunteer experiences who want to make a difference in the world. Cindy Lei is a participant in the programme. She believes that communication and teamwork are important skills for volunteer workers. When asked what she loves the most about doing volunteer work, she says: ‘I feel a sense of fulfilment when I am helping others or working on new projects with the other volunteers.’

Volunteering can be time-consuming but its effects are not always immediately measurable. So volunteers sometimes wonder whether their contributions really make a difference in others’ lives. Xiong Yingxin, a second-year student of psychology, used to have this doubt, but her experiences as a volunteer teacher in Mauritius this summer removed her doubt and answered many of her questions. ‘I met some local children in Mauritius. They are grateful for what they have and are happy to share with others. Gratitude is a quality many children and even adults from the cities lack nowadays,’ she says.

Discovering the Basic Goodness of Humanity

UM’s residential colleges (RCs) are committed to helping students develop competencies in five areas, one of which is Leadership and Service. The RCs devote a lot of resources to organising service learning programmes for students. For example, during the summer holiday, Choi Kai Yau College, Lui Che Woo College, and Stanley Ho East Asia College arranged for their students to participate in service learning and leadership programmes in Vietnam, Singapore, and the mainland province of Yunnan, respectively.

Led by Lui Che Woo College’s resident fellow Dr Chu Caixia, several students from the college participated in a service learning programme in Vietnam, where they helped to build a bio-toilet in a remote village. ‘Can you imagine a toilet built with nothing but wood and banana leaves? People from a remote village in Vietnam use such a toilet every day,’ says Kathine, a second-year student from the Department of Psychology. ‘I knew before the trip that the living conditions in the village were going to be bad, but I still couldn’t believe my eyes when I got there.’

During her trip in Vietnam, Kathine experienced a different culture and way of life. She learned the basics of building a bio-toilet and discovered what contributes to a more meaningful life. ‘Human beings are social creatures, so we should care about each other. We should do our best to help those who cannot change their lives for the better because of poverty,’ she says.

Encouraging Students to Participate in Volunteer Work

Dr Chu has rich volunteer experience. She contends that service learning is a popular component of education in Europe and the United States. Some of the universities in these regions have integrated service learning into curricula as a mandatory course, where students learn to put their knowledge into practice by devising solutions to real problems faced by the local community. ‘We hope to raise the students’ awareness about poverty in distant countries and to help them find a way to help those in need. We also hope to encourage more students to participate in service learning. Doing volunteer work is a form of experiential learning, and more importantly, in the process of helping others you can discover your potential and learn more about yourself,’ Dr Chu says.

Volunteering is not only a fulfilling experience, but it also allows participants to develop various skills and teaches them how to live a more meaningful life. Making a difference to the world may seem like a lofty and unattainable goal, but as student volunteers have learned from their firsthand experiences, changing the world can be as simple as spreading kindness—one person at a time, one good deed at a time.

ISSUE 13 | 2015

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