“This field trip to Our Daily Bread food pantry is probably the most impactful outside event I am involved with for our international students. Several days before we go, we have in class discussions about world hunger and poverty, about what can they do to alleviate these problems in their countries. We talk about global warming, population growth, generally huge overwhelming, unsolvable problems. Most often students reply that they give money or clothes to poor people. Sometimes we discuss what poor, hungry people look like. Dirty and torn clothes are standard responses. How did they become poor? Shrugs are the answers. Then, the day before we go, I try to describe the food pantry and we discuss their expectations. They really don't have a clue.
I wish I had pictures to show the before and after of these dear students! Standing in the hallway of the IELC, arms are crossed, faces down at the floor, silently moving to their assigned rides. On the way, all are quiet. We arrive, they huddle together and walk slowly, following me, into the building. Marco, the director greets them with a huge smile, as do all the volunteers. He talks for a few minutes to these scared students, then hands them off, one-on-one to a volunteer. Within minutes, the students are talking, making eye contact, arms unfolded, working with clients to choose food. It is amazing and energizing!
After about an hour, it is time to go, but it takes a while for the students to say good bye and look around the place before we leave. One student I have never seen smiling was grinning from ear to ear as we left. Several usually promise to return on their own time to volunteer, and some have done so. We have lunch then to discuss what happened, how accurate were their expectations, what they learned, what they might do in the future. It is a loud, non-stop talking lunch.
So, here’s my take-away: Volunteering is good for the soul, spirit, and body. Eyes were opened to the normality, commonality of people. Poverty/ hunger now have real faces to them. People were serving people, not an abstract government provision, out of sight. Compassion is contagious. Freedom to talk about issues empowered them to really look at what is being done to help others. What they did so impressed them that even those who were shy speakers talked energetically about their experience. They bonded with each other. Not only did their English improve, their overall impression and attitude towards Americans improved. It was good. It is good.”
Teacher, Intensive English
Reflection: Advanced I S/L Visit to Our Daily Bread