EIESL chose the theme of “Motivations” to capture the key emerging questions, comments, and concerns arising from faculty and student dialogue sessions that focused on conflicting motivations for service in vulnerable communities abroad which range from a positive desire to promote equity and to work with and for communities, as well as, and sometimes primarily to fulfill a graduation requirement, enhance a résumé, and/or secure research funds.

Community Voice on Motivations

“There are always at least two motivations and it is healthier when students bring these to consciousness so that they can be explored. Sometimes the one side is philanthropy and sometimes the other side is savior. There is a lot of ego present in saving and one needs to consider the level of ego. It is impossible to have a pure motivation, the thing is how to handle the two sides.”
– Employee of a Mexican NGO in Comitan, Mexico

Are we choosing to volunteer for the right reasons? Volunteers must always ask of themselves “who is really being served by my actions?”

How do we know what an appropriate form of “help” looks like?

What role do our expectations/assumptions play on our effectiveness in communities?

How do we balance energy and compassion with pragmatism?

Does altruism even exist? Is it possible for volunteering to be a selfless act?

How do we maintain critical consciousness without becoming paralyzed? How do we overcome “analysis paralysis” or conflicts of conscience?

What is the institution’s role/responsibility with respect to real or perceived expectations for international service as a criterion for admission to professional programs?

Service-Learning has a huge potential to enrich classroom learning with ‘real life’ experience, to enable students to promote equity, and to work with and for communities – particularly those that are most vulnerable. Yet there is a very real possibility of unforeseen and unintended negative impacts.

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