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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Students reflect on summer service experiences

Students who participated in the International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) this summer went beyond completing service and earning credits, they sought a global awareness of social issues in areas around the world, in locations including South America, Africa and Asia.

Rachel Tomas Morgan, director of the ISSLP at the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) said the ISSLP is a four-credit course in Catholic Social Tradition and social analysis where students are invited to interpret an array of global issues. The program includes an eight-to-10 week service-learning immersion over the summer in one of 15 developing countries.

“Essentially, the ISSLP provides opportunities for students to examine causes of global poverty and create links of solidarity while meeting local needs of communities around the world,” Tomas Morgan said.

“Our hope is that the ISSLP helps to expand students’ global perspective and provides students the opportunity to work closely with communities to help address their needs,” she said. “The program is immersive, and students work hand-in-hand with communities to address a community’s most pressing issues, which can span a number of fields.”

For students interested in the program, Tomas Morgan recommends attending one of the weekly information sessions, which will provide site-specific details. Because there are so many ISSLPs offered, Tomas Morgan said “what makes a strong application are students who make a case for why they are a good candidate for a particular site — who show that their academic interest, prior service experience, passion and even career objectives align with the work occurring at the site.”

Applications for ISSLPs are open until midnight Nov. 3 and interviews will be conducted for the applicants who qualify Nov. 17. Admissions decisions are released Dec. 20 and accepted candidates must confirm attendance by Dec. 27 in order to enroll in the mandatory one-credit ISSLP Orientation course.

Senior Laura Labb decided to apply for an ISSLP after being moved by the issues she encountered while doing a Summer Service Learning Program immersion in Boston, she said. She went to Antigua, Guatemala this summer year, where she worked for Common Hope, which provides education and access to medical care and social workers to people living in poverty.

“Education is one of the strongest determinants of health in my opinion, so the opportunity to tutor through the youth program similarly attracted me to my site,” Labb said in an email. Throughout her time in Guatemala, she worked in healthcare clinics, supported youth programs, taught ESL classes and translated for visiting dental teams.

Labb said her ISSLP experience aligned with her career aspirations.

“As a pre-med student at ND this experience was extremely valuable in understanding how lack of healthcare education and limited primary care affect the delivery of healthcare in underserved communities,” Labb said.

Senior Shelene Baiyee spent last summer in both Tamale and Kumasi, Ghana, partnering with the U.S.-based organization Unite for Sight. Her mission was to support local eye doctors in Ghana and help them reach as many patients as possible.


Three women shade their eyes after post-surgery examination by ISSLP students in Tamale, Ghana.


Baiyee said she assisted a local surgeon, Seth Wanye, in completing up to 50 surgeries a day, but that she did more than just volunteer work.

“There was one day I spent eight hours with [Dr. Wanye]’s nephew and children,” she said. “That was one of my favorite days out of the whole summer, because I really felt like I was a part of the family.”

Encounters with locals during ISSLPs often prove to be the most touching and rewarding. In one post-op, Baiyee had the chance to remove one man’s bandages after surgery, enabling him to see for the first time in 10 years.

“That was a beautiful day,” she said. “When we took his bandages off, he started pointing at everything he could see, excitedly shouting descriptions of ‘green’ and ‘striped’ and ‘brown.’”

Baiyee said her experiences helped her decide what career field she wants to pursue.

“I am really interested in global health, public health and policy, and after participating in the ISSLP, I know now more than ever that that’s where my interest is,” she said.

“This summer was the most beautiful and most frustrating summer I’ve ever experienced. I loved it, and I would love to go back,” Baiyee said.