The value of an ISSLP
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, October 10, 2018
I think the International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) has probably been one of the best experiences I have ever had. Initially, I participated in the ISSLP because I had never left the country before, and I thought it was a great way to do service — after all, I really enjoyed my Summer Service Learning Program from the summer before. But in the eight weeks that flew by, my ISSLP became so much more than just a way to get out of the country and do some international service work. While it is true that I am not a completely new and radically changed person, I do believe that anyone who participates in the ISSLP does change, and for the better. In fact, it could very well be possible that I got more out of the experience than my students did, but the purpose of the ISSLP isn’t to revolutionize the world and the way we do service. After all, early on in the program we discuss how it is only a short period of time that we will be serving for, and two months is not enough time to make a huge impact. But the purpose of the ISSLP isn’t to make a big splash in the communities we serve, it is to get the ball rolling for each of us in what it means to do service and be a global citizen and help us develop a deeper perspective on the complexities of poverty. There is a lot of criticism that comes with doing short-term missions, but if my ISSLP has taught me anything, it is that the component that comes after our service is just as important as the service itself.
Personally, I was given the opportunity to teach English, which was great because teaching was a career that I was considering for after graduation. At the end of the program, I reaffirmed the fact that I know social work is what I want to do in my future. I have conquered the fear of being on my own and being away from my family in the U.S. and have become so much more independent. I have created so many intercultural relationships and have enormous respect for the cultures I was able to be a part of. I learned so much about what development really is and how to construct sustainable methods for working with people experiencing poverty.
And as far as limitations come, two months just isn’t enough to learn extensively about a culture, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to try to learn about Perú and its people now that I have left. I now have so many Peruvian friends and a Peruvian family, and I know that I will treasure the memories that I made for years to come.
My experience thus far has showed me that being interested in how to help those experiencing poverty is not the same as pitying them. When we are in solidarity with others we are more than just interested — we empathize. I have grown and learned to think more critically about issues that do not have clear-cut answers and have been challenged in my beliefs to the point that I understand that poverty is such a complex issue that cannot ever “fully” be resolved — at least not in the way that most people think. It is not an issue where there is an imaginary threshold to reach and suddenly the world will not be poor anymore. That’s not how poverty works. In fact, it is probably true that relative poverty will always exist, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to improve our communities and reduce inequality in the world. It just means that there is a lot of work to be done, many improvements to be made and that there are multiple methods to target the issue. We have to realize that not all of them will work in every situation, but they are still worth investigating and attempting.
Ultimately, what society needs from us is hope, the motivation to improve our communities and a greater importance given to the skills that help us work and interact with others. I have been impacted in positive ways, and I believe that anyone who participates in the ISSLP will be, too. I trust that the Lord will guide each of us that are called to participate. So I say, Lord, send us to do your will.
María Isabel Mendoza
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.