July 12, 2013. Although this is my first trip with Learn Serve, I have several years of experience now traveling with students and I can confidently say, I have never seen a group of young people come together in quite the same way. From the first couple of meetings, it was apparent that we had a very special group, however over the course of our journey together in Paraguay, what impressed me most about this group was their united effort to act and BE as a team. Of course, as with any group of young people, we had a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds, especially once we added in those from the communities where we were serving, however the kindness and support these teenagers showed to each other on a daily basis was inspiring to see as an adult.
I could speak at length about the transformations I saw among our students over the past few weeks, however I think they shared very freely in their posts about how they believe this experience has impacted them, and I am quite certain that the wheels have only begun to turn for them. There are many purposes of international service, however for me, and for Learn Serve, one of our central objectives is to develop young leaders who are engaged in service both at home and abroad. It was remarkable to see these leadership skills, as Nebe mentioned in his post, come to the surface as our students learned how to work in a group and take initiative in times of need as well as notice and compliment the leadership skills of those around them. Our students demonstrated courage, humility, strength, quiet leadership, and at times provided comic relief. However for me, as I watched them grow throughout our journey, I realized that I too was learning a great deal about leadership, and especially my role in assisting that growth.
It is often difficult as a teacher to have the confidence that our children are ready to stop holding our hand. After many hours of teaching and guiding, it takes a lot of courage to let go and simply let our students lead. I was struck by the young people who work in the Centro Comunitario with Domingo Alonso, Learn Serve’s coordinator in Paraguay. They are hardworking, confident, and know how to bring their communities together to organize projects that will create lasting change. They look to Domingo for support and advice, but he does not tell them how or what to do in order to realize the work they wish to accomplish. Learning from Domingo and from the leaders of el Centro, for the first time I allowed myself to let go of the reins. I wasn’t always successful with this, finding myself taking over at times and having to take a step back, because I found that the most significant transformations were happening among our students when they were not told exactly what to do, but rather given tasks and opportunities to lead and come together as a team to decide how to most effectively accomplish that goal using the strengths and qualities they encompassed as a group. As a teacher, this quality is what I hope most to take away from this experience- the humility to continue developing young leaders who are confident to lead without the guidance of an adult. When I told Domingo that I hoped to pick his brain this past week about the work he’s done with his kids in el Centro and to learn more about how he’s managed to develop such wonderful community activists, he said, “Why ask me? Ask them!” Sometimes we forget as adults that we can learn so much from children if we just let them teach us.