Students visit Cook Islands for service learning project

Stephanie Tavss with Avarua studentNorwich University students spent two weeks in May on the other side of the world assisting an island village meet their educational and community needs.

Through a partnership between NU VISIONS Abroad and Global Volunteers, five Norwich students; one faculty; and one staff member were given the opportunity to travel to the Cook Islands. This island chain is located in the South Pacific off the coast of New Zealand. Over the course of fourteen days, the Norwich University students and staff helped tutor school children using a phonetics-based program, visited seniors, assisted in local libraries, helped to preserve important documents for their village's government, and performed trail maintenance on the island of Rarotonga.

Orlando Craig with St. Joseph's student"It was a great trip," said Nicole DiDomenico, director of volunteer programs at Norwich. "We learned much about the culture and issues facing the people of the Cook Islands. It's really easy to say to yourself that it looks like paradise. However, if tourists looked beyond the surface, they would see a community with many of the problems facing other communities. They are dealing with the educational needs of children, the needs of disabled citizens in their community, environmental problems, and health related issues."

Diane Byrne with St. Joseph's studentsNU Visions Abroad is a collective program organized by the International Student Office and the Office of Volunteer Programs at Norwich University. They developed this two-week overseas service trip for our Norwich students in collaboration with Global Volunteers -- a non-profit grassroots organization which seeks to create international partnerships by organizing and staffing projects in various countries. Global Volunteer programs aid in global development and understanding through individual and/or group participants hoping to experience and serve another culture foreign to their own.

DiDomenico said that Global Volunteers philosophy is steeped in service leadership. "The organization does not go into a community and say, 'this is what needs to be done.' Rather, they listen to the residents and help to work beside the people to meet their needs. Our visit was very much a collaborative effort, which helped to break down cultural barriers. As a result, we were able to see the community for what it really was," DiDomenico said. "They offered us a lot of opportunities to learn about their culture."

DiDomenico said that specific accomplishments achieved during the Cook Island visit included:

  • Participants tutoring 40 children daily for two weeks in English reading and writing
  • Participants, collectively, volunteering a total of 462 hours while on the island
  • Participants meeting with several leaders of the Rarotongan community, including the Commission of Non-Government Organizations president, the Assistant Secretary for the Ministry of Health, school principals, political candidates, and representatives of Parliament

Erika Gervais with Arorangi studentThe Norwich University contingency to the Cook Islands consisted of: Professor Diane Byrne, director of NU's Teacher Licensure Program; Cadet Benjamin Buotte, Junior, International Studies Major; Orlando Craig '04, Mechanical Engineering graduate; Nicole DiDomenico, director of volunteer programs and trip coordinator; Ms. Erika Gervais, Junior, Psychology Major, Elementary Education Minor; Cadet Andrew Mezzetti, Sophomore, Criminal Justice Major; and Cadet Stephanie Tavss, Senior, Communications Major.

The cost associated with the program fees and flights to and from Rarotonga came from fundraising efforts and, in part, from the participants directly.

DiDomenico said that there are other service learning opportunities with various levels of commitment for Norwich University students, including: Project G.I.V.E., AMERICORPS, NU Visions, and the NU Youth Mentoring Program

For more information on Service Learning at Norwich University, stop by the Office of Volunteer Programs in 223 Harmon Hall or call Nicole DiDomenico at 802.485.2670.

malbury@norwich.edu, August 2004

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