The Division of Student Affairs promises in its online mission statement to develop and empower Temple’s students. I can attest that the office keeps that promise, having spent last this summer in one of Temple’s Service Immersion Programs. The values I learned, the people I met and the questions I had and still have worked to forever expand my worldview, which is why I do not just believe that all Temple students would benefit from their involvement in more SIP activities, I know it.
However, with SIP directors coming and going at will, it becomes imperative for the university to continue providing enriching and provocative service trips for students for as long as its cherry and white hues shine over North Philadelphia.
My first service trip was to St. Thomas, Jamaica in May 2011, led by the former Student Activities Director Gina D’Annunzio, during which my group and I built a shade house at White Horses Primary School for the local community to store freshly grown food. Although the project required most of our time, we also visited Kingston and a couple of beaches, met with university professors and interacted with local community members who taught us about Jamaica’s history and culture.
My second service trip was to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. While my second group and I, led by the current Student Activities Director Chris Carey, did work at a food pantry, thrift shop and warehouse, our trip was overall less service oriented than my first.
Most of our time was spent meeting and discussing with Lakota community leaders, such as Ione Quigley, the Chairwoman of Lakota Studies at Sinte Gleska University. We also visited Fort Niobrara in Nebraska, spent time in the Badlands and took part in a sweat lodge ceremony, a Lakota religious ritual. In fact, there were myriad differences between Rosebud and St. Thomas.
The former was a domestic excursion, as opposed to an international one. Unlike a tropical, surprisingly mountainous Caribbean island, the land was mostly flat – although hilly in some parts – and vast, as if never-ending.
My second group and I also found ourselves experiencing firsthand the many issues that affect the Lakota people, such as rampant alcoholism and an 80-plus percent unemployment rate, making their county the second poorest in the nation. Youth suicide is eight times higher than the national average. The average life expectancy for women is 56 years, and only 48 years for men.
Lakota has become a second language on the reservation as well, due to the shaming of Lakota culture practiced by Jesuit boarding schools and the United States government throughout history. Lakota children were forced into the aforementioned schools starting in the eighteenth century and continuing up until the twentieth, where they would be rebuked and punished for speaking their language and practicing their traditions. In fact, the United States government did not pass the Native American Freedom of Religion Act until 1978.
Both of my service trips were similar however, in that my groups and I spent our nights reflecting on our thoughts, the people we met, insights we learned and moments we witnessed. This process could be continued independently by writing in the journals that we received at our group’s weekly pre-departure meetings on campus during the academic year.
Some of the most profound moments of each of my trips, particularly during my trip to Rosebud, took place during reflection periods. Reflection allowed my group members and I time to process and realize the extent of the marginalization we saw. Introverted members of the group were encouraged take part in provocative discussions, while those who had been more involved in other group activities were asked to listen. By reflecting on my days and pondering the differences between volunteering and service, charity and social justice, I began to determine my standing in the world relative to the people I interacted with and learned from.
By reflecting on the tangible goals my groups and I achieved at the end of our stays, I left each time feeling empowered. In fact, I felt more than that. Each service trip I took part in made me feel a sense of purpose, a sensation that my major coursework had never given me.
Unfortunately, when D’Annunzio left Temple in the beginning of October 2012, SIP Jamaica left with her, and students currently only have two SIP options to choose from. Few other programs remove students from the classroom and immerse them in another land with another culture while also accentuating connections to our North Philadelphia community. Temple’s students must push for more opportunities to attend service trips and similar programs that directly impact themselves, as well as enriching communities across the country and around the world.