Tag Archives: Beyond Borders

Through our ordinary actions.


Somehow, I managed to finish reading Jean Vanier’s Encountering ‘the Other’ over the past weekend (mind you, it is a mere 62 pages long). Various chapters focus on concepts of trust, forfeiting power, disabilities and inequalities, fear, listening and communication, peace, celebrating differences, as well as reconciliation and change.

Reflecting on these concepts could turn into a series of blog entries, as I’ve made more notes on this book than I have taken in certain classes this term. In short, I encourage anyone involved with Beyond Borders and anyone with an interest in social justice to read Encountering the ‘Other.’ (And hey, it’s only 62 pages!) Vanier stresses the importance of relationships, of community, of encountering what we do not know. He beautifully writes that ‘to live is to risk,’ that overcoming fear can change our lives in unimaginable ways.  As I prepare for my time in Ukraine, this is encouraging – I hope to embrace the bumps and pitfalls of this journey just as much as the excitement and the highlights. I fear that the truth is, no matter what I do, I will not be prepared for what I will encounter. This is just a plain and simple reality. All the awareness and research I could ever do between now and my departure will still leave me at a loss in Ternopil. I don’t think that I can fully comprehend or realize how I will be changed by the time I return home mid-August.

“If people have a toothache, you don’t just pray for him or her; you take them to a good dentist. And Jesus says to us: ‘It’s up to you to do something about it, but I will give you my spirit. I’ll give you a new force, a new strength, and a new wisdom so that you can break down the dividing walls of hostility.’ It’s up to you and me, but God will give us strength if we open our hearts to Him and ask for that strength. We hear about the presence of God in the stories that are told of people struggling to bring peace. God trusts us so much and loves us so much; He wants us to become men and women who can receive forgiveness and give forgiveness, who can receive wisdom and give wisdom. Jesus kneeling before his disciples is a revelation of Jesus kneeling at our feet saying, ‘I trust you, I believe in you, I love you’ and calling us to stand up and to work for love.”
Encountering ‘the Other,’ page 61.


Most of us have been drawn to Beyond Borders because, in some way, we hope to break out of the ordinary, out of of the comfortable lives that we have here in Waterloo. We hope to be able to make a positive difference in a completely different culture, as crazy and/or naive that sounds. Over the past semester, I have read about the works of Jean Vanier, of Mother Teresa, of Marc and Craig Kielberger, and of Shane Claiborne (founder of the Simple Way, author of The Irresistable Revolution). These individuals have also lived as ‘ordinary radicals,’ each having a profound impact on the lives of others.

As a class, we have been told (warned?) that we are not going to single handedly change the communities that we will enter into this summer. That our various experiences will more than likely have a larger influence on our own lives than the lives of those we will encounter in Ukraine, in Ghana, in Ecuador, or in Honduras. But part of me is (naively) hoping for something bigger, hoping that through our ordinary actions we will have opportunities to empower those around us to make greater changes.

Mother Teresa did ‘small things with great love,’ Jean Vanier humbly lived among the disabled and the broken, the Kielberger brothers continue to promote children’s rights, and Shane Claiborne has spent time in Iraq, India, and Philadelphia passionately pursuing social justice and ideals of the early church. I think that we have more power than we realize, that small changes really do add up and eventually have a greater impact than we are initially aware of.


I originally wrote this post for TernoJen, a blog that followed my preparations for and experiences in Ternopil, Ukraine.


Service learning matters. And here’s why.

“I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbour. Do you know your next door neighbour?”
– Mother Teresa
    In a nutshell, this quote is why service learning matters to me. How many of us actually know our neighbours? I hardly knew the two girls in the apartment upstairs apartment of my old student house, let alone the family who recently moved in next door, or the other people living on my street. Neighbourhoods are not what they used to be. It seems that our communities are more private than in the past, and that people are too busy to make deeper personal connections. For example – we no longer chat with the tellers at the bank; we have ATMs that are more convenient. We can ignore the cashier at the grocery store; the self check-out is a faster option.Service learning, according to the Beyond Borders brochures, aims to prepare students as global citizens in a globalized world, effect social change, and make use of our abilities and education in service to others. But this final reflection requires me to answer ‘so what?’. Those ideals are positive, but don’t say much about what I’ve learned this term or why I’m a participant.I’m a big fan of lists. And so, inspired by the infamous top ten lists of David Letterman, I will convince you of the value and importance of service learning.
    top ten reasons why service learning matters:

  1. it holds us accountable. Service learning allows us to (pardon the cliche) “practice Italicwhat we preach.” Through service learning, we are taking ownership of our education by applying what we have learned in a wide variety of circumstances.
  2. it encourages (and requires) dialogue. Through service learning opportunities, we enter into relationships with others. Asking questions, searching for answers, we are constantly in conversation.
  3. you don’t actually need a passport. Turns out, you don’t have to travel overseas to participate in service learning. It can be as simple as spending a few hours a week volunteering with a local organization (i.e., the Working Centre).
  4. mutual empowerment. We are not sent to various international placements with a plan or a solution, to push our Western way of living onto a developing nation. We might not be all that helpful. Through building new relationships in a new culture, we are all on the same footing.
  5. endless possibilities. Service learning is not tied down to any one location or action, it does not have an agenda, it does not have an expiry date. It could be ten hours, or ten months, it could be a lifelong process.
  6. it is frustrating. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means you’re tackling something strange and unfamiliar, and in the meantime, new skills or ideas are likely developed. “It is when you are frustrated, that you really learn.” – Joanne Benham Rennick.
  7. it lays foundations for the future. Talking to Myroslaw was encouraging for Jessica and I, because we are building on success of the past. Five years ago, there were no volunteers at the Internat. Since then, numerous alumni have spent their summer months caring for the girls of this Ukrainian orphanage. In five more years, who knows – the university students of Ternopil may be in partnership with the Internat, working towards minimizing the strong stigma against the disabled. We may not be able to see the impact of our actions, but each individual action is a small step forward. Change is not impossible.
  8. exploration of the unknown. We live in world full of beauty, creativity, and diversity – Henry Miller said it best: “Develop an interest in life as you see it, the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”
  9. the lost art of facilitation. Facilitation is an idea explored in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and is an incredibly valuable skill to possess. We do not use the skill of facilitation nearly as much as we should, and we’re really not that great at it. We do not practice it enough to become good, not to mention great, at it. Service learning opportunities allow us to develop facilitation skills throughout authentic education experiences.
  10. in the end, it all adds up. I’ve previously written about the power of our ordinary actions. Throughout the fall term, Scott warned us that we would not really have a significant impact on the communities that we will be serving this summer. I beg to differ. While things may not be profoundly different once we leave in August, I still think that whatever we accomplish in our various placements, no matter how small or insignificant our achievements are, will be worthwhile. If it only serves to teach us a lesson that we will carry with us, or if our visit only gives a disabled child the chance to venture outside of the Internat for the first time, I’d say that alone is a small victory. Baby steps, people… baby steps!



I originally wrote this post for TernoJen, a blog that followed my preparation for and experiences in Ternopil, Ukraine.