The WKU International Health and Human Service Learning Program (Belize Program) was born during the summer of 2007. Since then at least one group of faculty, staff, and students per year has visited the country of Belize, and more specifically the village of Gales Point, as part of an international service learning course. This program is geared toward faculty and students located in the College of Health and Human Services although people from outside the college have participated in the past and gone on to start other programs in the same village in Belize.
Program participants travel to Gales Point, Belize, a very remote, very poor village in Belize.
Faculty, staff, and students will work together to set-up and run a medical and dental clinic in Gales Point, Belize. All participants work together as a multidisciplinary team to provide the best care for the clientele seen in the clinic. Participants also visit the local school to provide health and literacy education to the teachers and students. The experience is enhanced by learning about the healthcare systems in Belize from the Ministry of Health professionals. Activities are scheduled throughout the trip to allow participants to learn more about the cultural environment and history of Belize.
The difference between ordinary volunteer service and "service learning" is the act of academic reflection consisting of both classroom and field observance. The "curriculum-based" service learning approach is supported by professors who provide the academic context for service activities. Students are asked to reflect upon the social conditions that make service necessary, the reasons people do service, and the effect service may have on a local, national, or even international community. In so doing, students develop a firmly grounded understanding of the connections between abstract theories and social issues and their "real life" applications.
In curriculum-based service learning, the professor asks students to undertake a service project outside the classroom related in some way to the course subject. The exact specifications of the projects are as varied as the many types of disciplines that incorporate service learning into their curricula. Two criteria remain constant, however: each project must in some way serve the community, either on campus or off, and students must reflect upon their service experience within the context of the course.
Service learning is valuable to the university because it teaches what has been called "socially responsive knowledge." Socially responsive knowledge imparts in students a sense of community and a sense of responsibility to others; it helps develop in them the aspirations to resolve, rather than ignore or leave to others, the problems of society. When combined with "professional" and "foundational" knowledge – the traditional types of knowledge provided by universities – socially responsive knowledge helps students learn to be truly engaged citizens of the community in which they live, as well as of the world around them.
A large number of recent studies have shown that "hands on" learning is absorbed more readily by students than is abstract information. This firsthand knowledge empowers students in a way that changes their lives – and changes the lives of others – immeasurably.
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