Analysis: Community service overseas is valuable but is the cost too high?

September 10, 2018 — by Andrew Lee and Jeffrey Ma

In the animal shelters of Nepal, the ribs of the cows are visible through their skin, and dogs are found dead every week.

After witnessing such a desolate scene while attending the Nepal Orphanage Improvement (NOI) summer program in Kathmandu, junior Daniel Ning was inspired to start his own organization to fundraise and send supplies to the shelters in Nepal.

Ning is just one of many who have invested parts of their summer breaks in volunteering, with multiple students choosing to journey overseas to participate in similar programs.

Whether it is to help those in dire need or to boost their college applications or some combination of both, many students believe that volunteering for periods of time abroad is an invaluable experience.

One program that several students have attended this past summer is the NOI summer program in Kathmandu. There, they were tasked with teaching and playing with local students, and were given chances to participate in small excursions to places like animal shelters.

Some students who participated include sophomore Henry Weng, Selina Yang, Charlie Liu and Ning and senior Sarah Meng. The program is run by IvyMax, which, according to ivymax.com, is “a leading in-center and online education service provider that prepares students exceptionally well for admission to top-tier universities and beyond.”

For around $4,500, the program provides food, board and transportation for a duration of two weeks.

Whether or not the students themselves truly wanted to make a difference in a deprived community abroad, it’s almost impossible to ignore that one main purpose of the program is to supplement college applications and to strengthen students’ lists of extracurricular activities. After all, IvyMax itself is a college preparatory institution, providing mostly preparation for SATs, AP tests and various other subjects such as critical reading and thinking.

With this in mind, it is difficult to see the program as solely charitable in nature. Ning, who attended the program in late July, thinks that several students who went to Nepal seemed only present to add the activity to their college applications.

“There were definitely some people there who were only there to boost the ‘aesthetic’ of their college apps and didn't really care,” Ning said.

However, the results of this mixed motivation aren’t necessarily bad.

In senior Sarah Meng’s eyes, college applications clearly play a role in a vast majority of student’s motivation, albeit to varying degrees. Meng herself said that college applications were the primary motivator when she first begrudgingly signed up for the trip, but she went through a change of heart during it.

“I thought that I was going to completely hate it,” Meng said. “But I actually ended up loving painting with, interacting with and teaching [the kids there].”

Students like Ning and Meng said that the program was a valuable experience that was worth the time and money spent. Although the purpose of the program may have been for improving their college applications, the students said they gained valuable experience from the trip nonetheless.

For Ning, seeing the pitiful conditions the animals wallowed in inspired him to found his own private organization called United for Animals Foundation dedicated to helping support them. He has also engaged in multiple fundraising events in order to benefit these animals, including planning his own bake sales. So far, Ning has fundraised $500 from two bake sales.

While Ning found his purpose in helping animals, other students found solace in interacting with the Nepalese people, especially with the children.

What swayed Meng’s viewpoint from hating to loving the experience was interactions with the people there and teaching at a local school.

“I’m ten times more into the idea of helping in Nepal [now that] I’ve been there, seen the people and interacted with them,” Meng said.

In two weeks there, she felt a personal connection with the students she taught.

Meng said that for the children in Nepal, many of whom live in poverty, it’s meaningful when their “older [brothers]” and “older sisters,” or the volunteers, come once a year from afar to “make fools of themselves to make [the children] laugh.”

Another question is why so many students travel halfway around the world to volunteer when so many opportunities to help nearby communities are readily accessible in the Bay Area.

The students interviewed for this story didn’t have a definitive answer for this question but emphasized that helping out in other parts of the world brought them a life-changing connection with both the people and animals of a far-away place.

“I hope [the kids there] will remember the time the awkward older American teens came to their school and sang and danced and answered all of their questions about famous American singers and actors,” Meng said.

 

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