Noteworthy: Ed Mabaya on risks and rewards of service learning in USA Today

By: Katelyn Godoy
Cornell students in Kenya; photo provided by Ed Mabaya

Cornell students on a service learning trip to Kenya; photo provided by Ed Mabaya

International headlines, such as the recent one about four American college students being sprayed with acid at a train station in France, often emphasize turmoil around the world and can be worrisome for parents with college-aged children who want to participate in service-learning trips abroad.

In his USA Today op-ed, Ed Mabaya, senior research associate at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and director of the Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (SMART) program, says parents are right be concerned, but argues that the benefits—to students and to the communities in which they work—of overseas service learning are worth the risk.

Key Takeaways from Mabaya’s USA Today Op-Ed:

  • Most international work carries some level of risk and it is important for parents and students to keep basic safety and security rules in mind.

“Most international engagements in developing countries do carry some level of risk, especially compared with volunteering at your local church or soup kitchen. To ignore these risks would be naïve at best and foolish at worst…Learn all the dos and don’ts from your campus’s risk office or [U.S.] State Department website.”

  • Developing countries need help more than ever.

“The Trump administration plans to cut funding for the U.S. State Department and international programs by more than $11 billion, or nearly 30 percent. In an era when we cannot count on our political leaders to care about the less fortunate around the world, we need more skilled people who can advocate for and lend their expertise to vulnerable global populations.”

  • Mabaya has seen the benefits of service learning first hand.

“Growing up in rural Zimbabwe, my first contact with foreigners was through medical volunteers at the monthly village clinic. They ran vaccination programs and brought vital pre-natal care service to the village. Working with local partners, skilled international students and expatriates can deliver much needed services to communities in developing countries.”

  • The news media tends to report only bad news.

“Do not over-generalize everything that you see in mainstream media, as things are rarely as bad as they seem. International news, almost by definition, has the unintended effect of making everything abroad look gloomy and dangerous. Developing countries are often covered when something bad happens, and in these cases, a whole country (and sometimes continent) is disparaged instead of just a village or suburb.”   

  • Parents should be proud, not scared.

“Whenever you are wondering why your kids are choosing these ‘dangerous’ pursuits, remind yourself that it is you who taught them to care about the less privileged, and that is a good thing. Yes, saving the world can be risky, but with risk comes an incredible chance to learn and serve.”

Read Mabaya’s full op-ed in USA Today.