Service learning: Beyond the horizon

Woman reading to young child as community service

This past summer, I had the humbling opportunity to participate in a service-learning initiative in the Dominican Republic. Serving alongside the dedicated teachers and students of CENlFE (Centro Niñez Feliz) was a humbling and transformative experience. CENIFE which translates into “The Happy Child Center” develops social programs (such as literacy lessons and English language lessons) for children of low income families in the Dominican Republic, through a very comprehensive program of Child Development and Assistance. CENIFE aims to raise the standard of living for these children and their families with four children’s centers in operation called CEDAS (Center for Development and Social Assistance). Every single one of the children at CENIFE, and my fellow volunteers who I now consider my friends, have impacted me and transformed my life. I found an extraordinary level of satisfaction in witnessing how many students fell in love with learning, and how their eyes would light up when they defeated the odds, and were able to read for the first time. Or in some cases, how some of the older students improved on their reading skills and were able to help the younger students in the learning process.

One of the key takeaways from this experience has been learning to be present and not simply go through the motions. My advice for students and people at all stages in their life is to take the time to learn someone else’s story. Ask the random person sitting next to you on the bus, “What is your story?”. There’s value in taking the time to hear and learn other people’s stories. You never know where it might lead. It may change your life or simply provide you with a new appreciation for something. Living in Santo Domingo this past summer, struggling with the fierce mosquitoes (some of which appear to be immune to Off! Repellant) and at times, being phoneless, or experiencing the struggle of losing internet connectivity was difficult at times. However, it was valuable as it made me “present” not just physically, but also mentally, and emotionally. I’ve become present in both mind and heart.

I’ve also come to understand that opportunity should never be a luxury and should never be linked to a person’s skinHappy friends partnering in service pigmentation. In terms of what’s next for me in this journey, I will work as an advocate to make a quality education accessible for more students. Every student deserves a fair shot and the opportunity to exercise their right to an education.

Through my experience, I’ve realized how important it is to observe, listen, and question to find answers. But most importantly, I’ve realized it’s important to question and reflect on what my role is in the world and the kind of contribution I would like to make. Throughout this experience, I asked myself many times, “How have we reached a point where we’ve accepted injustices as normal? Why aren’t we fighting for something better? Why aren’t we seeking an alternative?” And then, I realize that even in the darkest and most difficult hours, there’s always an alternative. There’s always an alternative even if it’s not in plain sight.

As human beings we all count with one universal currency: time. I urge you to use the most valuable instrument that you have: time, and take the pledge to “pay-it-forward” in some capacity. There are so many opportunities to get involved whether it is in your local community, school, or even abroad. Through my own journey I have received so much and made lasting friendships. I am so grateful for this experience, and for the stories I’ve had the privilege of hearing. The human experience unites us. We have all felt jovial, delighted, frightened, empowered, or powerless, at some point in our lifetime. No matter where we live in the world, emotions make a part of our daily lives. The beauty of it all is that we are united through our struggles, journeys, stories, and voices. We dream. We aspire. We live. We love. We give. We receive. And at times, we lose, but we learn to pick ourselves up, and rise. No one said the road will be easy, and many challenges lie ahead, but I know that it will be worth it. I promise that it will be worth it.

Don’t limit yourself to what’s in your sight, but look beyond the horizon. So ready set…Go!

Arisleidy is an incoming senior at Rutgers University, double-majoring in public and nonprofit administration and political science. Arisleidy is very passionate about philanthropy, service, and political engagement, and a proud Eagleton Institute of Politics Undergraduate Associate, a Jumpstart Corps members, and Braven alumni fellow. She is committed to social justice issues, and has participated in various service-learning initiatives in Tanzania, Mexico, and most recently, in New Orleans.

As a Dominican-American, she is very thrilled to be interning and working in the Dominican Republic to exercise her passion for activism, education advocacy, and social change. Upon graduation, she will pursue an MPP/JD to further blend her love of and commitment to social justice issues, and hopes to start her own nonprofit in the Dominican Republic to enable youth to further their education.