Service learning experience provided a point of difference for Avondale College of Higher Education (NSW) students who missed the first classes of semester to attend a United Nations symposium in Thailand.
More than 1000 delegates from 300 universities in almost 90 countries gathered in Bangkok for the 9th University Scholars Leadership Symposium, held August 2-6. Thirteen of the delegates were from Avondale, placing the college of higher education among entities with small contingents. But it seems the students made a big impression.
The symposium, which the United Nations holds in a developing country in the Asia-Pacific each year, helps students develop leadership and life skills for global mission. It provides opportunities to learn from professional trainers, life coaches and humanitarian workers, network with other students and serve the community.
“I learned so much about what happens in the world and how easy it is to make a difference by simply starting something,” said Avondale Student Association president Dan Wilson. “There’s so much that needs doing and it’s up to us. Meeting like-minded people has inspired me to do something!”
Secondary teaching student Bianca Maggs and international poverty and development studies major Linda Ciric joined Mr Wilson as delegates. Their days began at 5am, with a networking breakfast following at six and keynotes and breakaways from nine.
“Many of the presentations were motivational,” said Ms Ciric, “giving us the tools to discover our passion, purpose and preferred area of service.”
Hearing from those with such diverse experience—speakers represented the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, non-government organisations and multilateral agencies—reminded Ms Maggs “that no matter what you do, you can still use it to help other people”.
Stories from speakers who had created their own not-for-profit organisations and established projects to help others inspired Ms Ciric.
“It’s possible to make a significant difference,” she said. “I’m not only a citizen of Australia but of the world. I have a duty of care to every human being on this planet and to the planet itself. I need to make sure I’m making wise, ethical choices that help not harm others.”
Helping local communities through service formed an integral part of the symposium, with projects such as weed clearing from a river and teaching English language lessons included as activities. Ms Maggs took the latter option, visiting a school with which the United Nations had been working where the students taught her some traditional dances.
Mr Wilson, Ms Ciric, Ms Maggs and their classmates discovered through networking with other delegates how unique the Avondale experience—including its focus on service—is.
“Leadership through service is important to us,” said Lake Macquarie campus chaplain Dr Wayne French. “Our students had stories to share because of their experience with One Mission, STORM Co and other service learning projects. Students from other universities were really impressed.”
“It seems many of the universities don’t offer these same opportunities,” said Mr Wilson.
The students will use what they learned to make a difference in their preferred area of service.
“Service takes many forms,” said Ms Ciric. “Your best acts will come from wherever your skills and abilities lie. Getting involved grows you—your character, your networks, your passions. It will teach you more than any lecture or workshop.”