The Road to Trinidad

Hello everybody, my name is Sam McCarren. I am a 19 year old Finance Major here at the College of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh. I was born and raised 45 minutes north of Center City Philadelphia, in a suburban town called Abington. I have always been fascinated by the idea of deep introspection, and from this fascination, over the years I narrowed down a list of three passions I have. These include Music, Sports, but most importantly, helping others. Since elementary school, I have been blessed to have been involved in various service learning projects, as well as community service events (There is a massive distinction between these two that I will get into later). From volunteering at soup kitchens in Kensington, Philadelphia with my family, to coaching an After-School Sports program at my former grade school, helping others has always been a very influential part of my life. It was through these experiences that I was able to gain much more perspective into life around me. One of the key ideas that has stuck with me thus far is the idea that I have been put in an extremely lucky position. Just the fact that I am receiving a college education right now makes me overly grateful and appreciative for the doors that have been opened for me. However, after personal exposure to the notion that many others will never get the opportunities that I have had, I have become driven by this purpose that I have found. The purpose of personally doing the most I possibly can to give others the opportunities that they never had. This is where the far reach of the University of Pittsburgh’s curriculum comes in. Over this Spring Break, I will be traveling to Matelot, Trinidad with 7 other students in order to conduct a Service Learning project, with work being done on the trip in-country, as well as in the classroom back home. We are working through an organization called Amizade, who initially received a request of assistance from a Women’s Group in Matelot. This group, DORCAS Women’s Group, approached Amizade with the hopes of one day realizing some long-term goals that they had set for themselves and their community. For some context, Trinidad is currently experiencing an issue where the youth are migrating elsewhere when possible, due to lack of high paying jobs and higher education in the local area. This turnover creates a huge hole in the economy, as reinvestment into the community falls. In order to increase economic opportunities for the community, Matelot is interested in establishing a strong position in the international ecotourism market, as they feel there is plenty of untapped potential in that area. Trinidad is a beautiful country in general, and to be able to share this stunning plot with others, while benefitting the local community is the essential objective. So where do a bunch of 19-20 year old students come in and help with this exactly? Well, while certainly none of us are experts on much of anything at this point in time, we still have many resources available and ideas to offer in order to help out and do our part. One of the main issues with establishing an up-and-coming organization in Trinidad is the fact that the business culture there is very much connection-based, and networking heavy. This is exactly where people like me and my fellow classmates come into play. Our role in this project is building capacity, and solving the question of “What can we do to empower, inspire, and motivate the DORCAS Women’s group on their journey for goal realization?”. By no means are we here to teach down to anybody. Our role is not that of a “Knight in Shining Armor”, who comes in and solves every imaginable problem. The focus and emphasis is placed highly on collaboration, and teamwork. For at the end of the day, both parties will be learning a great deal. This dovetails perfectly into the next idea of “Why take this course?”. One could not do complete justice to this course without detailing the vast difference between Service Learning, and Community Service. While Community Service is not inherently evil or malicious, it sure serves all parties better if Service Learning is actually what is taking place. Community Service is more of a one-time deal, while Service Learning projects like ours (a 10-year commitment), is much more determined and focussed. Service Learning is more than simply Community Service, in that it creates this give-and-take, symbiotic relationship between multiple parties. Whereas Community Service may be slightly helpful for an organization, its main beneficiaries are often the ones performing the service; they exhibit a higher, and more positive personal image. Service Learning differs from this due to an increased level of engagement from all parties. When the Service Learners are actively aware that what they are doing has a greater impact on the organization they serve, as well as their own internal development, these projects become more real, more intimate, and more personal. This is the appeal of this course. Students are offered the chance to be apart of something bigger than themselves, and at the same time learning transferrable skills that will follow them wherever they go. Another notable aspect of this project, and Service Learning in general, is the increased development of leadership. The concept of stewardship suddenly becomes more important in students lives than it ever has before. Being able to undertake a massive project that is not even your own, and be able to effectively produce at the level that your peers, not you, are satisfied with, is no small feat. So this is actually one of the biggest ideas I hope to take away with me from this course. When I think of my own personal development, I could not think of a better program that suits me. I am given the opportunity to hone and refine my skills of communicating with peers and clients, working effectively in a team, and developing positive leadership qualities. An added benefit as well is being able to travel to another country. Earlier I spoke of being able to gain new perspectives through Service Learning, well fortunately this time a project is taking me international, so my own personal development will increase in ways I may not even know or understand yet. And if that all wasn’t enough, the cherry on top is that through all of this, everything aforementioned, I am given the ability to pursue one of my three passions in life, namely the largest one. This is why this course means so much to me, and why I am looking forward to all of the experiences that lie ahead.